The 49ers plan to fire both general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly following a season in which they failed to reach even as many wins as 2015’s failed regime, according to ESPN.
The last time the team fired both head coach and general manager was following the 2004 season when Dennis Erickson and Terry Donahue combined for two wins. That’s how many the Kelly-Baalke partnership has registered as the team gets set to face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The 49ers haven’t beaten playoff-bound Seattle in their last six tries.
The 49ers had no comment on the report, and it may be that an official announcement is made after Sunday’s game.
If they follow through with the dismissals, they will be the first team to fire first-year coaches in consecutive seasons since the 49ers themselves did so in 1977 and 1978. Last year’s head coach, Jim Tomsula, finished 5-11 after signing a four-year, $14 million deal.
Kelly, who ran famously prolific offenses at the University of Oregon and then early on with the Philadelphia Eagles, was hired last year to pump life into a 49ers attack that had foundered the last two seasons.
“Chip’s going to be here for a long time, period,” CEO Jed York said at Kelly’s introductory press conference Jan. 20. Kelly’s contract is four years for $24 million.
The 49ers, however, currently have just 4,677 yards and rank 29th in the league in offense. Last year’s unit led by coordinator Geep Chryst finished with 4,860 yards.
That’s due in large part to a dearth of skill position players, particularly wideouts, which has been Baalke’s biggest blind spot since he started running the 49ers’ draft in 2010. The team’s starters Sunday are expected to be Jeremy Kerley, Rod Streater and rookie Aaron Burbridge, none of whom were on the roster last season. Kerley, Streater and Chris Harper didn’t even go through training camp with the 49ers this year.
The position underscores the disconnect between the two men: Kelly prefers to keep an abundance of receivers on the roster and favors three-receiver sets. During the offseason, however, the 49ers parted ways with their best receiver, Anquan Boldin, added just one, the Canadian Football League’s Eric Rogers, and waited until the end of the sixth round to draft Burbridge.
San Francisco’s defense, meanwhile, has been by far the worst in the NFL this year. It already has given up a franchise record in points allowed and rushing yards allowed. If the Seahawks gain just 134 yards Sunday, San Francisco also will establish a franchise record for total yards allowed in one season.
Kelly has been reluctant to make changes to his staff in previous stops, and the 49ers likely believe that wholesale changes were needed for 2017.
Kelly’s ouster also would be a blow for incumbent starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who can opt out of his contract before the free-agency period begins in March..
Many fans – as well as some high-level officials inside the organization – wanted to see quarterback Christian Ponder in action as the season drew to a close. Kelly, however, has been bullish on Kaepernick throughout the year, even when Kaepernick, still recovering from surgeries in the summer, clearly was not close to full strength.
That allegiance will continue Sunday. Asked if Ponder, who has been the No. 2 quarterback since Dec. 13, would play, Kelly said no.
“We’re trying to go win the football game,” he said. “So Kap will play unless he gets banged up.”
Of course, the 49ers have few quarterback options for next season. Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Thaddeus Lewis are all scheduled to be free agents. That raises the possibility that Kaepernick could test free agency and wind up back in San Francisco.