SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers have fallen to a new level of failure and futility, a laughingstock of the league.
Among the worst they’ve ever been when all that winning from just a few years back is still so fresh. Oh, and the Oakland Raiders are running through the AFC.
After an impressive shutout of the Rams in the season opener lifted spirits for a turnaround following two straight seasons out of the playoffs, San Francisco has lost a franchise-worst 10 in a row.
So, who’s got it better than us? (Almost) every-body!
“I just feel like every team circles us on their calendar,” Eli Harold said recently. “We can’t be the target. We can’t be a laughingstock.”
Fans have taken to social media begging for emotional, hard-nosed Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to come back. Hey, even one-and-done Jim Tomsula sounds like a better alternative to some — he won five games last year, after all.
CEO Jed York never saw this kind of losing and embarrassment coming for his once-proud franchise. He had high hopes of immediately contending again when he hired a big name in Chip Kelly nearly 11 months ago.
“He’s going to be able to take us to where we want to go,” York promised at the time.
Instead, there is little to cheer for in Kelly’s first year; the embarrassment of a half-empty home stadium many Sundays; and infuriated fans who have simply had enough and are choosing to spend their hard-earned money anywhere but $1.3 billion, third-year Levi’s Stadium.
San Francisco is worst in the NFC, and only ahead of winless Cleveland in the entire NFL. Quite a valley for an organization that reached three straight NFC title games from 2011-13.
Only adding to the pain is the other team in their market, AFC West-leading Oakland , is one of the NFL’s best stories.
Next up for the Niners (1-10) is a game at Chicago (2-9) this Sunday after a week spent practicing in Orlando rather than returning to the West Coast following a loss at Miami.
Kelly expects his players to keep fighting to finish this season as well as could be imagined given the historic struggles.
“They’re professionals and I think they’re all competitors, so I don’t know what they’d gain from packing it in. Is that going to make them feel better?” Kelly said. “They want to straighten this thing out, so they’re going to go out and compete and we’ve got a bunch of competitors in there that want to go win. I don’t want anybody to pat them on the back and tell them that: ‘Hey, you did a good job. You were close.’ They’re grown men, they want to win and they’ll continue to work that way.”
Oh what they would do for the Candlestick Park glory days of Joe Montana to Dwight Clark or Steve Young beautifully finding Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott landing a crushing, game-changing hit. Five Super Bowl titles under newly enshrined Hall of Famer Edward DeBartolo Jr.
“I feel very bad for what they’re going through,” DeBartolo said, “but they’ll definitely come out of it.”
The lost season could lead to the dismissal of Kelly or general manager Trent Baalke — maybe even both, though that would be a lot of money for York to commit to paying out given Tomsula still had his salary on the books when he was dismissed. Then, the daunting idea of both a GM and coaching search — again.
Or, they both could stay. York’s plans are anybody’s guess.
Four months ago, Baalke acknowledged the need to win for his own job security.
“If you’re in the National Football League, you’re on the hot seat. Sometimes it’s a little hotter than others,” he said. “This is a performance-based business. You’re here to win. I always look at it like that. I don’t ever look at it any other way.”
It’s worth noting that mobile quarterback Colin Kaepernick is making just enough strides and big plays in his comeback from three surgeries to land himself a solid opportunity elsewhere. That could mean the Niners would get none of the long-term benefits of his development. Or he might opt to stay put where he’s comfortable and accepted .
Then there’s the draft, on which Baalke noted, “We certainly have had some misses.”
San Francisco had 12 arrests or charges filed involving seven players from January 2012 to Aldon Smith’s August 2015 release. York vowed his franchise would “win with class,” and now the Niners are being ultra-cautious and trying to select only who they believe to be high-character guys.
Baalke’s choices since being put in charge of the draft have been questioned , along with why he wasn’t more proactive in free agency this year.
“Let’s face it, you’ve got to develop players. You’ve got to draft well and you’ve got to develop well, and it takes both sides,” Baalke said before the season began.
“It works in unison. You bring young guys, you understand, and we’ve talked about this, this is a developmental league in a lot of aspects. These guys are coming into the league younger than ever, less experienced than ever. ... So there’s a lot of things in play and you’ve got to be very good at both.”
Amid the losing, Kelly has rarely strayed from the company line.
“They’ve practiced great all year long. They’ve had great attitudes in terms of what they’ve got to do when we go out to the practice field, and I don’t think that’s in anybody’s mindset (to give up),” he said. “I think it is questions that are asked from the outside, but there’s never been a question about that from the inside.”
The questions from outside come with the territory when you’re this bad and the big-name new coach is earning $6 million annually over four years, paid in part by his former Eagles team.
DeBartolo spoke with his nephew, York, during his visit to receive his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence at halftime against New England on Nov. 20.
“He has some difficult changes and moves that he must make to turn this franchise around,” DeBartolo said in an email to The Associated Press. “I believe he knows what needs to be done.”
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