It took a perfect storm of circumstances for John Lynch to realize the next chapter of his life would be spent trying to restore the fractured image of the San Francisco 49ers.
“Two weeks ago, I never thought I’d be doing this,” Lynch told Bay Area reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon. “Things change sometimes.”
Boy, do they ever.
Instead of hiring a well-trained, No. 2 personnel man from an established program like Minnesota or Arizona, Jed York became convinced Lynch is the right leader to dig the 49ers out of a three-year mess the CEO created with his own hands.
The initial vibe on Lynch during a 25-minute marathon conference call is that he’s bringing a form of transparency the 49ers have lacked for years. Unlike his predecessor, the GM was coherent, thoughtful and genuinely seems to have both a big picture plan and methods in mind for how to deal with inevitable small fires.
Lynch was most honest about this part: He did not have to take this job. He was comfortable broadcasting at Fox Sports and revealed he’s had some recent conversations with other NFL owners about potential management positions down the line.
There are many factors involved, but make no mistake: without Kyle Shanahan on-board as the next head coach, Lynch would not be coming to San Francisco. He’s putting his reputation on the line because he believes in Shanahan’s coaching.
“I thought he was the catch of this head-coaching cycle,” said Lynch. “It’s one of the best years I’ve seen a coordinator have. But when I talked to Matt Ryan and the players on this team, they spoke of the leadership and the presence Kyle had in front of that room.”
But there are other attractive qualities about this job that relate specifically to Lynch’s unique skill set as a visionary leader and communicator — skills this organization arguably needs just as much as talent evaluation. The 49ers are absolutely looking for a figurehead to become the face of the franchise and their 45-year-old was front and center stage on Day 1. The lack of communication between former GM Trent Baalke and previous coaching staffs haunted the walls of Santa Clara. Actually, Baalke couldn’t communicate with anyone. It was a tragic flaw.
That problematic paradigm will no longer exist, according to Lynch, who says the power structure between he and Shanahan will be as equal partners. Lynch is embracing the fact that he’s about to become the tone-setter for an organization. It almost feels like he’s been training for these speeches in the mirror for years.
“The most important thing that I can do, I think it’s really important that I articulate the vision I have for this team to everyone in the building,” Lynch said. “Because I know from playing for guys like Bill Walsh and Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan. I think that’s the most important thing you can do is articulate, ‘Here’s who we want to be. And here’s the type of people we’re looking for.’ If you want to be a part of this thing, I think that’s really critical.”
Lynch also did not downplay the fact there were a lot of “elephants in the room” and hoops he had to jump through with York and Paraag Marathe during phone conversations and sit down interviews. First and foremost: This process was to be secretive. Had any leaks arisen during the vetting, Lynch probably would’ve backed out. Kudos to York for complying. That must’ve been so, so hard for Jed.
You’ll hear Lynch utter this transparent phrase all year: I know what I don’t know. That’s why he made it a point to mention he wants to lean on Marathe’s contract negotiation skills as well as assistant GM Tom Gamble’s expertise in running a scouting department. It is a little frightening so many key people from a 2-14 campaign are staying.
But Lynch himself isn’t downplaying his own 25-year wealth of NFL knowledge obtained as a Pro Bowler and broadcaster.
“I know football,” Lynch said. “I’ll put my football acumen up with most in this league.
“First of all, we’ve got to evaluate what we have. I can’t wait. I can’t get the film in front of me quick enough. Just to evaluate the roster. I know it because I follow football on a broad sense. But it just takes time. There’s no substitute for time. You first have to take inventory of what you have to see what we need.
“It’s critical, also, to put together the staff that I’m going to be working with. And a lot of those people are going to be in the building. We’re going to go out and aggressively pursue some of the people I have relationships with that I think are the best in the business. So we’re going to attack it very aggressively and it’s already started in many respects.”
And what about John Elway? The comparisons won’t end any time soon, in large part because Lynch is bringing them up himself. In 2013, Lynch traveled with the Broncos to the combine and the new GM got a taste of what life would be like as the had of a franchise. Elway and Lynch’s relationship dates back to Stanford and it sounds as if the legendary Denver quarterback will be willing to lend advice — that is until the 49ers return to prominence.
“He’s given me the confidence in many ways,” Lynch said. “I know people and I know how to lead. And as I’ve watched John, those are things he’s done extremely well. And what I strive to do in this role.”
We can expect many more home runs from Lynch at press conferences. That’s part of the reason he was hired.
None of this will mean much if players, coaches and scouts don’t listen to him, don’t buy into his program.
But I’m betting that they will.