Jim Tomsula is out after the 49ers’ five-win season. Trent Baalke? The team’s general manager is just getting started.
Baalke not only kept his job after a season in which he admitted he was “humbled,” he will run the team’s coaching search for the second time in as many years.
“Trent understands that I’m not satisfied with the current state of this team,” 49ers CEO Jed York said Monday during a news conference at Levi’s Stadium. “Trent’s role is to find the next head coach and continue to build this roster and get us back to championship form. Trent has the skills to do this and get this done. He’s built championship rosters in the past.”
Baalke will have more resources at his disposal than he has had since he was named general manager in 2011.
The 49ers are expecting an NFL-high 12 draft picks in April and will have an abundance of salary cap space – among the top five in the league, according to York. In previous years, Baalke has treaded lightly in free agency partly because that’s his philosophy and also because the roster was full of weighty, veteran contracts.
The current roster largely comprises young players with affordable rookie deals, which will give Baalke and the 49ers more license.
“The good thing is we’ve got the ammunition,” Baalke said. “In the past, we haven’t had a lot to work with in terms of free agency because our roster was an older roster and a lot of guys on second contracts.”
A year ago when the 49ers announced they had parted ways with coach Jim Harbaugh, York and Baalke shared space on the podium. On Monday, York was there alone, likely to show the accountability he had promised in last year’s media session.
Baalke spoke to reporters afterward in a more intimate setting and with no television cameras present. Among the topics:
▪ He declined to name coaching candidates he plans to interview. But he said experience was important. Tomsula was an NFL assistant for eight seasons but never a head coach at the highest level.
▪ Unlike last season when the 49ers interviewed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Tomsula, Baalke said there were no in-house candidates. That means defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who coached the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, isn’t being considered for the job.
▪ Baalke said he hasn’t given much thought to how much roster control the incoming coach will have and that it was more important he and the new hire be “in sync” on personnel. As general manager, Baalke always has had control over the roster but has allowed coaches to bring in certain players, as Harbaugh did at quarterback.
The 49ers’ next coach will be the third Baalke has hired. Harbaugh was the team’s top candidate in 2011. Baalke, York and then-team president Paraag Marathe interviewed nine candidates a year ago before tapping Tomsula.
“Sometimes you’re going to make the right decision, and sometimes you’re going to make the wrong decision. And I’ve done both,” Baalke said. “We hired Jim Harbaugh, and we hired Jim Tomsula. Some would say one was a strong hit, and the other one was a miss.”
York, meanwhile, characterized Tomsula’s hiring as a swing and a miss.
“I’d rather take a swing like we did on Jimmy T and if you miss, the nice thing about the NFL is they reward you for missing,” he said. “We have a high draft pick and ... I don’t want to be drafting high. But if we don’t compete for championships, I’d much rather be drafting high and be able to add the top-tier talent in the draft to this roster.”
The 49ers have the seventh overall pick, their highest slot since 2011, when Baalke drafted outside linebacker Aldon Smith at No. 7. Smith missed 14 games in 2013 and 2014 because of off-the-field incidents, and the 49ers released him last August after another arrest.
A year ago when they announced Harbaugh’s departure, York and Baalke struck a defiant tone, with both saying the 49ers expected to continue their winning ways without Harbaugh.
“We don’t raise division championship banners,” York said. “We don’t raise NFC championship banners. We raise Super Bowl banners.”
On Monday, York said that’s still the franchise’s goal. But both men were more conciliatory. Baalke was asked what he’s learned as general manager.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “You get humbled. You get humbled by decisions you make that you think are going to work. You think you’re making them for the right reasons, and some don’t work, whether that’s a draft pick or free agency or whether that’s a coaching hire. Every decision you make is going to get scrutinized, and rightfully so.”