49ers' draft in hands of 'grinder' Baalke

SANTA CLARA — Five weeks before the draft, Trent Baalke's professional life was altered when the 49ers and Scot McCloughan "mutually" parted ways.

Baalke is the 49ers' director of player personnel. He replaced McCloughan in that role in 2008 after the club stripped then-coach Mike Nolan of final say in personnel matters and elevated McCloughan to general manager.

Although Baalke, 46, has not assumed the title of general manager, that is just a matter of semantics.

He leads the 49ers into this week's NFL draft as the organization's top decision-maker on football matters. He makes the call on prospective free agents. And he has the power to execute trades — something he did Friday with the acquisition of speedy receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. from the Miami Dolphins for a fifth-round draft pick.

Baalke's responsibilities have changed, all right. And he's not entirely convincing when he tries to explain why his job hasn't been altered that much.

"It's changed only in the sense that you're preparing to make the decisions," Baalke said.

"In terms of the amount of hours, process or the evaluation of players, none of that has changed."

Even Baalke admits plenty has changed in his life from his days as athletic director at Shanley High in Fargo, N.D. In his previous job, he was the defensive line/strength and conditioning coach at South Dakota State.

"I never even contemplated getting into the NFL on the personnel side," Baalke said. "I was a college coach in the Dakotas and got out of coaching to pursue some other goals back in the mid-'90s.

"When I was a college coach, I was the liaison that dealt with the scouts when they came in to visit the university to talk with the players. So I got to know a lot of the scouts at that point in time."

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