Entries in 49ers (149)


An omen for Chip Kelly? Wait and see

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — So you leave Chip Kelly’s days-late introduction as Niners coach — “I didn’t have any clothes,” was his explanation — get into the car and the first thing you hear on the radio, if by Nancy Wilson rather than Tony Bennett, is “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Has to be an omen right? Never had that sort of positive feedback the day they introduced Jim Tomsula.

Kelly is the Niners’ third coach in five seasons. Went from the forceful (and successful) Jim Harbaugh to the accidental tourist, Jim Tomsula, and now to Mr. Kelly, who team president Jed York contends will be here for a while. 

Nothing wrong with being confident. Nothing wrong with being arrogant.

Plenty wrong with an offense that not only doesn’t keep the other team guessing but doesn’t keep the home fans at Levi’s Stadium from an early departure.

The history of pro football in San Francisco is that of great chunks of yardage, of people from Frankie Albert and John Brodie to Joe Montana and Steve Young throwing long — and short — and people such as Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig either running with the ball or catching it. Sure, the guys like Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner were a major part of the Super Bowls, but it’s the Niners moving the ball that became their legacy.

“If there’s something synonymous with San Francisco,” said York on Wednesday after the official press conference Wednesday had terminated, “it’s offense.” And if there’s something the Niners didn’t have last season, when they went 5-11, it was offense. Touchdowns were a rare commodity.

The teams of Charles Edward “Chip” Kelly, 52, at University of Oregon, then the past three uncomfortable years with the Philadelphia Eagles, could get touchdowns. Often too quickly, so the defense barely had time to get off the field before it was back on the field. And football mavens say it’s just as important, if not more so, to keep the other team from scoring as it is to score yourself.

Still, the NFL is entertainment, and the bottom line is there’s nothing worse than the fans, the so-called faithful, being bored — which they were under Tomsula. Sundays at Levi’s were anything but enjoyable.

The decision to hire Kelly, apparently by both York and general manager Trent Baalke, was made a week ago. But days went by until the formal presentation in the auditorium at Levi’s. Yes, Kelly’s attire had something to do with it. When he came out last week from his home in New Hampshire it was without a coat and tie. Also, said Kelly, he wanted to attend the 87th birthday celebration of his father.

The Niners are only four seasons distant from a Super Bowl appearance. Then everything began to come apart at the seams. The Seattle Seahawks improved. NaVorro Bowman was seriously injured. Harbaugh, Baalke and York stopped working with each other. Wham, from top to bottom. And no less pertinent, tumbling so far into irrelevance that a scheduled Sunday night, nationally televised game, was replaced by NBC.

There’s a line from a decades-old song that the late Bob Hope used as his theme, “Thanks for the Memory,” to wit, you might have been a headache but you never were a bore. Headaches can be eased by pain relievers. There’s no cure for boredom, other than bringing in a new coach.

“I want to be fearless,” said Kelly when asked what the identity of the team might be. “It’s pretty straightforward not to be afraid of any situation that you’re put in. There are going to be times it’s difficult, that it’s adverse, but you have to have confidence based on preparation that you’ll see it through.” 

There’s a history of college coaches going to the pros and, with rare exception, Paul Brown back in the 1950s and Jimmy Johnson in the early ‘90s, failing in the pros. Maybe Kelly didn’t exactly fail — he was 10-6 his first two seasons with the Eagles — but neither did he earn plaudits. So, at the end of the 2015 season he was fired.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” said Kelly, addressing the issue in a generic sense. “And you learn from mistakes.”  No, he didn’t say what the mistakes were, the up-tempo offense that worked in college, the apparently inability to communicate with some African-American players, the determination to be involved in the acquisition and trading of athletes. Whatever, he was out in Philly, and now he’s in with the 49ers.

“One of the neat things when I was let go in Philadelphia,” said Kelly — “and to be able to get a call from Bill Belichick, or from Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden or Bill Parcells or Bill Polian — it made me feel good there are people in this game that truly care where this game is going and what direction it’s headed. They were telling me, 'I hope you stay in the NFL.' That meant an awful lot to me.”

Will Niners fans have the same positive message? That is the major question.


S.F. Examiner: John York: ‘We are disappointed’

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

He used to be the guy who took the media pounding and more. At one 49ers game, during a halftime presentation, John York — Dr. John York using his well-earned title — was booed by the fans at Candlestick Park, where the Niners then played. Got a little angry, too, even blaming a journalist for the treatment.

York knows tough times, and as the Niners owner, along with his wife, Denise, knows what they’re going through, and what the Yorks’ son, Jed, the team CEO, is going through. John can read. John can hear. The fans and media are unhappy. So too is John York.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner


Niners have reached the fringe of irrelevancy

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Intimate is how one could describe the Jim Tomsula day-after media conference on Monday. The 49ers head coach was there, in body if not spirit, and so were a mere eight journalists, written or electronic word.

Sure, the main group, the people who covered the game for the Northern California dailies, still was en route home from Cleveland, and there indeed was a representative from both of the two large Bay Area publications. But only one each. No columnists.

It was as if everything about these Niners is irrelevant, so let’s concentrate on the high-profile teams, the Warriors, the Raiders, the Sharks.

If the fans don’t show up for home games at Levi’s Stadium, then why should the papers or radio and TV stations show up for yet another presser that, given Tomsula’s uninspirational style, figured to be the repetitive questions and unfulfilling responses to which we’re now accustomed?

NBC television caught on to the defections soon enough, and as allowed under the flex format, switched this Sunday’s 49ers-Bengals game from prime time, evening, to afternoon. How embarrassing.

You almost feel sorry for Tomsula, who does his best to avoid explanations why his team is not doing its best — or, gracious sakes alive, indeed may be doing its best. Some speakers, Donald Trump for example, are full of words and emotions, popular or unpopular, and capture our attention. But ask Trump to explain Cover Two, well, you can imagine how bad the Niners might be were The Donald coaching them.

Tomsula doesn’t rant and rave, doesn’t crack wise, doesn’t berate his athletes, doesn’t make fun of those from foreign lands. He gives us clichés, which certainly doesn’t make him alone in that category, but in his lackluster phrases there’s a disassociation from what actually took place.

“You said the effort was there,” a questioner posed to Tomsula, “but the execution wasn’t. Given 24 hours and given some time to look at the film, why do you think that was the case? What caused that?”

Execution is a football term that enables coaches to avoid responsibility, as in “I gave them a game plan so well-designed any dolt could understand, but these guys are so uncoordinated they couldn’t tackle a kid from Pop Warner, never mind an NFL running back.”

As is well known, the late John McKay handled the subject brilliantly and pointedly. Asked, when he was the Tampa Bay Bucs' head coach, about the team’s execution, McKay responded, “I think it would be a very good idea.” He knew how to fill a notebook.

Oh, if Tomsula only had that skill. Oh, if Tomsula didn’t look so forlorn standing on stage in the Niners’ auditorium, facing all those empty chairs. Maybe with a couple dozen radio, TV and press people, he’d give us the David Letterman routine. Instead, undoubtedly believing it would be absurd to waste his best material, Coach Jim, sticks to basics — name, rank, serial number.

“The execution,” Tomsula told us about last Sunday. “The fundamentals. Blocking up front. Tackling. Wrap-tackling. Just wrapping up when you tackle. You can’t do that.”

You shouldn’t do that, is what he meant. The 49ers did it, and Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, who had lost seven in a row, the Niners were losers, 24-10. Twenty-four hours later, with Tomsula and staff having studied the video, the Niners’ incompetence became no more or no less apparent. Yawn.

Blaine Gabbert, having taken over for Colin Kaepernick, who twice was sacked six times in games this season, against Cleveland was sacked nine times. “We missed an opportunity for ourselves,” said Tomsula. Only a coach would phrase it that way. An opportunity? To do what? Go to the Super Bowl?

Tomsula, the ultimate company man, was asked how, perhaps against all odds, the Niners could improve in their last three regularly scheduled games. McKay or Bill Walsh might have quipped, “Trade for the Carolina Panthers' offensive line,” but Coach Jim never would say anything like that. You wonder if he even thinks of anything like that.

“Well, to me,” said Tomsula, “the first thing is we try to make sure the same guy comes to work every day. We think our way through things, and we adjust what we feel we need to adjust. We (are) taking a look at where those things are and the heavy connections. And making sure that we have our young guys and older guys working together and finishing each other’s sentences.”

Better they finish each other’s blocks.


49ers not good enough to overcome bad officiating

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was a football coach named Henry (Red) Sanders, best known for his years at UCLA, who had the perfect response when people complained about the referees or others in football who judged what was happening on the football field.

“When my team makes as few as few mistakes as the officials,” said Sanders, “we’ll win every game.”

That said, the officiating of the Cardinals-49ers game Sunday was awful, both in terms of making calls and keeping the pace of play from slowing to a point of stagnation.

That said, good teams overcome whatever is beyond their control, or whatever is within their control, which is why they are good. The 49ers are not a good team.

Indeed, they played well defensively against the Cards, who statistically have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. And the Niners were also decent, if once again inconsistent, on offense. At the end, however, they were losers, 19-13, to a Cardinals team that, after a sloppy, boring, perplexingly erratic victory, has a 9-2 record — best in the NFC West — compared to the Niners’ 3-8 mark.

Sport is about getting the job done, no matter how many bad plays, bad breaks or bad calls. Sport is about making the best from the worst. When he was at the top of his game, Roger Federer blinked away a linesman’s error and won the next point and invariably the match. When he was at his best, Tiger Woods would pull off a great shot from a terrible lie — where others might have moaned about their misfortune.

Those 49ers of the '80s and early '90s, the ones that won Super Bowls, faced bad calls, bad weather and other obstacles that would have stymied lesser teams, yet they didn’t stop the Niners. They had the talent, the courage and the confidence.

These Niners of 2016 at the least have resilience and perception. They comprehend that the battle is to the strong and race to the swift. They realize that grumbling about the officiating doesn’t help; in fact it seems an excuse more than a justification. So, despite their won-loss mark, and the inescapable fact they are destined for no better than a .500 record even if they win their remaining five games, they are to be respected.

The officiating crew for this game at Levi’s Stadium, where maybe one third of the 70,799 sold-out seats were empty, was to be pitied. And belittled. And questioned. What was going on out there? Why did they need to confer so many times after a penalty flag? Referee Pete Morelli appeared befuddled by everything and anything.

Maybe this wasn’t the sequence that decided the game, and maybe each call was correct and needed, but early in the third quarter the Niners were called for seven penalties in 12 plays, four in seven plays, three of those defensive pass interference near the goal line or in the end zone. Eventually, painfully, the Cardinals scored on a one-yard run to take a 13-3 lead.

Were the Niners simply that clumsy, that klutzy, that they were grabbing and clutching the potential Cardinals receivers? Or were the officials subconsciously favoring Arizona, which certainly came in as the superior team?

“Them not being able to get those quick-hitting touchdown passes,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said about the Cardinals, “and flaring their arms and things like that. I think that’s what caused the flags. We’re playing hard.”

And then there was a seemingly phantom roughing-the-passer penalty against the Niners in the fourth quarter. Second and 10 on the Arizona 32, and Quinton Dial bulled into Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, dropping him for a loss. But the hit was high in the chest, or perhaps at the neckline, and the 15-yard roughing the passer penalty moved the ball to the 47. From there, Arizona drove in to score. 

“I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” the Niners’ beleaguered first-year coach, Jim Tomsula, said wisely. One, because he would be fined. Two because not only would it be fruitless but it also would detract from his image — as bad as that might be.

“I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” he repeated when asked a second time.

Tomsula did comment on his team, however, saying it has made progress — in its previous game against Arizona it was battered, 47-7 — and there were positives in a negative game, especially from quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who completed 25 of 36 for 318 yards and had one TD pass along with one interception.

“I thought Blaine has continually gotten better as he’s been in here,” said Tomsula after Gabbert’s third start since replacing Colin Kaepernick. “There’s obviously things that we need to clean up, but I think he’s continually getting better.

“I see a positive in the offense in terms of reads and picking things up. But it is a loss. We lost the football game.”

And no matter how terrible we believed their work was, the officials are not to be blamed. They didn’t drop a pass or miss a tackle. The 49ers are not good enough to overcome bad officiating.


Tomsula wouldn’t tell us, but Gabbert showed us

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The head coach was hesitant to tell us, maybe even afraid to tell us, but the new quarterback certainly showed us. The position is Blaine Gabbert’s to lose because when finally given the chance to start he didn’t lose, and all the avoidance and equivocation by Jim Tomsula won’t make a difference,

Gabbert, a replacement for the beleaguered Colin Kaepernick, wasn’t the only reason the 49ers won a game, scoring a touchdown for the first time in nine quarters Sunday, then another, and stunning the Atlanta Falcons, 17-16, before some fans (70,799 announced) and a lot of empty seats at Levi’s Stadium.

The Niners' defense, reminiscent of the recent glory days circa 2012, and led by the resilient NaVorro Bowman, alternately stuffed the run and chased the passer, Matt Ryan, so a team averaging 414 yards a game was held to 302. And no less significantly was held to one touchdown and three field goals.

So if you want to contend as football people have for decades that defense was the difference — hey, if the other team doesn’t score, you can’t lose — you’ll get no argument here. But no less significant was the way the Niners (3-6) moved the ball when needed, and that certainly had to do with Gabbert.

When after their bye weekend the Niners resume the schedule November 22 at Seattle, Gabbert should once more be in the starting lineup. And will be. However, Tomsula, who is both uninformative and uninspiring, refused to make a commitment. His catch phrase is “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Of course. But the work has to be done by people on the field. And after throwing a couple of touchdown passes to Garrett Celek (and completing 15 of 25 for 185 yards, with two interceptions) and running for 32 yards, including a couple of bootlegs for first downs, Gabbert has to be one of those people.

This was a strange if rewarding day for the Niners, in a game that had a few spits of rain early on but mostly was played in dry, bleak weather — and so much for the complaints of fans on the east side of Levi’s having to flee downstairs to avoid sunburn.

The Niners had all sorts of backups, including running back Shaun Draughn (58 yards rushing, 38 receiving) and defensive back Marcus Cromartie, just activated, in their lineups. They also had a gift of sorts from Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, who went for a field goal from the San Francisco one on fourth and goal with three minutes remaining.

He went by the book, believing it’s sacrilegious to get that deep and fail to get on the scoreboard. “He was confident our defense would get the stop,” said Ryan, the Falcon QB. But the defense didn’t, and so the Falcons fell to 6-3. You need guys on the other side to make dumb decisions along with players on your side making smart ones.

Bowman was a major factor in the Niners success of 2012 and 2013 but had his knee ripped up in the 2013 NFC Championship loss at Seattle. Only now, almost two calendar years after the injury, does he feel like the line backer of yore — if 22 months can be considered yore.

“I’m getting there,” said Bowman, satisfied with much of his play, particularly a sack of Ryan on third and nine for a nine-yard loss early in the final quarter.

“After going through adversity at times you feel like you’re still going backward even when you’re making progress,” said Bowman. “At times we’re playing like we did in the past.”

Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, leading the NFL in rushing with an average of 88 yards a game, was limited to 12 yards in 12 carries. That’s defense. “The coaches did a great job,” said Bowman about the game plan. “They said we had to get in his face.”

Gabbert hadn’t played in a league game since 2013 when he was with Jacksonville. He was prepared to make a return, physically — he had a broken thumb at Jacksonville — and mentally, treating the start with the calmness required.

“The biggest thing,” said Gabbert, echoing the appropriate comments of others in his situation, “is we got the victory. It wasn’t pretty at times, but our defense played well.”

It takes an honest man to sing an honest song.

“I felt great,” he said. Until in the fourth quarter when he was smacked, had to undergo a concussion check and was replaced for three plays by Kaepernick. “I was a little fired up,” said Gabbert about being replaced, even for so brief a time, “but that’s the protocol.”

Another type of protocol is to declare the quarterback who comes off the bench to get points and a victory your starter. Come on, Coach Tomsula. Your team and Blaine Gabbert deserve no less.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 30 Next 5 Entries »