SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers finally added an experienced football man to their front office Monday, hiring former NFL and Cleveland Browns executive Lal Heneghan as their executive vice president of football operations.
Owner John York has been under public pressure to hire a veteran executive since he turned over his franchise last year to coach Mike Nolan, a longtime NFL assistant who had never made personnel decisions or negotiated contracts. After the 49ers went 4-12 last season, even Nolan lobbied for another strong voice in one of the league's thinnest front offices.
"We wanted a professional who had a strong football record and could add more firepower to our football operation," York said. "It took a while for Mike and I to massage the thing, to get the position correct and then to go out and look for the right person to fit that position."
Nolan and Heneghan both will answer directly to York, spreading out some of the pressure and control York thrust on his rookie head coach last season.
Nolan and Scot McCloughan, the 49ers' young vice president of player personnel, ran every aspect of football operations with a relatively small, inexperienced front-office staff, including leftovers from fired general manager Terry Donahue's regime.
Heneghan, a lawyer who played tight end at Penn, was the Browns' VP of football operations and chief contract negotiator from 1998 until 2004, when he was dismissed by the losing club in a front-office shake-up. He spent last year as a consultant for professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 49ers got experience, but not age: At 42, Heneghan is even younger than Nolan, 47.
"What was most important for me was the structure and the interaction that John, Mike and Scot have established," Heneghan said. "My goal in coming out to San Francisco is simple: To help everybody in the organization get back to the Super Bowl, and win it."
Before joining Cleveland, Heneghan spent seven years working for the NFL. He eventually became the league's director of labor relations, supervising planning around the salary cap and the collective bargaining agreement.
Nolan said Paraag Marathe will remain the 49ers' chief contract negotiator, but Heneghan seems certain to take a large role after years of bad personnel decisions made by Donahue and his lieutenants, including Marathe and Terry Tumey, who still work for San Francisco.
Executives around the league were steamed by the standard set by the 49ers' generous contract for top draft pick Alex Smith last year, even though it blunted York's reputation for penny-pinching. The contract, apparently negotiated by Marathe, was a six-year deal worth about $57 million and including a whopping $24 million in guaranteed money -- $4 million more than the Giants gave Eli Manning, the No. 1 pick in 2004.
The 49ers have been considering candidates for the post for at least four months. Nolan and York discussed the potential opening with Seattle Seahawks vice president Mike Reinfeldt and Atlanta Falcons executive vice president Ray Anderson in January.
Heneghan wanted to get back into the NFL this season but hadn't met York or Nolan until last month, when he interviewed for the job.
"My family was very happy in the Cleveland area," Heneghan said. "We wanted to select an opportunity that was a good fit, as well as for my wife [Amy, a pediatrician] professionally. I had the good fortune of being able to be selective."