Grant Cohn: Jeff Garcia dissects the current-day 49ers and his own future

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This is part two of my exclusive interview with Jeff Garcia. Part one ran Friday, Dec. 23.

“What do you make of the 49ers right now?” I ask the former Niners quarterback. “Why has their season been such a disaster?”

“Well, the key to success,” Garcia says, “is obviously consistency, and you need to have that in all facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams — in order to have a chance to compete on a weekly basis and have a chance to win football games. The margin for error in the NFL is so minimal. Games are won by three points or less.

“As far as the 49ers are concerned, it has been a very disappointing, very discouraging season. Getting a new regime, a new head coach — Chip Kelly — you’re thinking there’s going to be some excitement, some explosiveness from an offensive standpoint. But, it really hasn’t translated.

“A lot of that has to do with the type of players he’s trying to fit into the scheme he’s attempting to run. And when he doesn’t have the players that translate, it’s difficult to run that style of offense. Obviously, his style is predicated on a fast pace, being able to move the chains, being able to put points on the board.

“Unfortunately, when you’re not able to move the chains, when you have inconsistency from the quarterback position, your defense spends a lot of time on the field and you end up leading the league in minutes on the field from a defensive standpoint which is not where you want to be. You wear those guys out. And if you don’t have a defense that’s able to stand up and step on the field and do what it needs to do, it’s a very negative situation.

“I think when you look at the 49ers, there has been a positive from the standpoint of their running game. Carlos Hyde has had a fairly strong year. But, you can’t rely on just your running game when you need to score points and you need to keep up with teams. That’s one thing the 49ers have not been able to do well — they have not been able to finish drives. They haven’t been able to put points on the board.

“And it comes down to consistency. You look at the 49ers a few years ago, they were very strong on the offensive line, very strong on the defensive line — those are anchors to your team. They don’t have that strength any more. For whatever reason, those areas of emphasis have deteriorated within the system, within the team.

“And, you have a quarterback who struggles to be accurate and consistent on a weekly basis. He hasn’t made a lot of mistakes, hasn’t turned the ball over a lot. But, he also hasn’t generated big plays, hasn’t generated consistent drives, hasn’t generated enough touchdowns through the air in the amount of time he has played. And, those things all are detrimental and difficult to overcome when you’re a team in turmoil, a team in transition. They just don’t have the leadership or the strength on either side of the ball or in special teams that gives them a chance to compete on a weekly basis and win football games.

“Speaking of the quarterback,” I say, “what was your mindset when you were Colin Kaepernick’s age? He’s 29.”

“My mindset,” Garcia says, “was I was always trying to better myself mechanically, mentally, physically — all of the aspects that you have to put into the game. How quickly you get the ball out, your decision-making, your footwork, the length of time as far as the efficiency from decision to throw the football and that ball coming out. Every single throw in practice I would critique. Could I have gotten the ball out sooner? Could I have been more accurate?

“People have said I wasn’t a great practice quarterback. And, I take offense to that, because I felt like I was a great practice quarterback. To me, practice was a game-like situation where I was going to do everything I could to be perfect on that day. I didn’t want the ball to hit the ground. I’m talking throughout the entire day of repetitions — 50, 60 throws. If one or two balls hit the ground, that was disappointing to me. I wanted every ball to be a catchable ball.

“I needed to be perfect. Ball placement needed to be perfect. Timing needed to be perfect. Decision-making, where I go with the football based upon the read that I made, needed to be perfect. That was the emphasis every single day. There always was a self-analysis of what do my mechanics look like, can I get the ball out faster, am I creating bad habits, am I doing some things that I don’t like personally? And if so, I needed to fix that. I couldn’t allow it to get any worse.”

“In terms of mechanics,” I say, “did Bill Walsh change them in any way when you came to the 49ers? How did he mold you as a quarterback?”

“Believe me,” Garcia says, “I never would have had my opportunity with the NFL or with the 49ers if it wasn’t for Bill Walsh. I never had a chance to be coached directly by him on the field, but I had a mindset or at least an idea of what Bill wanted to see in me.

“And, one of the things I carried with me, especially with the 49ers, was that Bill was the guy who believed in me. It wasn’t Coach Mariucci at the time, it wasn’t the ownership at the time — it was Bill Walsh who truly believed in me and got me the workout with the 49ers.

“Now, I had to go into that workout and prove that I was at least decent enough to be signed. But once I got signed, my driving force was to not let Bill down. He was like the dad that brought me into the NFL, and I did not want to let him down. I did not want to embarrass Bill in any sort of way. I wanted to be able to support everything that he believed in me. I wanted everybody else to see why Bill knew what he was talking about. And hopefully, I was able to do that.”

“Speaking of 49ers coaches,” I say, “do you think Chip Kelly is the right head coach for the 49ers going forward?”

Garcia breathes deeply into the phone. “Yeah, well … it’s too bad things went the way they went three seasons ago,” he says, and then he laughs. “There aren’t many better options than what they had in their own back pocket with Jim Harbaugh.

“We don’t know the dynamics of the relationship between management and head coach. But at the end of the day, your head coach is leading your football team. And, he is the guy who is inspiring and bringing out the best of your players that you’re paying to do a job for you on the field. It’s not the GM. It’s not management. They’re not giving the pregame talk. They’re not on the field calling the plays. They’re not making those decisions. Your head coach is.

“And if you have a dynamic guy that’s leading your team and has led you to a Super Bowl and has led you to a play from another Super Bowl and all those things, I’ll be damned if you mess that up.

“It’s too bad that has happened twice in the last 15 years. First, with Steve Mariucci, and then with Harbaugh. I thought you had a similar situation with us back in 2002. We went to the second round of the playoffs, we were a young football team, we had turned things around. Yes, we lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who went on to win the Super Bowl, but we were turning the corner, we were headed the right direction.

“And then, they fired the head coach, and the reasons for that firing are still unknown, and it’s kind of similar to what happened just a couple years ago with Jim Harbaugh. The reasons for that firing still are not yet truly known outside of some bickering or some personality conflicts within the building. But, you know what? Their team was winning. Sure, that last season they lost a few tough games and they struggled a little bit, but they were going to turn it around. They were a positive business and people were packing the stands.” Garcia laughs again.

“That’s an interesting parallel you make between 2002 and 2014,” I say. “I hadn’t realized that 49ers ownership repeated their own mistake, repeated history. And it’s interesting that you bring up Harbaugh. I covered his entire tenure with the 49ers, and you remind me of him in a lot of ways. You both have the same passion, the same will which Chip Kelly does not have, in my opinion. And I have a feeling you’ll become a successful coach one day, just like Harbaugh.”

“Thank you,” Garcia says. “I really haven’t had the opportunity to coach in the right situation. And as you know, it’s such a relationship business. A lot of these guys have built up relationships over the years, being an assistant coach — shoot, starting as the bucket-filler, and the water boy, and the assistant to the assistant, and all the way up the tree.

“I come from a different path, much like Harbaugh, where our knowledge comes from years of playing the game. Now, I know Jim did some things in the offseason where he was able to spend some time with his dad at Western Kentucky and be a volunteer coach and hang out with the collegiate teams and get his feel for coaching and recruiting. And, he was able to get that job at the University of San Diego.

“I look at the situation at San Jose State (which recently hired a new head football coach), and that was a huge disappointment for me, in the sense of not at least getting an interview, not at least being able to share my plan, share my vision of what I can bring back to that university.”

“I understand your disappointment,” I say, “but you’re going to get your opportunity. And when you do, you’re going to crush it, just like you did when you were a player. That’s who you are.”

“I hear you, Grant,” he says. “I appreciate the kind words, man.”

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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