By: Stewart Mathurin (@SoLockedIn)
Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)
Sunday January 1st 2017 – shortly after the San Francisco 49ers complete their 2-14 season, which is tied for worst in franchise history, word broke out that both head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke will be relieved of their duties by CEO Jed York. This was the second time in as many years that Jed York has had to relieve a head coach after one season. This time he’d be relieving his general manager and right-hand man of six years as well and embarking on an expansive search for new leadership to steady a franchise that was sinking quickly. York was armed with his trusted assistant Paraag Marathe, the 49ers chief strategy officer who had spent sixteen years with the organization in more than one capacity. The two men quickly set about making contact with teams notifying them of interest in possible head coaching candidates and possible General manager candidates.
A list of names quickly made it to the media, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area that list included Josh McDaniels – Patriots Offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn – Bills interim head coach, Vance Joseph – Dolphins defensive coordinator, Tom Cable – Seahawks Offensive line coach, George Patton – Vikings assistant General manager, Chris Ballard – Chiefs director of player personnel, Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer co-player personnel directors of the Seahawks, Terry McDonough – Cardinals vice president of player personnel and Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. Kyle Shanahan – Falcons offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins – offensive coordinator Sean McVay, Green bay executive Eliot Wolf and scout Brian Gutekunst, Colts assistant GM Jimmy Raye, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and assistant General manager Brandon Beane were added to the list per ESPNs Nick Wagoner. Fans and media alike immediately began speculating as to who the best fits and the best pairings would be. Like anyone, I had my preferences – I was super excited by Chris Ballard, George Patton and Eliot Wolf, as people involved in scouting for a long time it only seemed natural.
However, the 49ers needed more than a natural scout – they needed a leader of men, a motivator, a captain to help a franchise that was desperate for a glimmer of hope. Jed York has rightfully taken on criticism from fans for his handling of team matters, especially after leaks and the firing of a successful (and popular) head coach amongst the fans in Jim Harbaugh. York set sail with a plan to get a general manager and head coach tandem who could work together to right the ship in a collaborative effort. York made absolute sure that the next tandem did not have prior issues in their past. The task was not without its share of bumps, as candidates were rumored to be seeking assurances that they would be given time to turn this franchise around. One candidate who was very highly thought of was Nick Caserio – New England Patriots director of player personnel. Caserio declined the opportunity to interview for the vacant general managers position. Also, Chris Ballard of the Kansas City Chiefs was denied permission to interview with the 49ers, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. Ballard would later fill the vacant Indianapolis Colts general manager opening after Ryan Grigson was fired by owner Jim Irsay.
Fans were starting to worry about the desirability of the 49ers opening and whether York’s apparent affinity for firing people had an adverse effect on the search for new leadership. As more names dropped out of the running for both positions, the fan base grew even more restless. After an arduous process it slowly started to become clear that the 49ers were honing in on Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, one of the most highly respected and regarded OC’s in the National Football League. Not to mention the son of former 49ers super bowl winning offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. Kyle was locked into his current position, which was trying to get the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Due to being barred by league rules from signing a contract with another team until his current team was eliminated from the playoffs,or after the Super Bowl, leaving 49er fans waiting even longer for an official answer.
There was movement however on the general manager front though, as the list was down to three candidates: Terry McDonough of the Arizona Cardinals, George Patton of the Minnesota Vikings and a suddenly a “mysterious third candidate” had entered the fray. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out news of a mysterious new name in the pool of general manager candidates for the 49ers. I couldn’t help but think, “Great here we go again” fearing a crazy (but foolish) twist from York. It was later revealed by Rapoport that the third candidate was none other than John Lynch, former Buccaneers and Broncos legendary safety. At the time, he was working as an NFL analyst on Fox. Lynch, known as a hall of fame candidate based on his playing credentials, had no prior front office experience. This certainly set Twitter ablaze with fans in confusion.
Hit by shock and dismay, I too was blindsided. I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘What is this Fox analyst going to be able to bring to my beloved team?’ and I was not alone in these sentiments. It was later confirmed that John Lynch would become the 49ers new general manager. Honestly, I was not pleased. Why pass over two well regarded scouts working for successful franchises in Terry McDonough and George Patton for a NFL analyst with no prior front office experience? It’s going to be Matt Millen all over again I thought. Lynch had to deal with these kinds of sentiments while taking over a leaky, two-win team in complete disarray with angry and confused fans. John Lynch addressed the local media for the first time on January 30th 2017 via conference call. Immediately I must admit I was impressed with his openness and transparency, something hardly seen from this franchise especially recently.
The #49ers are hiring FOX analyst John Lynch as their GM, source says. Out of nowhere.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 30, 2017
John Lynch, when ask about his doubters said, “I would say I’m eager to earn their trust” via Jennifer Chan of Ninersnation. He knew he had a lot of work to do and most importantly, he remained humble. He went on to say, “We are going to aggressively pursue persons I have a relationship with that I think are the best in the business” showing right away that he knew he needed help and believed he had the relationships in place to assemble an elite staff around him. Lynch then stated, “I think that’s one of my strengths. It’s something I’ve done throughout my career is I’ve had the ability to bring people together.” Something the San Francisco 49ers badly needed was in fact, cohesion. Somebody to get the entire franchise moving in the opposite direction.
Chris Ballard was the other general manager hired in the 2017 cycle and I’m a big fan of his, by all accounts he is a talented, hard nose scout. He can find players and help construct a team, he left a really talented team in Kansas City. He was part of the staff that drafted Marcus Peters, Tyreke Hill and Spencer Ware. However, his task would be much more complicated had he taken over the reigns of the 49ers organization. The fan base needed an instant spark of hope, the leaks needed to stop, the rapport with the media needed to be smoothed and he would have to rebuild strained relationships with the 49er greats. By all accounts, that wasn’t one of Ballard’s strengths. With that said, he’s still off to what looks like a decent start in Indianapolis, where he drafted Chris Biderman of the NinersWire’s draft wish for the 49ers in Malik Hooker. Later in the draft, Ballard and the Colts selected Florida corner Quincy Wilson in the second round Matt Miller’s number one corner in the 2017 NFL draft. He went about acquiring Johnathan Hankins, John Simon and Jaabal Sheard in free agency to help a tame Colts pass rush.
I just couldn’t help but wonder – did we miss out? I still had lingering doubts about Lynch’s pedigree; whether or not he had the ability to galvanize a falling franchise or elevate the fan base that was broken. Not to mention, can he evaluate draft prospects? Immediately Lynch made some moves which shook up the media and front offices alike by hiring Adam Peters, the director of college scouting for the Denver Broncos. Peters was brought on as the new vice president of player personnel via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. He also brought in his ex teammate and former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew as a senior personnel executive per Jerry McDonald of The Mercury News. These moves seem to say, “I’m going to get some help to be the best I can be for this franchise.” I was impressed.
Lynch also went out and created a Twitter account to interact with fans; building that bond and a togetherness that was surely lacking in previous years. Slowly Lynch began changing the perception of the franchise in the eyes of the media and fans alike. John Lynch faced his first big test leading up to the draft when his most senior corner-back, Tramaine Brock, was accused of domestic violence. He wasted no time in releasing the player sending a strong message to the locker room that transgressions would be frowned upon and no player is exempt. Brock, who played at a position in flux, was released and was subsequently charged for domestic violence and misdemeanor child endangerment via David Fucillo of NinersNation. The message had been delivered loud and clear: this behavior will not be tolerated by the new hierarchy.
John Lynch was navigating the NFL world impressively but I still wanted to see how he would handle one of the most important parts of his new job, the 2017 NFL draft. All the talk leading up to the draft was based around what new general manager John Lynch would do with the second overall pick with Cleveland presumably taking the best player, Myles Garrett. Lynch played his cards close to his vest throughout the days leading up to the draft and it paid off handsomely. With the 49ers needing an influx of fresh young talent via the draft, he pulled off a great trade with the Chicago Bears moving down from the second overall pick to the Bears third overall pick. Per John Breech of CBS news, the 49ers received four picks to move one spot, the third overall pick, a third round pick 67th overall, a forth round pick 111th overall in the 2017 draft, plus a third round pick in the 2018 draft. Not only did Lynch give himself ammunition in 2017 but he also helped himself in 2018; veteran move from our rookie general manager. He was not done yet. Lynch moved back into the first round on draft night and picked a falling Reuben Foster who everyone saw as a top 5 player in the 2017 NFL draft. John Lynch later revealed he was the third ranked player on their draft board. The 49ers gave up their second round pick and a third round pick which they acquired from Chicago to the Seattle. Lynch maneuvered and drafted two of his top three rated players on the first night of the 2017 NFL draft; not bad at all. Deals would be made later in the draft and the 49ers would acquire a second round pick from the Saints in the 2018 draft. John Lynch has two extra picks in the 2018 draft which proves he’s learning quickly and already looking to the future, a future which looks bright.
The 49ers started out this hiring process with a long list of candidates but somewhere along the way they decided to make an unconventional hire that just might pay off. So far, John Lynch is off to a great start and long may it continue.
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