This is my Tuesday column.
At a certain point, Jed York had all the goodwill and Mark Davis had none.
I’m talking as recently as six months ago. People perceived York as one of the best owners in the NFL, a forward-thinking young entrepreneur who had a brand new stadium, a great team and a great coaching staff. A winner. People perceived Davis as a bumbler who had no experience, no vision, no business running an NFL franchise. People expected him to embarrass himself. His Buster Brown haircut seemed to reinforce that expectation.
But it’s York who has embarrassed himself, not Davis. And it’s Davis who has earned the goodwill all of a sudden, not York.
It’s the strangest thing. Davis hasn’t turned the Raiders into winners yet, nor has he built a new stadium. He’s behind York in those two areas. But Davis is trying hard. People see he’s a straight shooter. People appreciate his sincere effort. When he thinks about moving the Raiders to San Antonio, people understand and cut him slack, more slack than they cut York for moving the 49ers down the freeway to Santa Clara.
It is clear Davis is trying to make a bad thing good. York is dangerously close to making a good thing bad.
How did he do that?
York allegedly leaked reports about his own coaching staff’s ineffectiveness for months last season. He allegedly leaked reports Jim Harbaugh would be gone. Sure enough, York divested himself of Harbaugh and fired many of Harbaugh’s best coaches. York had trouble replacing them — most coaches around the league didn’t seem to want to work for the 49ers. York damaged the 49ers’ reputation and his own reputation, and had to hire lesser coaches from his own organization, coaches without much standing in the league. It was all very humiliating.
Now, people wonder if York is a meddler, a backstabber, someone who tries to subvert his own cause.
Davis still has to prove he is an effective owner, but he doesn’t try to hurt his team. He’s no meddler or backstabber. When he fired interim head coach Tony Sparano, Davis didn’t leak reports about him or badmouth him to the press. Davis let him go with dignity.
As a result, good coaches didn’t avoid Davis this offseason. They came to him. Davis was able to do what York couldn’t — hire a good head coach from outside the organization. Davis hired Jack Del Rio, who has nine years of experience as a head coach in the NFL. Almost in desperation, York latched onto his defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, who has one year of experience as a head coach in NFL Europe.
Mark also hired two coordinators from outside the organization. Jed couldn’t get any coordinators from outside the 49ers. It’s like the Niners were under quarantine. Six months ago did you think the Raiders would have a more respected coaching staff than the 49ers going into 2015?
It’s like we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.
And here is the strangest thing. During the past six months, we’ve come to learn that Jed is more like Al Davis than Al’s son, Mark. And Mark is more like Eddie DeBartolo Jr. than Eddie’s own nephew, Jed. Maybe Mark and Jed got switched at birth.
Jed inserts himself into football matters like Al and talks publically about football philosophy like Al. Jed hasn’t coached like Al, nor has he won a Super Bowl like Al, but Jed certainly has a philosophy about how to win a Super Bowl which he explained at Tomsula’s introductory press conference on January 15th:
“When you’re talking about winning a Super Bowl, it’s not about having the most innovative scheme on this side of the ball or that side of the ball. It’s not about having the best player here. In basketball, one player that’s 20 percent of your team. That makes a big difference. One player in football, that’s 1/22nd of your team, 1/25th, 1/30th when you’re talking about special teams and guys that really contribute on a daily basis. So, it’s a bunch of collections of little things that make the difference.”
You never heard Eddie talk like that. Never. Football was not his field and he knew it. He put his employees in charge of football and let them do football, which is what Mark does.
Mark lets general manager Reggie McKenzie run the Raiders. Mark relies on Reggie’s expertise, just like Eddie relied on the expertise of John McVay and Bill Walsh. Getting out of the way was Eddie’s genius. People respect an owner who gets out of the way. It’s how good owners act.
Which means people respect Mark. He’s running his team the right way. The Raiders are improving. And he hasn’t damaged anything like Jed.
Jed and Mark share the same market. Jed’s mere existence makes Mark look good.
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.