SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- No matter what he's doing on a given day, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch is always thinking about the big picture. Buried in that big picture are thousands of small details that could ultimately help in the rebuilding project he and head coach Kyle Shanahan took on when they came aboard in February.
So it is that no matter what he might be doing, Lynch has been known to stop and write down anything that pops into his head that might help turn the Niners around.
"I write notes during the game," Lynch said. "I write notes after the game. I wake up at 3 in the morning. I’m doing a lot of that. It’s really to collect your thoughts. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and you have a great thought. And then you forget it in the morning. I carry a book around with me and when I think of something, I tend to write it down."
Now 11 games into his first season as a general manager, there's still plenty for Lynch to learn and even more for him to do. The Niners are 1-10 and officially eliminated from playoff contention. The fact this season has gone as it has isn't a huge surprise given the necessary rebuild to a depleted roster, but that hasn't made it any easier for Lynch.
After a successful 15-year playing career followed by an equally strong run as a broadcaster, Lynch surprised everyone, himself included, by taking his current job in the offseason. At the heart of that decision was a desire to get back to having a result to care about every week rather than serving as a neutral observer.
Of course, what Lynch couldn't account for was what would happen when he suddenly had to deal with constant losing.
"The helplessness on game day [is the hardest part]," Lynch said. "Even as a broadcaster, you prepare all week and then you perform on Sunday. I prepare in my own way doing everything, and then you sit back and, “All right.’ You try to stay composed. You try to continue to take notes and feel things. I think there’s certain things you can feel from being there that you can’t get on film. So you take all of that in. Sometimes, I’ve gone down to the field because I feel like it’s important to feel our team on the sidelines. And feel -- I just think there’s things you can only get from putting yourself in that situation. I try to leave that to them. That’s their spot. But I also want to be down there and feel that a little bit. That’s been the biggest challenge: On game day, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. That’s not a good feeling."
No, there isn't anything Lynch can do about it on game day, but it is his job to do something about it off the field. The Niners' rebuild was never going to happen overnight and Lynch feels good about the work his staff did in the first offseason together. In fact, Lynch said recently he believes that with the moves the team has already made, next offseason won't require nearly as many drastic changes.
And there have been many of those. The Niners have made a number of tough decisions, parting ways with veterans such as NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Quinton Dial, Jeremy Kerley and Vance McDonald. Lynch is quick to point out that those moves weren't made as a means of distancing the Niners from previous regimes so much as trying to identify players who will fit the culture they're trying to build now and in the future.
"There’s a lot of ah-ha moments of, 'That’s what they were thinking back then,'" Lynch said. "The good players don’t spend too much time thinking, 'What were they thinking?' But there are moments when you go, ‘I wonder what they [did]?' You now get a little lens. For all the inexperience I had, I did have a lot of experience being around it and being in it as a player. Just communicate. Sometimes, if a guy is looking for answers, don’t keep them hanging. Because that’s a lot of keeping them up at night or waking them up early. If you just communicate things and be honest with people, I think you get rid of a lot of that."
That communication and honesty is imperative to what Lynch and Shanahan are building. One of the major downfalls of the Niners' most recent run of success was the rift between coaching and personnel departments. It's why CEO Jed York finally decided to blow it up and start over.
It's also why York prioritized bringing in a general manager and a coach who could work in tandem.
"I think it goes with having people that you trust and that you can be honest with," Shanahan said. "You're not worried about whether they disagree with you or agree with you. And vice versa.
"It helps to go through things; we're in our first year together in this whole organization, and you have to make a lot of decisions that don't necessarily -- some of them are huge deals right away, some might not seem like that big of a deal, but you know they will be two years, three years down the road. So when you trust how someone thinks and someone's intentions, it's very nice to have someone that you can say anything to, and if you change your mind the next day, you're not worried like, 'Hey, you said this.' You can have normal conversations and we can both work through it.
"We can both help each other get better. We know that we're both not going to be perfect, but we can talk about everything we do, every mistake we've made, and I think it just allows you to get better the more reps we get."
That communication has been buoyed by Lynch's efforts to be accessible within the organization. Upon taking the job, Lynch sought advice from friends in the league, and one of the things he took most to heart was that he stay around the team as much as possible. Remaining visible has been important to his staff, Shanahan and the players, and it has allowed Lynch to divvy up his time in more equal portions.
As you'd expect, Lynch's work days are long and he misses his family, which has not yet moved to the Bay Area. He makes time to keep in touch and still gets advice from his father, a longtime businessman, every day, on how to handle being in charge.
"I’ve never done this, but I was confident that I could and still have a lot to learn and hopefully always learn," Lynch said. "I always felt as a player, in my 15th year, 16th year, I felt like there was a lot more to learn. I’m sure like that will never go away. We’re [1-10]. It’s a lot like we’re doing cartwheels saying we’ve got this figured out. We have a long way to go. I know that."