With the recent firings of now former Head Coach Chip Kelly and former General Manager Trent Baalke, Niners Live is asking the question, “What led to their demise?” Was Chip Kelly the straw that broke Trent Baalke’s back? Let’s look back and see just how this saga unfolded.
Former 49ers’ General Manager Trent Baalke confirmed his firing this past Sunday on the radio station KNBR before the team’s match-up with the division rival Seahawks. Here’s what he had to say:
“It didn’t surprise me,” Baalke told the radio station. “We’ve done some awfully good things. Some very successful seasons. Unfortunately regret we weren’t able to bring a championship to the Bay Area, which they so deserve. I think the faithful has been great. Wish this organization nothing, but the best moving forward. I do see a bright future for them.” Via www.usatoday.com.
He went on to insinuate that not being able to deliver a championship was grounds for a change to happen. Was it all just that simple, though?
Baalke, who originally joined the 49ers as a scout in 2005 and ascended rapidly up the chain of command to director of player personnel, and the then general manager Scot McCloughan were instrumental in helping build the roster that made three straight trips to the NFC championship from 2011-2013 and one Super Bowl appearance.
Baalke was also named 2011 Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America Executive of the Year after signing 21 players since late July who made major contributions to the Niners’ instant transformation into a high-powered NFC West Division champion — players like free agents Carlos Rogers, David Akers, and Jonathan Goodwin and rookies Aldon Smith, Kendall Hunter, and Bruce Miller, to name a few, via www.yahoo.com.
Important to note: Trent Baalke, since taking over in 2010 as VP of Player Personnel, 2011-2016 49ers’ General Manager, has compiled a 57 win, 54 loss, and one tie total in the last seven years. During Baalke’s overall tenure over the last 12 years with the 49ers, the following draft picks/free agents have made the Pro-Bowl: (2006) LG Larry Allen, CB Walt Harris; (2007) LB Patrick Willis, P Andy Lee; (2008) LB Patrick Willis; (2009) P Andy Lee, LB Patrick Willis, DT Justin Smith, TE Vernon Davis, RB Frank Gore; (2010) LB Patrick Willis, DT Justin Smith; (2011) P Andy Lee, K David Akers, S Dashon Goldson, CB Carlos Rogers, LB Patrick Willis, DT Justin Smith, LT Joe Staley, RB Frank Gore; (2012) S Dashon Goldson, S Donte Whitner, LB NaVorro Bowman, LB Patrick Willis, OLB Aldon Smith, DT Justin Smith, LG Mike Iupati, LT Joe Staley, RB Frank Gore; (2013) S Eric Reid, S Donte Whitner, LB Patrick Willis, LB NaVorro Bowman, OLB Ahmad Brooks, DT Justin Smith, LG Mike Iupati, LT Joe Staley, TE Vernon Davis, RB Frank Gore; (2014) S Antoine Bethea, LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati; and (2015) LB NaVorro Bowman and LT Joe Staley.
What Led to the Demise of Trent Baalke:
Well, it was a dramatic fall from grace, after being credited for building one of the best rosters in the NFL from 2011-2013, a string of questionable injured/draft, and the stash of players that didn’t provide a huge return on the initial investment, including 51 picks since 2012. However, it should be noted Baalke wheeled and dealed via trades/compensatory picks to obtain 23 of the 51 picks himself.
Unfortunately, due to injuries, lack of proper coaching as far as scheme placement/proper position technique/player development go, and missing on draft picks in terms of developing into a Pro Bowl caliber player or making an early impact like a former fifth-round selection of Arron Lynch (who only tailed off impact/production/upside-wise after his promising rookie season with 6.0 sacks) helped contribute to his demise.
Also, hurting Baalke’s campaign of most like GM of the year was that he didn’t put a high priority on skill position players early in draft rounds; in fact, since the 2012 draft, Baalke has had 15 picks in the first three rounds and used just five on a skill position — quarterback, receiver, tight end or running back, à la second rounders RBs Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James, TE Vance McDonald, QB Colin Kaepernick, and first-round selection WR A. J. Jenkins.
Jed York refused to say whether or not he believes firing Jim Harbaugh as 49ers HC in Dec. 2014 was a mistake:
"I can't look backwards." pic.twitter.com/KqudnVvCRP
— Samuel Hustis (@SamHustis) January 2, 2017
Then, who can forget the much talked about back and forth unfavorable power struggle between Baalke/ownership and Coach Jim Harbaugh, coupled with the declining win totals also led to his demise. His most notable misstep could well be his two picks in 2012: A. J Jenkins and LaMichael James, who was endorsed heavily by Jim Harbaugh and who barely played for the 49ers.
LaMichael James was supposed to be utilized as the next Darren Sproles–type. That was what Baalke envisioned after the endorsement by Coach Harbaugh as aforementioned and as seen dots connected in the audio video below. The one factor Harbaugh didn’t foresee was Frank “the Tank” Gore wasn’t coming off the field/sharing his carries anytime soon.
“I respect all my guys here. I’m glad they push me,” Gore began. “But I’m being real: I train like I still want to be ‘The Man.’ I really do.
“I’m not ready to pass the baton yet.” Via Mercurynews.com.
And, obviously, at the time with a crowded backfield of Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon, and newly signed free agent Bradon Jacobs, made the second round selection of James a head scratcher and after James noticed he wasn’t getting any carries or touches, he grew frustrated and, therefore, eventually asked and was granted release from the team.
“They weren’t utilizing him, and he was frustrated,” James’ agent, Jeff Sperbeck, said in a phone interview. “It was a combination of the two.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said little about the move during his Monday news conference.
“We felt it was in the best interest of our team. And (we) made that move, and we’ll sign an additional player (Monday),” he said. “… Wish LaMichael well, appreciate his contributions and wish him success moving forward in his career.” Via www.sacbee.com.
Did Harbaugh lead James into believing he was getting playing time? Good question. You be the judge.
“We definitely all value and look at LaMichael as a backup running back, like a two,” Harbaugh said Monday. “And, there’s going to come time where he is a, like last year, where he’s fully in the mix and depended on and that time will come again. But, he’s doing a good job. I know he wants to play, he wants to be contributing, and when he is dressed he is contributing and doing that.” Via Eastbaytimes.com.
There’s a Niners Live theory that this was part of a string of power struggles between Baalke and Harbaugh. #eyeswideopen
What Led to the Demise of Chip Kelly:
The San Fransisco 49ers hired Chip Kelly to lead the charge in revitalizing/igniting a lackluster offense that left much to be desired in the excitement column and points per game scored while ranking dead last or near the bottom in every major category in 2015. His shortcomings? How about the inability to make in-game/halftime adjustments, blown leads, offensive play-calling, poor player development, underutilizing the talent he did have, predictability on offense, failure to establish a culture, lack of scheme flexibility, player regression, improper utilization of players skill sets/strengths, lack of leadership skills, and poor game planning/preparation of overseeing the team’s game plan on both sides of the ball? Just highlight a few, of course.
Interesting to note: The 49ers’ defense led the league in the most snaps played in 2016, totaling 1,102 and tied for fourth highest in yards per play against at 5.9, which many feel led to key injuries to five defensive starters and a host of other key role players. Therefore, killing the morale of the team as seen by players having their heads down during games on Sundays.
Before and throughout the season, Niners Live asked several questions: Is San Francisco 49ers’ Head Coach Chip Kelly really ready for the NFC West? Is Chip Kelly’s ceiling with loaded talent 10-6? Is Head Coach Chip Kelly’s offense NFL-worthy? Has Chip Kelly’s predictability and lack of creativity on offense hurt Carlos Hyde? Why the Bye Week may have only prolonged the bleeding? Is Carlos Hyde being utilized effectively in Chip Kelly’s offense? Will Head Coach Chip Kelly fulfill his contract obligations of four years?
Allow me to leave you with this:
Chip Kelly and Bill Walsh are the #49ers’ only two coaches to go 2-14 in their first seasons. The 49ers fire head coaches in back-to-back seasons after one year. The last team to do this was 40 years ago… When the Niners did it. After firing Chip Kelly, the 49ers will now go into next season with their 4th head coach in five years.
Was Chip Kelly the straw that broke Trent Baalke’s back?
Listening to CEO Jed York say the marriage didn’t work between Baalke and Kelly, and that he should have seen it, answers this question clearly. In the end, the 49ers decided to make a change and come with a whole new clean slate and leadership moving forward. Let’s see who the 49ers turn to to bring this storied franchise back to its GREATNESS!!! #eyeswideopen
On a Niners Live side note: When Jed York was asked if Tom Gamble was a candidate for the general manager position, his response was no, the 49ers are looking for fresh and new faces outside of the organization. Was Gamble the one who vouched for Coach Kelly? Yes, he was. Are Jed York’s eyes finally wide open? Let’s hope so. GO NINERS!!!
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus,49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author/Editor Niners Live. Co-Author Irvin Johnson Staff Writer at Niners Live.