When it comes to coaching and the NFL, everyone wants the next 40-year-old prodigy who might be around for the next two decades.
However, when you’re coming off a disastrous front-office disconnect that took you racing from great to disappointing in record fashion, maybe a proven commodity to steady the ship isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The fact that Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh couldn’t keep their personal differences from seeping into their professional lives quickly turned a two-time NFC champion San Francisco 49ers team which was a precious few yards away from winning Super Bowl XLVII into a league laughingstock with a “Saturday Night Live” skit for a head coach.
Whether he knew it or not, Baalke signed his own death warrant as the team’s general manager the minute he forced a coaching heavyweight, albeit a very difficult one to get along with, out the door.
Baalke could have bought some time, however, by going the next-big-thing route and hiring the flavor of the month in 37-year-old Adam Gase. Instead he elevated his friend and confidant in Jim Tomsula, a nice man and good position coach, ill-prepared for a complicated job that reaches far beyond the chess pieces being moved around on Sundays.
Predictably, after a disastrous offseason that included the retirements of long-time studs Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, as well as up-and-coming young linebacker Chris Borland, San Francisco took a nose dive under Tomsula and will finish the year as a four- or five-win team depending on the result of its final home game against St. Louis.
From there decisions will have to be made and 67-year-old former Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Holmgren, who made his NFL bones in the Bay Area on the Bill Walsh tree, is playing activist in order to get back in the league.
@RobertKlemko FYI: Mike has been very open about that. Said many times on our air he would talk with them
— Dave Softy Mahler (@Softykjr) December 28, 2015
Some in the fraternity may not like that look but when executives aren’t interested because you’ve been deemed too old, some times you have to start knocking on doors instead of waiting for the phone to ring.
Holmgren has been interested in the 49ers before, but Baalke has always been wary of a shadow bigger than his own so any possibility of the former Packers and Seahawks mentor rekindling things in the Bay Area hinges on the removal of the Niners’ GM.
That’s hardly the only hurdle, though.
Typically front offices in this league aren’t content with a sharp single and instead are always swinging for the fences, hoping to become the next version of the Steelers, a franchise defined by two things, success and the continuity that got them there.
Hiring a guy who could have tapped into social security two years ago can’t be a long-term plan by definition unless you’re thinking outside the box.
Surely, if you pull the trigger, Holmgren isn’t going to be on the sidelines for 10 years, nevermind 20, but he’s a smart enough football mind to realize that and would arrive in Santa Clara with a plan that includes his successor on the staff.
And as long as an organization has the patience to stick with the plan, they would still get that preferred continuity, albeit in a different fashion.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the The Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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