Grant Cohn: Verdict is in on Jed York’s performance in guiding 49ers

Will the defendant please rise. Court is now in session.

In the case against John Edward 'Jed' York, the defendant is charged with sullying the reputation of the 49ers, meddling with football affairs, alienating high-quality employees, repelling qualified executives and having a face you just want to smack with a cherry pie.

The defendant has taken a lot of heat during this trial, as he should. But it is the opinion of the court that, despite his face, his heart is in the right place.

In fairness to Mr. York, the court wishes to present five pieces of evidence which show him in a positive light.

Exhibit A. The defendant hired the hottest young guy in the NFL to be his head coach.

Kyle Shanahan was named the Assistant Coach of the Year for 2016 by the Associated Press. He was the glue that held the Atlanta Falcons together and the driving force behind their run to the Super Bowl, more so than their head coach, Dan Quinn. Shanahan's departure from the Falcons is the main reason most prognosticators won't pick that team to return to the Super Bowl next season.

Five other teams with head-coaching vacancies this offseason weren't willing to wait for Mr. Shanahan while he was coaching in the playoffs. Those teams each hired head coaches during early to mid-January. Mr. York waited until early February and his patience paid off.

The defendant would have been ruined had Mr. Shanahan turned him down after the Super Bowl. All the other head-coaching candidates were hired by that time. But Mr. Shanahan did not turn down the defendant. The defendant closed the deal.

Exhibit B. The defendant didn't leak information to the media before hiring his general manager.

John Lynch gave Mr. York a test during his first interview with the 49ers.

Would he leak?

'I made a big deal that this stayed quiet,' Mr. Lynch said on KNBR. 'Part of the rumors are things fly out of that building. So I wanted to see could I trust (them)?'

The defendant has a history of leakage. He secretly floats his intentions to the national media, the heavy hitters, like a trial balloon, then makes decisions based on the public's reaction to the leak.

If Mr. York had done the same with the GM hire this offseason, Mr. Lynch may have backed out and returned to his job as a television analyst at Fox, but the defendant didn't leak. No leakage for him. He passed the test.

Exhibit C. The defendant made a long-term commitment to his head coach and GM.

Mr. York also has a history of firing people after just one year of employment. He's like a child who breaks his toys a week after Christmas and asks his parents for new toys to replace the old toys, then breaks the new toys and asks his parents to replace the replacements. In his case, his parents usually replace.

The defendant seems to have grown up. After giving the past two head coaches four-year contracts and firing each after just one season, Mr. York has signed both his current head coach and general manager to six-year deals. This means the defendant probably won't fire either of them after one season because he still would have to pay them the following five seasons.

The defendant has given his GM and head coach time to gradually build the 49ers into contenders, just as Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis gave Reggie McKenzie time to gradually build the Raiders into contenders, which they currently are.

Exhibit D. The defendant had the fortitude to cut ties with Trent Baalke.

It has been argued by members of the court that the defendant never would fire Trent Baalke, the former 49ers GM. He was supposed to be Mr. York's sole connection to the NFL, and without him the defendant would be lost at sea — or in the back halls of the NFL.

For 12 years, the defendant clung to Mr. Baalke like a drowning man clings to a buoy. No one would have been shocked if Mr. York had kept that buoy one more year.

But the buoy was sinking and taking the defendant down with it. Had been for a long time. Mr. York had to let it go, which he did, and we all were somewhat surprised. The buoy probably was, too.

We may never know what finally persuaded the defendant to ditch Mr. 'Buoy' Baalke. But the defendant deserves recognition for having the courage to ditch.

Exhibit E. The defendant also had the fortitude to cut ties with Chip Kelly.

In a sense, this is the most impressive move Mr. York has made.

He knew this move would look weak. He already had fired the previous head coach, Jim Tomsula, after one season on the job. How could the defendant do the same thing with Mr. Kelly and admit to making two mistakes in two years? People would laugh. And they did.

To the defendant's credit, he stood up to the humiliation and fired Mr. Kelly anyway. And we know the defendant made the right decision due to Exhibit F — the fact that Mr. Kelly remains unemployed.

The 49ers are better off now than they were a year ago. That's Exhibit G in Mr. York's favor.

The defendant may now be seated.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the 'Inside the 49ers' blog for The Press Democrat's website. You can reach him at

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