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Monday, January 2, 2017

Can The Niners Send a Signal That Things Will Be Different?

Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group
In economics, signaling refers to the concept that one party credibly conveys some information about itself to another party. It is a method of overcoming the problem of asymmetric information, which is where one party has information the other party does not. For example, potential employees can send a signal about their ability level to various employers by acquiring the appropriate education credentials (e.g., BS, MBA, PhD). Employers can also send signals about the desirability of a place to work. This becomes especially important when they are competing with other firms for high end talent (e.g., high tech firms competing with one another for top engineers and computer scientists).

The San Francisco 49ers have a signaling problem. Two years ago, after Niner CEO Jed York fired head coach Jim Harbaugh and kept GM Trent Baalke the 49ers inadvertently signaled to the rest of the league that San Francisco was no longer desirable place to work or play, as evidenced by the mass exodus of players who left for other teams or decided to retire. And therein lies the Niners problem going forward as they seek to hire a new GM and a new head coach. Who will want to work for the Niners when there are other teams that are more desirable and far less dysfunctional? As columnist Ray Ratto puts it ("York Has His Work Cut Out For Him in Replacing Kelly, Baalke"):
You see, while most folks will be focusing on the identities of the next GM and coach (or coach and GM, if Jed decides to work backwards), the atmosphere is what needs the biggest workover. There is no compelling reason for excitement around either of these vacancies, no more than for the Chargers’ coaching job (Mike McCoy got canned after losing to the Chiefs), the Rams’ coaching job (Jeff Fisher was canned nine days after being extended), the Jaguars’ coaching job (Gus Bradley got it on a plane ride home), the Bills’ coaching job (Rex Ryan cleared space for Anthony Lynn to lose his first game), the Broncos’ coaching job (Gary Kubiak announced he is stepping down), or possibilities in Arizona, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New Orleans. And yes, it figures that the 49ers would be looking for a new coach when the market is replete with more stable offerings. 
Jed is good at several things – making a stadium turn into an ATM machine, avoiding the public, firing people and paying coaches not to work for him. Other than the money thing, none of these are useful social skills or confidence-builders. 
And that is what he needs most right now – a way to indicate not just to unhappy fans but to the hiring pool that he actually does have a grasp on this football business, even if his grasp is to let go of it and hand it to someone who can repair what he has wrought. The “it’s one of 32 jobs so anyone would be desperate to have it” logic doesn’t work when the brand has been so comprehensively devalued.
In short, the Niners need to send a signal that San Francisco will once again be a desirable destination in the NFL. Doing so won't be easy. In fact, the way York handled the dismissals of Baalke and Kelly (i.e., leaks to the media, not telling Kelly personally, etc.) wasn't a good start. As Tim Kawakami noted last night and this morning:
But once again, the Yorks muffed the delivery by leaking the firings on Saturday night without first telling Kelly, then declining to formally give him word until after Sunday’s loss to Seattle at Levi’s, which gave the 49ers a 2-14 final record. How can the Yorks make all the necessary, wholesale changes to this stultified franchise if they continue to try to play these heavy-handed public-relation games? How is this team going to be any different if their owners continue to act like children? ("A Bungled Start to the 49ers’ New Era")
As we all get ready for Jed York’s 10 a.m. third annual I-fired-somebody-we’ll-get-it-right-this-time presser today, it’s time to note that the 49ers might actually get it right in 2017, but their owner’s actions so far are not quite signaling that. Basically: Some good general manager and coaching candidates are going to look at Jed’s petty behavior in the run-up to the firings of Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly and his self-serving comments afterwards and think: You know, he’s just going to blame me for his mistakes eventually. ("Jed York... continues to behave like somebody who thinks he has it all figured out, but really, really doesn’t")
The Niners remind me of the Golden State Warriors when Chris Cohan owned the team. The franchise made a lot of money during his tenure, but the Warriors only had two winning seasons in the 15 that Cohan owned the team. And Sports Illustrated ranked him as the league's fourth worst owner. I'm sure that if Sports Illustrated decides to rank football owners, Jed would end up toward the bottom (Note: Yahoo Sports Columnist Frank Schwab believes the Niners' vacancy is the least attractive of those available).

The only cure for the Warriors was Cohan selling the team, but (unfortunately) the chance that the Yorks will sell the Niners is close to nil, so Niner fans can only hope that Jed will one day realize that, like his uncle, Eddie Debartolo, he doesn't know a whole lot about football and will hand over the reigns of running the club to a GM who does. I have little confidence that such a day is nigh, however. Hopefully, I am wrong.

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