This is my Friday column.
Let’s play a game.
Based on what we know about Jed York and Trent Baalke, which isn’t much, and what we know about their head-coaching search, which is even less, predict which coach they will hire.
I think I know the answer, based on next to nothing. And not only that — I think I know the exact words and phrases York and Baalke will say at the introductory press conference. That’s how confident I am.
Disclaimer: I am not confident. This is a wild guess.
In a few days or weeks, York, Baalke and the new coach (I won’t write his name yet) will sit behind a table in the 49ers’ auditorium.
“This was an exhaustive search,” York will tell reporters and cameras. “We did our due diligence. We zigzagged across the country, turned over every rock, every leaf, every broken twig. We interviewed 10 of the most qualified coaches in the country – Adam Gase, Dan Quinn, Shanahan The Elder, Shanahan The Younger, Josh McDaniels, Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, Teryl Austin, Gary Kubiak and Vic Fangio.
“After weeks of agony, we’ve determined that the man for the job is the man in our own house. I’m proud to present the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers – Vic Fangio.”
And York will stand and clap and flash his perfect orthodonture.
I’m guessing Fangio has been York’s man all along. I’m guessing York never intended to hire any other coach he interviewed. I’m guessing it was all one big show.
Let me explain.
Jim Harbaugh won 49 games in four seasons. Rex Ryan hasn’t done that. Mike Shanahan hasn’t done that. Any coach York would hire from outside the Niners’ organization would be a step down from Harbaugh. York doesn’t want to take a step down.
Fangio technically has won 49 games in four years. Fangio was Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator, and Fangio’s defenses carried Harbaugh’s teams. Call that Reason No. 1 I think York will hire Fangio.
Reason No. 2: If York hires someone else and the Niners’ defense declines, York will take heat. Baalke, too. The defense ranked top-five in the NFL every season under Fangio. No one can do a better job with this particular defense than Fangio. Why tamper with a good thing?
Reason No. 3. Remember what Baalke said at the season-ending press conference: “This isn’t a rebuild situation. This is a reload situation.” That should tell you everything you need to know.
Hiring a coach from a different organization is a rebuild situation. A new coach will bring fresh ideas and infuse his brand into the team. That’s natural. He will reconstruct the team in his image. He will have to spend all offseason getting to know the players and teaching them his terminology and techniques and football philosophy, all of which could run contrary to what already exists in the 49ers’ offices.
Rex Ryan would have to rebuild the Niners’ defense. His defense looks nothing like Fangio’s. When Ryan’s defense is at its best, it revolves around one lockdown cornerback, like Darrell Revis. The Niners don’t have Revis or anyone like him.
Mike Shanahan would have to rebuild the Niners’ offense. He uses zone-blocking techniques, which require 290-pound offensive linemen who can run. The Niners are a man-blocking team that has man-blocking linemen, slow, 330-pound maulers who bulldoze the defenders in front of them. The Niners have used man-blocking techniques since the days of Bobb McKittrick. Man blocking is central to 49ers’ history.
Adam Gase, the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, would have to rebuild the Niners’ offense, too. He has no background in power football. He is a zone-blocking guy like Shanahan.
Fangio would have to rebuild nothing. He already has the defense he wants.
Fangio already has his coaching staff, too. He could keep it almost exactly the same. He could promote Ed Donatell, the Niners’ secondary coach, to defensive coordinator. Donatell has experience — he was the Packers’ defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2003, and the Falcons’ defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006.
Fangio also could promote Mike Solari to offensive coordinator. Solari is the Niners’ offensive line coach. He was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007, and he knows power football — he coached under McKittrick in the early 1990s. If Fangio promotes Solari, the 49ers could keep their offense the same and make life easier for Colin Kaepernick, who wouldn’t have to learn a new football language.
And there’s one more thing. Fangio has worked for the Niners for four years. He knows the thorns on the rose bush of York and Baalke, knows their sticking points. He is brilliant and not getting stuck. His blood never flowed. Fangio must have watched Jim Harbaugh get stuck on those thorns any number of times — again, I’m just guessing.
So, if the 49ers hire Fangio, I want full credit for my prediction. If the Niners don’t hire Fangio, I will delete this column and deny ever writing it.
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.