Chip Kelly lacked tools to succeed under GM Trent Baalke in San Francisco
- Since firing Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have devolved into the laughingstock of the NFL. Who will want to lead this struggling team next?
Curses can come in many forms. For the Chicago Cubs, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Cianis’s goat wasn’t allowed into Game 4 of the 1945 World Series. A frustrated Cianis exclaimed that the Cubs would lose the Series and would never win another World Series again. For over 70 years, he was right.
Another may be brewing in San Francisco. After ending their season with a 25–23 loss to the Seahawks, the 49ers cleaned house, firing both head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke. This was a dramatic move for sure, but one that feels like simply part of the domino effect since the 49ers inexplicably pushed Jim Harbaugh out the door two years ago. This franchise has been rooted in utter chaos, drowning in losses since that firing. Harbaugh haunts the 49ers to this day, not just because his stunning turnaround of the Michigan program is a stark reminder of the magic he brought, but also because it is increasingly obvious that no duplicate coach exists.
Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) January 4, 2016
Kelly wasn’t it, though he is certainly getting the raw end of the deal. A 2–13 record is nothing to write home about, but given the sad state of the 49ers’ top-to-bottom roster (especially when NaVorro Bowman was lost for the season), this was rightfully a 2–13 team. The 49ers didn’t contend in these games, they were utter embarrassments—only four of the 13 losses were within a touchdown. The offensive talent began and ended with the running game, led by Carlos Hyde and left tackle Joe Staley, ranking fourth in the NFL. For most of the season, the 49ers trotted out Torrey Smith and Rod Streater as their starting receivers (if you’re thinking “who?”, that’s quite all right). Blaine Gabbert started a few too many games, but Kelly eventually did the right thing by switching to Colin Kaepernick.
It’s pretty impossible to judge Kelly by one season, with these players as his chess pieces. Who knows if Kelly is more suited to the college game? Many folks said the same thing about Harbaugh two years ago, and now any NFL organization with an opening would clamor to have him.
Kelly’s ousting had to happen because the 49ers need a GM who can pick the next coach. While there is no evidence of Kelly trying to power grab in San Francisco, he is not the puppet type who will simply smile and blindly follow orders to save his job. As for the new GM... well, good luck with steering an absolute disaster of a situation. The stunning mass exodus and retirement of players in the past few years only set the table. Aside from Baalke setting the organization back years by being a central figure in the ousting of Harbaugh, his drafting has left gaping holes, most notably at receiver. (Remember A.J. Jenkins?)
But the biggest cloud is the mountain of sheer toxicity that looms in Santa Clara, the one that inspired so many “Fire Jed York” and “Fire Baalke” signs. This organization, once known for class and collecting Super Bowl rings, has become the laughing stock of the NFL. Leaking rumors, trotting out a coach like Jim Tomsula, who had no business being a head coach, throwing a desperation dart toward Kelly.
What talented, in-demand GM candidate is going to put Jed York’s 49ers near the top of the list? What coaching candidate isn’t going to be spooked by the fact that the two predecessors were canned after just one year? These jobs will get filled—they always are—but the path back to greatness appears to be treacherous. The 49ers should return to the Super Bowl sometime in the next 70 years, but curses are a strange thing.