NFL: York shows winning moves on and off the field

FOOTBALL: 49ers' Staley looks to bounce back from rough outing

It was one year ago that Jed York, Trent Baalke and then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh met at the home of a mutual friend and retired into the pool room. It was about noon. Sandwiches were waiting for them.
York introduced himself to Harbaugh, said a few words about his vision for the 49ers – he wanted a coach that knew how to handle quarterbacks – and then sat back and let Harbaugh and Baalke talk football until the sun went down.
And that, said York’s uncle, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., during a Wednesday phone call, is the most brilliant maneuver any owner can make.
“Jed has done what every owner in the league should try to do, and that is stay out of it,” said DeBartolo, the 49ers’ still-beloved former owner, from his office in Tampa, Fla. “To do that at his age? That says so much. I’m so impressed and so happy for him.”
When Baalke and Harbaugh talked shop a year ago, the 49ers hadn’t had a winning record in eight seasons. York was 10 days from firing coach Mike Singletary. Quarterback Alex Smith was a free agent who wanted no part of the team that drafted him. And the 49ers were playing in a dilapidated stadium that no one outside of team’s front office was confident would be replaced anytime soon.
The year wasn’t perfect for the 30-year-old York. There were ugly incidents before, during and after the team’s annual preseason game against the Raiders that gave the Bay Area a black eye.
And when the national spotlight finally was pointed toward the 49ers’ triumphs during a Monday night game against the Steelers last month, the lights went out. Twice.
But it says something when you can throw those notable black marks into the equation and York still comes out way ahead.
Even his decision to spend a week in Youngstown, Ohio – a head scratcher at the time – is an inspired move in retrospect.
DeBartolo was there and took in one of the team’s practices, perhaps his first since he was forced to relinquish control of the team in 2000.
“I was in Youngstown at the same time,” he said. “I just didn’t tell anybody.”
The five-day stay was a nice bonding experience for the players and offered the ideal backdrop – a former steel town dotted with old mills and smokestacks – for a team that wore blue mechanics shirts all season and identified itself by its workmanlike approach.
Two days after leaving Youngstown, the 49ers engineered a come-from behind victory against the Eagles, their best win of the season.
Previous 49ers seasons were marked by long, losing skids the team never could counteract. The trip to Ohio was the start of an eight-game winning streak that, for all practicality, decided the NFC West by November and helped the 49ers grab the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
York’s victories also have come off the field. The team’s $1 billion stadium is now fully funded and make-ready work begins this month. Maybe the project would be at the same stage if the 49ers finished 8-8 this year. But 13-3 and headed to the playoffs sounds a lot better when you are selling sponsorships and luxury suites.
There are all sorts of parallels between the 1981 squad that won the franchise’s first Super Bowl and the current one, which is gunning for Trophy No. 6.
Perhaps the best one is that men running the organization seemed to have a knack for finding the right people to work under them. For DeBartolo it was John McVay, Carmen Policy and Bill Walsh.
York, meanwhile, seems to have found the right combination with Baalke, an executive of the year candidate, and Harbaugh, a shoo-in for coach of the year.
Asked about similarities with the 1981 team, which also went 13-3, DeBartolo insisted this year’s team is far more talented. Does that mean it can win the Super Bowl?
“I have a feeling about this team …” DeBartolo said.
He didn’t finish his thought. He didn’t have to.

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