York makes bold choice with new hire
Jed York can’t go back a year and un-fire Jim Harbaugh, just like he can’t go back and un-do all his other recent gargantuan 49ers mistakes and foolish miscalculations.
But York did something interesting — much more interesting and thoughtful than usual — on Thursday.
The 49ers CEO hired Chip Kelly, a combustible coach with undeniable skills who is almost certain to make things a little fractious in team headquarters.
Sort of the way Harbaugh did.
It’s a risky hire because Kelly’s last season with the Philadelphia Eagles was an outright debacle and because he and general manager Trent Baalke have entirely different ideas about football philosophy.
Let’s be direct: It’s unlikely that Kelly was Baalke’s top recommendation or even somebody Baalke wanted York to seriously consider.
Which is another reason this is so different for York, for Baalke, and for the entire franchise.
Just on its face, the Kelly hiring is a bit of a landmark for York, whether he admits it or not.
You don’t hire Kelly if you think firing Harbaugh after the 2014 season was a good idea.
You don’t hire Kelly if you think missing on Adam Gase and hiring Jim Tomsula last winter was a good idea.
You assuredly don’t hire Kelly if you think spending half of the 2015 season disparaging Colin Kaepernick to national reporters was the smartest thing ever.
You don’t hire Kelly if you need the coach to be an underling of the GM.
Now, of course, many other candidates bypassed the 49ers in this search, from Gase to Sean Payton to Hue Jackson.
That’s a lesson in itself for York: The 49ers’ job wasn’t as coveted as he might have imagined and that’s in large part due to the errors he has made in the last year.
Meanwhile, Baalke couldn’t come up with a palatable candidate from his personal list.
So York was presented with three options at the end of this search:
Hire the risky but intriguing Kelly (who had the backing of assistant GM Tom Gamble, an old Philadelphia ally), go back to the familiar Mike Shanahan, or let Baalke spend another week to try to find somebody else.
York went with Kelly, who is similar to Harbaugh, similar to Gase, and similar to a lot of the coaches and candidates the 49ers have shunned.
That’s a start.
Hiring Kelly is Jed York’s first and loudest admission of complete failure and his shot at trying to do tangible things to actually succeed.
Kelly will rise or fall on his own, which is the way he likes it.
But the subtext of this hiring is that York, for once, is tacitly acknowledging how much he failed this franchise and how much of it needs immediate retraction.
There are, of course, complicating details, starting with Kaepernick’s actual status.
Kelly has always been a fan of the quarterback, but Kaepernick is guaranteed an $11.9 million base salary if he’s on the roster April 1 and the 49ers might not want to pay him that much.
We will see if Kelly can convince Baalke and York to spend that kind of money on a quarterback they tried to diminish; and we will see if Kelly can convince Kaepernick that he will be happy back with the executives who tried to diminish him.
We will see if Kelly and Baalke can establish a working relationship, with Gamble in the middle, and we will see if they can agree on the re-composition of this roster.
Jed York doesn’t know the answers to this, and that’s the main reason it’s such an interesting decision.
Everybody in the world — except York and Baalke — knew that hiring Tomsula was ridiculous.
Chip Kelly is not ridiculous. He could blow the franchise into the sky, he could win, he could do anything, and he’s the best — and scariest — bet Jed York has made in a while.