When the 49ers stayed in Youngstown, Ohio, between Eastern time zone games five years ago, then- coach Jim Harbaugh said the sojourn was about bonding, bonhomie and team building.
“We’re all staying under one roof for every night that we’re here,” Harbaugh said. “And eating those meals together, training together, practicing together, meeting together. And learning more about your team. Learning more about the guys, their stories.”
For Chip Kelly, the 49ers’ current Florida trip is more pragmatic: Trimming about 3,500 miles from the 49ers’ upcoming itinerary.
“It’s really not that deep,” Kelly said Thursday when asked about the plan.
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The respective reasoning underscores the essence of the two coaches: Harbaugh always was seeking an emotional edge, while the more detached and analytical Kelly is motivated by sports science. Harbaugh wanted to tap into the very soul of his players; Kelly wants to know their hydration levels.
The common denominator, of course, is that both men are willing to mine every opportunity for a win, which Kelly and the 49ers desperately need. At 1-9, the team already is assured of its second consecutive losing record. A loss against the Dolphins (6-4) on Sunday would be the 10th in a row, something even the most dubious squads in franchise history avoided.
“We’re on this losing streak right now,” said offensive left tackle Joe Staley, the longest-tenured 49er. “We’ll do everything we can to try to turn this around. We just want to get some positive mojo going through the end of the year.”
Staley was one of the first people Kelly consulted before settling on the Florida schedule. After the Dolphins game, the 49ers will spend the next five days practicing at the University of Central Florida outside of Orlando before heading to Chicago to play the Bears on Dec. 4.
Earlier this year, the Raiders stayed in Sarasota, Fla. between wins at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. The Dolphins spent last week in the San Diego area between road wins against the Chargers and Rams. While the 49ers are in Florida, the Panthers will train at San Jose State – where they practiced before the most recent Super Bowl – which will be their home between games against Oakland and Seattle.
Only a few 49ers, including Staley, were on the roster in 2011 when the team went to Youngstown between games in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. They did it again a year later between games in Minnesota and at the New York Jets.
Staley said the win over the Eagles “jump-started” the 2011 season. The 49ers were a middling team before then but would go on to play in the NFC Championship Game later that year and the two after it.
That’s why players like him and quarterback Colin Kaepernick endorsed the current trip.
“Well, it gets you kind of back into a training camp mentality where you’re in a hotel together, kind of isolated, and it’s just the team,” Kaepernick said. “So there’s the opportunity for us to get closer, but I think we already have a very tight-knit team.”
As Kelly will tell you, the 49ers’ itinerary also will save his players a cross-country trip west from South Florida and another 1,800-mile trip from San Jose to Chicago. Instead, those flights will be replaced by a 950-mile plane ride from Orlando to Chicago.
“Those trips are long,” guard Zane Beadles said. “Especially after a game, sitting there for that many hours and kind of letting the sorenesss sit in and stuff. It takes a toll on your body. And it being late in the season, I think it definitely can be beneficial for us.”