SANTA CLARA -- Why did Jim Tomsula, and not Trent Baalke, step to the podium to announce Aldon Smith's release on Friday? Because the 49ers general manager was with Smith at the time.
"And spent hours with him and hours with him," Baalke said Saturday. "And made sure we felt comfortable that he was in a place where we felt he was going to be ok."
Baalke said the decision was made to release the outside linebacker before his meeting with Smith, who was released from the Santa Clara County main jail at about 8:30 a.m. Friday after his arrest on suspicion of DUI, hit and run and vandalism.
Smith, 25, was Baalke's first draft pick after being named general manager in 2011, and for a while he was his best selection. Many observers thought the No. 7 overall slot was too high for Smith, an underclassman out of Missouri, until he finished the season with 14 sacks, the most ever for a 49ers rookie. Baalke was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year after the season.
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Baalke has defended and supported Smith at every turn since, and the two grew very close.
"This isn't about football," Baalke said. "Everyone wants to make this about football. This has nothing to do with football right now. It has everything to do with a human being and a quality, quality person. ... There's a lot of emotion. Players have it, we have it, we have it on the personnel side, coaches -- everyone in this building. I mean, (Friday) was a tough day for a lot of people."
Like Tomsula a day earlier, Baalke said the 49ers would do everything they could to help Smith through his latest issue. Smith is now a free agent, but other teams may wait to see what penalties his fifth run-in with the law since 2012 may bring as far as NFL discipline and the criminal justice system.
As far as Tomsula handling the press conference alone?
"Wouldn't change a thing," Baalke said. "I felt coach got up there and spoke very well on behalf of the organization and certainly on behalf of Aldon. And at that moment in time, I felt I needed to be where I was. And wouldn't change it."