This is my Saturday column.
This is about Jed York, Trent Baalke and craps. It’s mostly about snake eyes.
York was doing fine during his postmortem press conference for the 2015 season. He was delivering a speech and his eyes were glassy and red. His voice shook as he spoke. He seemed ashamed of what he had done to his parents’ franchise, seemed like a man who had learned from his mistakes and was going to turn the 49ers around.
And then he revealed why he probably won’t. Revealed his tragic flaw.
“Trent Baalke will remain the general manager of the 49ers,” York announced during his opening statement. “Trent understands that I’m not satisfied with the current state of this team. Trent’s role is to find the next head coach and continue to build this roster and get us back to championship form. Trent has the skills to do this and get this done.”
Except Baalke doesn’t have the skills. He even admits he doesn’t have them. More on this later.
As York made his case to keep Baalke, reporters in the room started fidgeting and writing notes. Someone had to ask a follow-up question and give York and chance to redeem himself.
“You said Trent has a very clear understanding that the roster is not, the team is not where it needs to be,” one reporter said to York. “Does that mean Trent is on the clock, as it were, or on a job-security watch?”
“Trent’s our general manager,” York repeated, cutting off all discussion. He had made up his mind and saw no need to defend his opinion.
Let’s skip ahead a couple of hours to Baalke’s press conference later that day. We will come back to York.
Baalke spoke to a small gathering of beat writers in the 49ers’ media room. One reporter asked Baalke to evaluate his recent poor performance.
“You make mistakes,” Baalke said. “The draft is a crap-shoot. We all know that. It is. Now, it’s an educated crap-shoot and you can do the best you can to minimize the misses. But, at the end of the day, when you look at the percentage of guys that make it and don’t make it around the league, across the board, it’s a crap-shoot.”
The old Crap-shoot Defense: Don’t blame me, the draft is mostly luck, not skill. This is the most infamous, self-incriminating thing Baalke ever said.
He certainly is correct applying the crap-shoot analogy to his body of work. His drafts have lacked skill, logic and common sense. The past three years, he drafted five players with torn ACLs, and none of them has amounted to anything.
If Baalke had simply drafted healthy people, his results would be better. How bad are his results? In six years as the 49ers’ general manager, Baalke has drafted only four Pro Bowlers — NaVorro Bowman, Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith and Eric Reid.
You and I could do better. We could do better playing craps.
Baalke’s predecessor, Scott McCloughan, certainly did better. During the five years McCloughan was in charge of the 49ers, he drafted seven Pro Bowlers — Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Dashon Goldson, Michael Robinson, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Alex Smith.
The Seahawks also draft better than Baalke. The past six years, Seattle has drafted eight Pro Bowlers — Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett.
Bill Walsh coached the 49ers from 1979 to 1988, and during those 10 years the Niners drafted 17 Pro Bowlers. In 1986 alone they drafted three — John Taylor, Charles Haley and Steve Wallace. The only year under Walsh the Niners didn’t draft a Pro Bowler was 1982.
If Baalke had suggested to Bill Walsh that the draft is a crap-shoot, Walsh would have laughed in his face. Then he would have explained to Baalke the draft is about skill and insight. It is an art.
Baalke has failed to find a single Pro Bowler in three of the past four drafts. He also has failed to draft one good wide receiver since he became the general manager. The most productive receiver Baalke has drafted is Kyle Williams.
Some crap-shoot. Baalke would have better results if the draft really were a crap-shoot. His luck would even out. He’s doing something wrong and neither he nor York realize it. Sad.
Back to York’s press conference.
A reporter said, “Trent has complete, 100-percent control over the roster. Now, if a new head coach comes in and wants that, will that be something Trent has to work out?”
“I think it’s got to be something that those two work together on,” York said. “It’s very clear you can’t have one person have 100-percent say and not have input from the other.”
Any incoming head coach would be crazy or desperate or both to give Baalke 100-percent say over the roster. If the coach is any good, he will insist on having final say and will run the team while Baalke offers input.
Baalke probably won’t hire a coach like that, though. Baalke probably will hire someone who will hitch his wagon to a team of mules headed for the cliff knowing the reins are not in his hands.
Crash and burn.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.