This is a moment of great import for the San Francisco 49ers, about their self-image, about their role in the greater whole, about their future.
And when we’re talking about the 49ers, we’re really talking about Jed York.
Jed made his first truly inexcusable mistake as team president Thursday night when he decided to make his team’s 19-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks about him rather than his team. Tweeting out an apology and publicly declaring his employees’ efforts to be “unacceptable” was a tactical and strategic error in three different ways.
One, the loss wasn’t about the owner at all, but the players. Seattle’s plan and players were better, across the board, and that was that. It wasn’t Paul Allen being better than Jed York. The owner pays, and then the owner watches. That is what the smart owners do, and always have.
Two, the tweet was interpreted, as it should have been, to be about York’s increasing irritation (with the rest of the high front office) with head coach Jim Harbaugh. Frankly, the rest of the season is now Harbaugh-centric, and watching the two of them jockey for public approval will be both fascinating and gruesome. Once again, the players get shorted for having to be the second ring in this one-ring circus.
And three, it was the first time York has popped his head out of his rabbit hole to say anything about his football team, and he came across as petulant and self-involved. Now all owners are that, we get that, but there is a happy medium between Jerry Jones and Christian Bale. If the only thing people will know York by is some half-deranged tweet at the height of his irritation, he will become the tweet itself.
In other words, apology? What did you do? Unacceptable? You have five more weeks and then you can not accept it all you want. Bite a hole in your lip until that day.
These are things York will have to learn if he is to avoid being an easily-caricatured, single-dimensional Scrooge McDuck type. And we, being us, can help.
One, he shouldn’t just pop up when he’s irritated. He should make himself available, or never speak in public again.
Two, if he thinks this is all about the head coach, fire him now. Otherwise, he should stop letting the whole issue twist in the wind.
And three, he should stop confusing himself with the team. The players and coaches are the team. He is the boss, and he has enough trouble trying to figure out whether you want the people on the east side of the stadium to be in their seats during play, or under the stands buying stuff.
Oh, and there’s a fourth. He should make sure his general manager’s daughter doesn’t get into the habit of tweeting how you don’t want the offensive coordinator any more. Children see how adults behave, and then you get Cass Baalke tossing her chips into the middle of the table.
If this is the kind of owner York wants to be, and the kind of team he wants to have attached to his name, he should do nothing. If not, there is time to make amends and become the kind of owner he thinks he ought to be.
Or wants to be. The choice is Jed York’s, and the first choice should be to never confuse himself with the people whom the customers pay to see. The second is to decide what owner he should model himself upon – the creative talker, like Mark Cuban, the crazed floor-side cheerleader like Joe Lacob, the self-absorbed cartoon character like Jerry Jones, the outwardly dignified power broker like Bob Kraft, or the silent and invisible type like John Fisher or Charlie Johnson.
And the third is simplest of all – never to say on Twitter what he doesn’t want to say with his actual face.