© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Injuries defined the 49ers’ 2018 season. The team’s brass has spent the early offseason period making changes to the training staff and speaking with other organizations about their approaches to ensure the same setbacks don’t resurface in 2019.
Earlier this month, the 49ers fired head strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright. Less than one week later, the team parted ways with head trainer Jeff Ferguson, who had served in that role for the previous 13 years. Jettisoning the two leaders of those divisions showed the 49ers are focused on combining the strength and conditioning department with the athletic training staff into a cohesive unit.
“We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters in Mobile, Alabama Thursday, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’re just trying to get that deal right.”
Prior to overhauling the training staff, the 49ers consulted a handful of professional teams in the NFL and other leagues. That included the Warriors, which have formed the NBA’s latest dynasty largely due to the availability of their stars. With exception to some nagging injuries, particularly prior to the 2018 playoffs, Golden State has won three NBA championships in four years generally unscathed.
Among the topics the 49ers brass discussed with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers was how they have molded both departments together. Despite their vast success, the Warriors added several members to their training staff prior to the 2018-2019 season. In August, Golden State hired Carl Bergstrom as its performance coach. The Warriors brought on Rick Celebrini to be their director of sports medicine and performance. One month later, the team hired Gerry Ramogida as its performance therapist and Brett Ballesteros as the team’s assistant athletic trainer and assistant performance coach. They have worked alongside head athletic trainer Drew Yoder and assistant athletic trainer Roger Sancho.
“We talked about them having similar motivations,” Lynch told reporters. “They made a hire that they’re very excited about.”
The 49ers’ 2018 season ended before it truly took off largely because of season-ending knee injuries to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (in Week 3) and running back Jerick McKinnon (one week prior to Week 1). This wasn’t a singular issue. The 49ers sent 17 more players to the injured reserve list in 2018. In 2017, 22 players were placed on I.R.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said no one is to blame for the onslaught of injuries. But the club is taking a new approach to training, while gathering as much information as they can from other teams to fix the issue.
The next step: finding the right hire. Lynch, according to NBC Sports Bay Area, said the 49ers have interviewed eight candidates to be the team’s “head coach of training.” The hope is that hiring someone who oversees the department will promote continuity throughout the building.
Lynch said the team is trying to find a replacement “fairly soon,” but the 49ers haven’t rushed the process. They want to get it right to avoid a repeat of 2018.
“That idea, that head coach of training, that’s really what we’re looking for,” Lynch told reporters, “(is) someone who can pull everyone together and get everyone focused in the same direction.”