Grant Cohn: Why Jed York’s future with 49ers is tied to Chip Kelly
What is Jed York thinking right now?
Maybe he’s thinking about his parents, Denise and John. How generous they’ve been to Jed the past eight years. How they made him the team’s CEO when he was only 28 years old. How they let him run their franchise and spend their money and hire head coaches. How they let him sign Mike Singletary to a four-year, $10 million contract Jed’s first day on the job - Dec. 28, 2008.
Then, they let Jed fire Singletary with two years and $5 million remaining on his deal. Had to pay Singletary $2.5 million in 2011 and another $2.5 million in 2012 to do nothing while also paying $5 million per year to Singletary’s replacement, Jim Harbaugh, whom York gave a five-year, $25 million contract on Jan. 7, 2011.
For two years Jed’s parents paid $7.5 million for two head coaches, all because Jed’s first hire was one of the worst in NFL history. But Jed’s parents stuck with their son. Believed in him. Gave him a second chance. Paid for his sin and let him hire a second head coach. Generous parents.
Jed’s next hire was brilliant. Harbaugh led the 49ers to three consecutive NFC championship games his first-three seasons coaching the team - he was one of the most successful head coaches in the league. But he never won the Super Bowl, which Jed seemed to hold against him. Jed seemed to think Harbaugh had taken the Niners as far as he could, and the team would be better without him.
Allegedly, Jed tried to trade Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns in February of 2014, but the trade fell through. Ten months later the Niners had an 8-8 season and Jed pushed Harbaugh out the door, which Harbaugh gladly walked through on his way to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Harbaugh became an instant success.
Everyone knew Jed screwed up. Even his parents probably knew it. Jed had a great coach and got rid of him for no good reason. But John and Denise still stuck by their first born. Trusted his judgement and let him hire head coach No. 3 - Jim Tomsula.
Jed signed Tomsula to a four-year, $14 million deal on Jan. 14, 2015. Less than 12 months later, Jed fired Tomsula after the Niners went 5-11.
“We’ve got several years of Jimmy T’s salary left, and we’re going to eat it,” Jed said shortly he gave Tomsula the ax. “Whether he’s coaching somewhere else or not, we owe him that.”
Read: My parents owe him that.
Jed went on. “I could have easily come out and said, ‘Hey we had a lot of injuries this year. A lot of things didn’t go our way. We’re going to stick with this.’ That’s not where we are. We’re willing to spend what it takes to make everything right to get back to a championship culture.”
Read: My parents are willing to let me spend as much of their cash as it takes to make everything right.
York wasn’t kidding. On Jan. 14, 2016, he signed Chip Kelly to a four-year, $24 million contract. Add in the $3.5 million each of the next three years his parents have to pay Tomsula, and Denise and John are on the hook for $28.5 million through 2018. That’s $9.5 million per season for head coaches. The highest-paid coaches in the NFL - Pete Carroll and Sean Payton - make only $8 million per season. No one currently pays more for head coaches than the Yorks.
Maybe that’s what Jed is thinking about right now. Maybe he did the math and realizes just how generous his parents have been. Almost every NFL owner would fire his or her CEO before paying almost $10 million a year for two head coaches, one of whom no longer works.
Obviously, Denise and John don’t want to fire their son. Jed knows that. But they also can’t keep paying coaches to not coach. Jed must know that, too. His parents don’t have an endless supply of money and patience to fix his mistakes.
Since they gave Jed control of the team in 2008, they have committed $68 million to four coaches he hired. Even the most generous parents/owners probably wouldn’t pay for a fifth head coach any time soon. Not without also firing a high-level executive.
For the first time in eight years, Jed probably is thinking about job security. His grace period. It’s over. He’s out of mistakes, out of moves he can make. His career is 100-percent tied to his most recent hire - Kelly.
If Kelly succeeds, Jed stays. If Kelly flops in the next couple of years, Denise and John would have to hire yet another replacement and pay three head coaches at once. In which case, how could they not fire their son?
Kelly better work out. I’m guessing that’s what Jed is thinking.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.