Although this is a 49ers’ blog, we are going to begin with the Warriors’ Draymond Green. Hopefully, the reason will become clear as we go.
You may have heard that Green — in a total surprise to us all — said something controversial. Talking about Suns’ guard Devin Booker, Green praised the player on a TNT broadcast, but then added, “They got to get Book out of Phoenix. It’s not good for him. It’s not good for his career.”
Which caused TNT host Ernie Johnson to wonder if Green wasn’t violating league rules about encouraging or suggesting trades. Isn’t that tampering?
“Maybe,” Green said.
Well the verdict is in. Yes, that is tampering. Green has been fined $50,000.
So just another day in the life of @Money23Green? Maybe, but it overlooks the point Green was making, which is also the point we want to make with the 49ers. Green has been saying this about Phoenix for months.
When things go bad, Green says, “No one ever blames the situation. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames the shitty franchises.”
That’s a great call. Do we really think it is just dumb luck that some franchises never get it together? It can’t always be the players. By definition and by rule, lousy franchises are given the best chances to draft players.
And yet, teams like the Washington Football Team consistently loses. Washington has had two winning seasons in the last seven, have only made the postseason three times in the last 14 years and haven’t won a playoff game since 2005.
Last week, a reporter suggested to new acquisition Trent Williams that his former team, Washington, wasn’t exactly known for its “winning culture.”
That made Williams laugh.
“Most certainly,” he said. “As soon as you walk in the building the vibe (here) is different. When I went to my first meeting I could feel the vibe. I feel like it is going to be a blast. I can’t say enough good things about this team.”
Well sure. The 49ers went to the Super Bowl. Of course, they are going to be fired up. Where’s the news in that?
The news is that it wasn’t so long ago that the 49ers were looking pretty much like Washington. They were 5-11 in 2015 under Jim Tomsula and 2-14 with Chip Kelly as the head coach. Let’s see you build a winning culture on those results.
Of course, we all know what happened next. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch came in and the team steadily improved. The knee injury to Jimmy Garoppolo in the third game of their second season set things back to a 4-12 year, but in general, it was clear they were making progress and building a tight team.
That was validated by last year’s 13-3 Super Bowl season and contract extensions for Lynch and Shanahan.
Now, does a lot of credit go to Shanahan’s play-calling? Absolutely. And Lynch, after some early draft choice face-plants (Reuben Foster), gets props for fielding a talented and sustainable roster.
But there’s more to it than that. Again, Williams sees the contrast with his former team. He says Washington had settled into a comfortable, no hurry, cruise control. Even a few days of working without pads on the 49ers field highlighted the differences.
“Where I came from a walk-through was a walk-through,” Williams said. “This is pretty intense. Guys are flying around. Raheem (Mostert) said it wasn’t a walk-through it was a run-through. You can tell this is a hungry group.”
Demanding, and getting, that kind of energy from the players is a cornerstone for success. Again, Williams made a point about the kind of effort Shanahan is expecting, insisting, for example, that his wide receivers stick their helmets in there and block downfield.
“It goes back to his dad’s philosophy,” said Williams, who played for Mike Shanahan at Washington. “If you couldn’t block, you couldn’t play.”
And how do you get that kind of buy-in? One thing you can do is support your players.
A guy like Richard Sherman might not be every franchise’s cup of Gatorade. Like Draymond Green, he’s got a lot to say and is more than willing to say it. But you don’t see the 49ers suggesting that he ought to tone it down.
And when the Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem controversy was raging, he did not hear criticism from the front office or owner Jed York. Kaepernick, and other 49ers, took a knee and got nothing but support from the team. It could easily have been a controversy that split the locker room. Instead, it affirmed for the players that the team has their back.
As Lynch said earlier this year, “I think ownership has been very clear that we respect the rights of our players to express themselves how they wish to do so.”
Or, you could be like Washington. It has a meddling owner in Dan Snyder, front office instability and tone-deaf approach that made one of your top players — Williams has been to seven straight Pro Bowls — so unhappy that he sat out a year and demanded to be traded.
It goes back to the words of amateur philosopher and professional baseball catcher (A’s and Giants) Stephen Vogt. Well respected in the clubhouse, Vogt has a simple mantra for success.
“Winning creates chemistry,” he says. “And chemistry creates winning.”
The 49ers get that. Washington may never figure it out.