Late March is no time for an NFL team to hire a general manager.
The San Francisco 49ers have put off the decision until after the draft, but late April isn't a good time, either.
May, June or July might be worse. The more time passes, the harder it becomes to justify introducing a strong new voice into a team's meeting rooms.
Forget about hiring one during training camp or the regular season.
"I haven't decided on whether we're going to have a general manager," team president Jed York said during a recent conference call.
The comment raised suspicions that York and/or executive vice president Paraag Marathe might continue their ascents within the organization, turning their backs on a strong personnel presence. York guaranteed that neither he nor Marathe would become GM, but someone would have to fill the power void if the team proceeded without anyone formally named to the position.
Player personnel director Trent Baalke is taking over through the draft. After that, who knows?
The tumult surrounding Scot McCloughan's departure has shaken some fans' already tenuous trust in the team. The 49ers have earned our skepticism after seven consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. But without knowing more -- specifically, to what degree McCloughan's demise was his own doing -- it's tough to make definitive judgments on the state of the franchise.
The team made progress last season in getting to 8-8, and the 49ers do have a promising young core of players. None of that has changed.
Questions linger. Let's find some answers.
Facebook friend Mike writes: Do you see any possibilities or hear any names that may be interested in the 49ers' GM spot that would be a good fit? If San Francisco saw this coming, why didn't the team make a move early on for a Mike Holmgren type?
Mike Sando: Baalke is the obvious favorite to keep the job through the upcoming season, at least. More on that in a bit.
Hiring a Holmgren type would have disrupted the entire operation and come at the expense of York's current position. If you were York, would you hire your own replacement? Holmgren wasn't taking a job unless he could have absolute power. Holmgren has that power in Cleveland. Hiring him in San Francisco would have licensed an organizational overhaul, complete with a potential coaching change. That isn't what the 49ers wanted after going 8-8 last season.
Remember, too, that hiring Holmgren wouldn't have solved the GM issue. The team still would have had to hire one and McCloughan might have been his choice, anyway, based on their long association in Green Bay and Seattle. But it's quite likely Holmgren would have pushed for yet another change in offensive philosophy and he might have wanted a coaching change, too.
The 49ers are committed to Mike Singletary for at least the 2010 season, and rightly so. They need stability and continuity more than they need another fresh start. For that reason, I think they need to be careful in deciding how to proceed after the draft. Hiring a strong GM from the outside could make sense for the long term, but going that route too soon could be disruptive. It's important for the coach and personnel department to be on the same page.
The top priority for the 49ers should be to set up Singletary for success in 2010. That might mean waiting until after the season before deciding which direction to proceed.
We should remember that McCloughan was GM only since before the 2008 season. He remained a scout at heart and never sought to be the face of the organization or even an administrator.
Keith from Dallas writes: I have been a Niner fan since 1984, not the easiest choice for someone living in Texas. After enduring the past decade of futility, it finally looked like things were turning around. Jed seemed to have his head on straight, a GM that understood the importance of the draft and a coach who was aware of his own limitations. All of it seems to have been a mirage. My question? What's the point? Are the Yorks trying to alienate the fans to the point they can justify a move to L.A.?
Mike Sando: Such cynicism, Keith! McCloughan's departure doesn't necessarily represent a repudiation of the things McCloughan valued. Baalke thinks along similar lines (McCloughan hired him).
Ernest from Corpus Christi, Texas, writes: I'm a longtime 49er fan and have been waiting "patiently" for them to return to relevancy and "elite" status. With McCloughan leaving, there have been reports saying that the front office and ownership is a mess, and there's no way they will be able to find a reputable GM to come aboard, and basically the team is going to be headed back into a downward spiral. So Sando, very simply, how bad is it?
Mike Sando: The timing of McCloughan's departure wasn't good. It does appear as though the situation had been building for a while, long enough for the 49ers to anticipate a potential change. This isn't the type of decision a team makes lightly.
The 49ers should be able to hold things together through the remainder of the offseason. Marathe has proved to be skilled in handling contracts. Nothing changes there. Baalke, like McCloughan, is a scout first, not an administrator. We shouldn't expect a massive drop-off in performance there.
I think it's an upset if the team hires a high-profile GM before 2011.
Three scenarios seem most likely.
If the 49ers regress in 2010, all bets are off. York might then initiate an overhaul, seeking new personnel leadership and possibly even a new coach.
If the 49ers succeed on the field in 2010, the team could proceed with Baalke and/or pro personnel director Tom Gamble filling the GM duties, with or without the formal title. Life would continue pretty much as normal.
I could also see Singletary's profile rising following a successful season, with his agent, Bob LaMonte, pushing for some of the power perks other successful coaches enjoy. This could lead to the third scenario. Personnel people would still do the scouting work, but Singletary might have a higher profile. He might have the power to bring in his own personnel lieutenant, shape the scouting staff and hold veto power over major personnel moves.
So much rests on how the 49ers fare on the field in 2010. That was probably going to be the case anyway.