The 49ers have decided how much they value Trent Baalke. They like him enough to keep him in charge of drafting and signing talent, but not enough – at least not yet – to let him succeed Scot McCloughan as general manager.
The team announced today that Baalke is being promoted to vice president of player personnel. Baalke will ultimately be in charge of the 49ers’ draft, and of free-agent and trade acquisitions. But he will not negotiate contracts, and will cede control over the 53-man roster to the head coach.
In addition to Baalke’s promotion, the 49ers named Joel Patten director of college scouting, gave director of pro personnel Tom Gamble additional duties on the college-scouting side, promoted Matt Malaspina to national scout, reassigned Justin Chabot from the South to the Southeast Region and hired Bob Morris to scout the South.
Speaking to reporters from New York, where he is attending NFL meetings, 49ers president Jed York said that Baalke, coach Mike Singletary and vice president of football operations Paraag Marathe will exist on basically equal planes, all of them reporting directly to York.
“Nothing really changes in the context of what’s taken place for the last five or six weeks,” Baalke said, also by phone.
The 49ers were mostly praised by NFL draft analysts after making their eight picks in April. But York said it was primarily the interdepartmental communication that sold him on Baalke’s leadership.
“I thought there was great communication between the coaching staff and scouting staff, great internal communication with the scouting department, and I think that’s gonna continue,” said the son of team owners John York and Denise DeBartolo York.
Eight NFL teams went into the 2009 season without an official general manager on the front-office list, though some of them had men – like Indianapolis president Bill Polian, New England coach Bill Belichick and Washington executive vice president Vinny Cerrato – who clearly filled the role.
York felt Baalke wasn’t quite ready for that leap.
“When you look at Trent, he’s a great talent evaluator, he’s meticulous, he’s very organized, he’s great at putting a staff together, and he’s still learning all the other pieces of that business that would ultimately put him at a general manager,” York said. “And I want to make sure that we don’t put too much on Trent’s plate and that he continues to grow in those roles. And hopefully it does evolve somewhere, but that’s not something that we’re gonna do today.”
Before promoting Baalke, York said, the 49ers fulfilled their Rooney Rule obligations, speaking to at least one minority candidate for the post. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed this compliance, though both the league and the team declined to name anyone who was interviewed, citing confidentiality.
York said he told all the interviewees that the team was impressed with Baalke. No one overtook him along the way.
“Well, I think it was a 5 ½- to six-week interview,” Baalke said. “So yeah, it was a lot longer than what most people endure. In terms of sitting down and talking through the things that we did after the draft and leading up to this promotion, I think most of it was done over that five to six-week period, when they got a chance to see the quality of the work.”
Gamble, in his sixth year with the 49ers, will now chart the team’s college scouting more closely, with a goal of more efficiently expediting decisions on players who have been out of school for just a year or two. Patten is hailed for a long career as a pro player and scout.
“He’s an incredible evaluator, and even a better person,” Baalke said. “And those are the kind of qualities we’re looking for. He brings a maturity to the organization for the personnel side of it that’s gonna help us immensely.”
As for the higher levels of the 49ers’ power flow chart, York and Baalke both seemed to tire of questions regarding who would make the call in which situations. Both emphasized the group decisions that will take place.
At one point, someone asked York who would make determinations on keeping or firing the head coach. After a pause, he said, “The head coach, because he’s gonna keep winning.”
Baalke, who is under contract for four years, has kept a primary residence in Loveland, Colo. He’ll move to the Bay Area now – but not before his daughter graduates from high school this Saturday.