Much like in 2015, San Francisco started the 2016 season with a dominant win. The rest of the season quickly turned into a dumpster fire, however, and the once-proud 49ers are again drafting at the top of the first round.
And, with the firing of coach Chip Kelly and GM Trent Baalke, owner Jed York is, once again, searching for new leadership.
How did the 49ers fall apart so quickly? And what will it take – and how long – to get this franchise headed back in the right direction?
Al Sacco, writer for 49ers Webzone, joined us to take a few questions.
Zoneblitz: Do you agree with the decision to fire coach Chip Kelly, after one season, and GM Trent Baalke?
Sacco: I think in a lot of ways, Kelly got a raw deal. He was stuck with one of the worst rosters in the NFL, and it was almost like he was bringing a knife to a gun fight every week. Even still, the 49ers were right to let him go, as they needed to start fresh. Also, when you bring in a new coach when your GM is on the hot seat, you’re bound to back yourself in a corner, which is what happened here. Baalke had destroyed the 49ers and had to go, but how can you tell a new GM they have to work with Chip Kelly? It wouldn’t have worked. Now they can just hit the reset button and try to build this thing the right way.
Zoneblitz: News reports indicate Kyle Shanahan will be the 49ers’ next coach. Would you be in favor of this?
Sacco: I always thought Shanahan should be the 49ers’ number one target over Josh McDaniels, and hiring him is a great move. McDaniels has high upside, but there also are multiple red flags, considering his stints in Denver and St. Louis. Shanahan is the safer pick of the two, and has run a successful offense (in one way or another) everywhere he’s gone. There may be no better coach at grooming QBs right now, and the 49ers desperately need someone who can do that. There might be a learning curve, as he’s never been a head coach, but I think he’s definitely a long-term answer.
I always thought KS should be the 49ers number one target over McDaniels, and hiring him is a great move. McDaniels has high upside, but there are also multiple red flags considering his stints in Denver and St. Louis. Shanahan is the safer pick of the two, and has run a successful offense (in one way or another) everywhere he’s gone. There may be no better coach at grooming QBs right now, and 49ers desperately need someone who can do that. There might be a learning curve as he’s never been a HC, but I think he’s definitely a long term answer for 49ersI always thought KS should be the 49ers number one target over McDaniels, and hiring him is a great move. McDaniels has high upside, but there are also multiple red flags considering his stints in Denver and St. Louis. Shanahan is the safer pick of the two, and has run a successful offense (in one way or another) everywhere he’s gone. There may be no better coach at grooming QBs right now, and 49ers desperately need someone who can do that. There might be a learning curve as he’s never been a HC, but I think he’s definitely a long term answer for 49ers Zoneblitz: What are you hoping to see from the team’s new GM and head coach? And what does ownership have to do to get out of its own way to facilitate finding candidates capable of assisting a turnaround?
Sacco: I just want to see a head coach and general manager who are on the same page and have a plan. I like idea of young, up-and-coming personnel men like Eliot Wolf being paired with a young offensive coach like Shanahan or McDaniels, But Jed York has an ego, and I’m still not entirely convinced he won’t screw this up, He should really hire a VP of football operations and get out of the way, though I don’t see him doing that.
Zoneblitz: Has the turnover the last three off-seasons hurt the 49ers chances of landing the new leaders they need to regain competitiveness?
Sacco: I don’t think so because this is an opportunity for someone to come in and really be able to do whatever they want. The roster is almost like an expansion team, so they’ll be able to build it from the ground up. Plus, when the 49ers are good, the people involved with that become stars. Look at Jim Harbaugh. This is still a glamour franchise, and I would think it would still be attractive based on that as well.
Zoneblitz: What happens to Colin Kaepernick and what do you expect to see happen at the QB position?
Sacco: Kaepernick is a goner, and should be. He did some good things towards the end of the season, but the 49ers need to part ways with him and get someone who can throw from the pocket consistently to build around. They should (and will) take a QB early in the draft, but they’ll also need a veteran as well. Hard to give names without knowing for sure who the coach is and what kind of system they’ll run though.
Zoneblitz: Carlos Hyde seems to have the potential to be a bright spot for this team, but can he handle the workload of being a workhorse?
Sacco: Hyde was terrific over the last 5 games or so, which should give the 49ers some hope. He struggled to be consistent for much of his career, before coming into his own with 507 yards from Weeks 11-15. Injuries will always be an issue with him though because of his violent running style. I think the 49ers should extend him with a reasonable contract, but I wouldn’t break the bank. He probably needs to be paired with a second back.
Zoneblitz: This once, and even fairly recently even, was a proud defensive team. But it gave up 480 points and finished last in points and yards allowed in 2016. How did it fall apart so dramatically and where would you start in putting it back together?
Sacco: Injuries to Ian Williams, NaVorro Bowman, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Arik Armstead and Aaron Lynch killed the defense. They had no one up the middle to hold the point of attack, and were basically playing special teamers at inside linebacker. The lack of depth really hurt them. Still, Jim O’Neil was a very poor choice for defensive coordinator, and his scheme didn’t help matters. I think there’s talent here, but they need a coach to help put it all together. They also desperately need pass rushers.
Zoneblitz: What are you hearing about star LB NaVorro Bowman’s efforts to come back from his latest injury and how much could he help?
Sacco: Bowman should be fine to start next season, and even at 75 percent he’s better than most linebackers. They 49ers really need his leadership and playmaking ability, so him coming back healthy is essential.
Zoneblitz: Outside of Hyde, Bowman and maybe Kaepernick, this team seems devoid of name stars. Are there some unknown gems among those on the roster the team can build around and how would you go about restocking the talent?
Sacco: DeForest Buckner developed nicely and will be a cornerstone piece on the d-line. I think Arik Armstead will be much better when healthy, and Jimmie Ward is a good player on the back end. On offense, ugh, not a lot there, especially at the skill positions. The offensive line is better than people think though, anchored by Joe Staley. They have some young talent there in Trent Brown and Joshua Garnett, and Daniel Kilgore and Zane Beadles are better than people give them credit for.
Follow Sacco on Twitter at: @alsacco49
Follow 49ers Webzone on Twitter at: @49ersWebzone
Follow Zoneblitz on Twitter at: @ZoneblitzCom
Previous In Depth: Cleveland Browns
Next In Depth: Chicago Bears