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Steve Young offers Jed York advice on culture, hirings and owner behavior




Steve Young called into KNBR Wednesday and gave 49ers CEO Jed York an incredible amount of advice on what to do over the next week, month, year and several years.

Topics ranged from culture, hirings, owner behavior and started skewing toward potential candidates.

This is the first half of the 32 minute interview conducted by John Lund. The second half will come shortly.

Lund: What do you make of all this? The Niners blew everyone out. What do you think?

Young: You have to kind of go to the root here. We need to kind of deconstruct a little bit. The fundamental problem in that the NFL is so engrained, so a part of our lives, that it’s hard sometimes to recognize it as a private institution. It feels public. It feels like it should probably be pseudo, semi-private. And there’s moments like this weekend, where you know, in the press conference when Jed says — and that line will unfortunately be with him forever.

Lund: Don’t dismiss owners, right?

Young: To remind everybody, that is not a semi public institution. Even though it feels that way. Even though institutionally we as the Bay Area, the 49ers are kind of in our — it’s what I run into every day. Today. Someone was like, ‘Ah, those days.’ They lived it. They were a part of it. And that part is always the tension. And the tension is that it’s not semi-private and that it’s not, how I got into trouble a couple of weeks ago where owners aren’t necessarily on the hook like players, general managers and coaches. And so that really played out. And now you see it. And I think that the art for any owner is to create through the tension a sense that is shared. That there is a voice. And that’s a communication skill. And it’s an art. And we’ve got to get better at that.

And the other thing in the Bay Area, the Bay Area I mean it’s for sophisticated places and for sports fans especially. And especially with how the Giants and the Warriors are doing. People know 25 years ago the 49ers are that way. But theres a whole generation now who are looking at the 49ers like, ‘Look, we’ve got to be like those guys.’ So there’s a tension there too. And so there’s a lot of tension is what I’m saying.

And so as I look at the weekend, okay it’s going to cost some money to wipe everybody out. Okay, but then what’s the rigor around answering it? Who are the people that are going to help make the decision and it sounds like it’s going to be Jed (York) and Paraag (Marathe). And they are going to go around the country and decide. And I think they will get input from Bill Parcells, and other people that the befriended them over the years. But that’s why people are concerned, and we want to say it. In the truth is, you don’t get a say.

Lund: Are you a part of this process, does he talk to you?

Young: No. We’re friends. And we are friendly. And we traded texts for Christmas and New Years. And I hope the best. But no. I think people also need to recognize that when the split happened, when Eddie (DeBartolo) lost the team, and Denise (York) got the team, there was a tremendous acrimony between the parties. And, so the past, that 49er past is gingerly embraced, or, and so — none of us, they’re not looking to bring the past back. They are looking to go win Super Bowls into the future. And so I think we’ll always be friends, and friendly. And I think they do a great job with the alumni, great job in what they do with philanthropy in the Bay Area. So that’s all positive things. There’s no negatives. But they are certainly not looking to recreate the 49ers of the 80s and 90s. It’s just not a part of the future.

Lund: So you’re not part of the secret group? (laughs)

Young: Maybe I’m the idiot! I don’t know about a secret group. I’m obviously the fool.

Lund: People are overanalyzing Jed’s press conferences, and what he’s saying and what he should be saying. And who he should be talking to, and everything like that. I’m sure you saw it or heard it. How do you think from that standpoint he just handles all of this?

Young: Well, again, the tension between all of us over-invested in the team without any control or any anybody to — you need to bridge that gap. And how you communicate, you need to make a bridge, so that everyone feels invested. They feel like there’s a say. There’s a feeling that we’re in it together. Even though you are not. And I think that’s the art the you develop over a period of time. And I think that culture, if that’s the — and remember the flash-word last time was accountability, and I’m accountable — and so it’s like you gotta be consistent. And I think if it’s culture, then really culture goes to the person who owns the team. And that’s how you develop the culture. And so you own the way that it’s developed and who the people are in developing it. And so I think more than anything, what is that culture you are looking to develop? And how are you going to do it? And who are those people? And now they’re out there and going to go find them. And the art is going to be to try and figure out who can take control of the situation and build a culture over a long period of time.

And that’s the hard part, as they go out, is (in) football it’s such a gut feeling. The people skills — football is the ultimate people business. Other than the military, it’s just the ultimate people business, where you really gotta understand human beings and human behavior. Because that’s how you put locker rooms together, it’s not just tape measures and jumping and how high can they go and how far can they throw. There is a calculus to it all. The best, the best,  are always the best people-skilled people. And if you find those and if you know how to look for those, they are the best coaches. The best general managers. And then the best owners. And so you’ve gotta go find a tremendously uniquely skilled general manager. They don’t need to be friends. It’s not like you need to find a general manager and a coach that can get along. I think a lot of the best relationships are tense. That’s called creative tension. There was a lot of creative tension when Jim Harbaugh was around. But it was pretty productive. It was, you know, maybe kind of toxic. And when it becomes toxic, that becomes a whole other story. But I think some of the best relationships in football that I’ve ever seen were not necessarily swimmingly agreeable. And sometimes, how do you take that, how do you find that, it’s really tough to start with a clean slate. With no one in place. So now you have to find a new coach and a new general manager with no history together. Or even if they’ve had history together, there’s no history together as coach and general manager. So, to me, that’s a little bit more of a difficult — even though cleaning the slate sounds right, it’s like, that’s a tough one. That’s one I wouldn’t want to take on. And how do you start from scratch with those two guys, without somebody in place that you know well, and that everyone can kind of build around. Even if it’s a coach or a general manager. Just somebody in place. This is a tough spot. This is a tough place to be.

Lund: You’ve seen a lot of success and you’ve seen things when they’re not as good. From your perspective, what do you need in a general manager? What do you need in a head coach? What are you looking for?

Young: Well the best general managers, Ozzie (Newsome) in Baltimore, Scott Pioli in New England, Ron Wolf. You think of the guys that were just the best. And there’s just a calculus around personnel in the locker room. There’s a sense that it’s like a puzzle that you’re going to put together. I don’t know that there’s a common thread in those great general managers. And I always think, one of the things you want to do is have a heritage that you’ve seen those guys act. Sometimes it’s tough to be a great general manager out of nowhere. You have to be trained and you have to be around people that really did it well. And in San Francisco, I think it’s heightened. You know when John McVay was here, there was a heightened sense of sophistication about the Bay Area, about the 49ers, the history, expectations that come with it. So I just, I wouldn’t want to do this one alone. This is a tough place to do it. And again, how do you find that guy? And most likely, it’s going to be somebody whose been around somebody else, whose been great, but you haven’t done it. And we’re going to have to take the bet that they have taken some of the lessons from someone great and go repeat it. But general manager is a tough job. The calculus behind putting a great team together is — how many successful teams year-in, year-out are in the NFL right now?

Lund: The Packers, the Steelers, the Seahawks are on that list. Obviously the Patriots. I looked this up the other: I think there’s eight teams that have not fired a coach since 2011. And obviously they have certain things in common, obviously the one thing is a great quarterback. But other thing I was thinking, from a head coaching perspective, you are at four in four years now. So I don’t think they can take a risk. I don’t want a college guy. I don’t know that I want a first time guy. But I don’t want a re-tread. I was thinking of this list: (Bill) Belichick, (Pete) Carroll, (Tom) Coughlin, (Tony) Dungy, (Jon) Gruden, (Dick) Vermeil, (Mike) Shanahan are second time guys that have won a Super Bowl. But I’m thinking Josh McDaniels, because he got a shot, screwed it up in Denver, probably learned a lot, that’s maybe the guy I’m looking at. I mean Sean McVay? I like Vance Joseph but the Dolphins defense was 29th in the league.

Young: Please don’t bring in a defensive guy into San Francisco. Don’t bring in an offensive guy to Pittsburgh. Don’t bring in an offensive guy to Chicago. It’s just, there’s places that have a heritage and it just doesn’t resonate. And so please don’t tell me we have this tremendous defensive mind that we’re going to bring into San Francisco. I just…Say what you want to say about Jim Harbaugh when he was an offensive innovator and a great offensive coach, I loved that. I remember being on the radio being ‘hallelujah’ we’ve got somebody with what we’ve done in the past and who I think the 49ers kinda need to be.

So just tell me: Josh McDaniels does fit the resume. It does fit I made a mistake but you know he’s a good coach and now I can fix it. So that’s gotta be number one. And if you think about what you just said, John, it resonates with me too. Because I’ve watched Bill Belichick struggle in Cleveland and dominate with the right combination. And by the way, culture, you don’t set a culture and then win. I think you win and then comes the culture. It kind of feeds, maybe it’s at the same time. But certainly culture starts. I mean, you can start it. But more than anything that weird combination of personalities and people that you start to win and then boy, that culture takes off like in New England now. It’s just entrenched.

Being in New England a month ago, and everything is just, they get the most out of every asset they have. From on the field, off the field, PR, stadium. I mean everything really does remind me — I’ve always said that the Patriots picked up right where we left off. It just extended through free agency and leaned into all things we were doing for 20 years. Leaned into all the head wins of free agency and just found a unique way to deal with it all to create successful blueprint. And whenever I’m in New England, I’m like oh my gosh it’s an extension of what we were doing. They’ve really done a great job.