With a comfortable job as a Fox analyst, a family in San Diego and a small window to figure out whether he wanted to be the general manager of the 49ers, John Lynch said he posed a lot of “direct questions” to team owner Jed York during their interview process.
Thursday, Lynch acknowledged that one of those questions had to do with former 49ers players – and the notion that some alumni felt less than embraced by the organization in recent years.
“That was one thing maybe I had heard, that guys didn’t feel welcome,” Lynch said after Thursday’s press conference to introduce him and new head coach Kyle Shanahan.
“And I said I have to have that, where these guys are not only welcome, but encouraged. That’s what we’re aspiring to be. So the more we can have them around, the better to me. And I got that assurance.”
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Though Lynch never played for the 49ers, he did play under Bill Walsh at Stanford and recalled players like Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott coming out to watch their practices.
“Some of the best advice I got as a safety happened like that, where Bill would say, ‘Hey Ronnie, come out and talk to John,’ ” Lynch said. “That’s kind of where I started to understand the 49er way and what it’s all about.”
Lynch made a point during Thursday’s press conference of acknowledging former 49ers in the audience, including Keena Turner, Eric Wright and Jesse Sapolu.
“Those guys created the standard that we’re striving for,” Lynch said. “I’ve reached out to a lot of these guys and let them know that not only are they welcome, we really want these guys around because that’s what we’re aspiring to be. I’ve also told them we can’t ride on their coattails. We understand that we have to earn their trust as well.”
▪ Also present for Thursday’s unveiling were several current players, including safety Eric Reid, receiver Torrey Smith and linebacker Navorro Bowman. All said they came away impressed by the first public appearance of Lynch and Shanahan since their hires.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to both Mr. Lynch and Mr. Shanahan; it’s a different feeling,” Reid said. “I believe in what they’re saying.
“A lot of times, at least in my experience, when you talk to a coach you leave and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what you say, but we’ll see what happens.’ But when I walked out of that room I felt very confident that what they’re saying was true.”
Smith said he played in a version of Shanahan’s offense under then-offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in Baltimore and is “definitely excited” about his potential role next season.
“Once you’re able to establish the run game, which is very important in any offense, there’s opportunities for people who play the way I play,” Smith said. “There’s big opportunities, there’s chances, they spread it out, they attack the entire field. It’s very balanced and it’s very cool the way it’s put together.”
Bowman, meanwhile, has watched the 49ers hire their fourth head coach in four seasons, following Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly.
“Change is needed,” Bowman said. “If everyone comes in committed to put the work in and get in line with the process, I think we’ll be in the right direction.”
▪ Bowman, whose season was cut short by a torn left Achilles tendon in Week 4 against Dallas, provided an update of sorts on his recovery.
“I’m working,” he said. “Every single day, doing everything the trainers are asking me to do. There’s no timetable set when I’ll be cleared to do every single thing. But the sky’s looking bright for me. I feel great. The Achilles is definitely just improving every single day and giving me confidence knowing I will be back.”
The 49ers’ vocal leader on defense has been limited to just 20 games over the past three seasons by injuries. He missed the entire 2014 season recovering from torn ligaments in his knee suffered in the previous year’s NFC Championship Game.
Bowman said that compared to that rehab process, his current one is much more easier to deal with.
“Not spending those long hours warming up trying to get my workout in, it’s definitely easier to deal with than my knee,” he said. “And like I said, I can definitely see a positive light at the end of the tunnel.”
▪ Lynch gave a breakdown of personnel decisions, saying he will have control over the 90-man roster, free agency and draft, while Shanahan will have final say on the 53-man roster. If that seems trivial, Reid offered an explanation of why having Shanahan in charge of the opening day roster matters:
“It’s been my experience where you talk to a coach and you see where you’re at with the team, but he’s not even the person that makes the decision with your life essentially,” Reid said. “It’s encouraging to know that the person that’s out there coaching you every day, watching what you do every day, seeing the work that you put in every day, is going to be the person making the decision.”
▪ Lynch announced the 49ers’ hiring of former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew as a senior personnel executive. He later offered a candid reason for the hire, saying he wanted somebody in his front office “who’s been in the seat I’m in right now.”
Lynch is not only a first-time GM, but has never worked in an NFL front office. Mayhew was the Lions’ GM for seven seasons, during which time the team drafted players such as Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. Mayhew spent last season as the director of football operations/special projects for the New York Giants.
A former NFL cornerback, Mayhew also manned the same secondary as Lynch in Tampa Bay. He is Lynch’s second big front-office hire after new VP of player personnel Adam Peters, who joins holdover assistant GM Tom Gamble as a seasoned talent evaluator.
Lynch said he brought Mayhew in for “a little bit of everything – to evaluate, but it’s also a guy whom I trust immensely. … One recurring thing I keep hearing from people is, get people you trust and get people you know have your back. And Martin’s motivation is purely to be here, to help us win, to help me in some of the places where I’ve got some ground to gain.”