How the 2015 San Francisco 49ers Became the Laughingstock of the NFL
By Peter Panacy
The San Francisco 49ers’ fall from grace during the 2015 NFL season has been one of the most disturbing and pitiful eras in what otherwise has been a storied and proud history of one of the league’s premier franchises.
Not long ago, the 49ers were considered perennial Super Bowl favorites. Making three-straight NFC Championship games, and winning one of them, marked the high-water mark of this team during the early part of this decade.
Now, as the current season enters Week 8, San Francisco has gone from elite status to one of mockery.
What the heck happened?
In reality, the perfect cacophony of front-office miscues, poor team management, internal squabbles, bad coaching and sloppy execution meant this team would be doomed in 2015.
And it may be doomed for a long, long time.
The 49ers are, in a way, replicating what happened roughly 10 years ago. Remember those years, 49ers fans? Remember how ownership ousted a popular and successful head coach (Steve Mariucci) and lost a huge amount of its largely successful roster?
Yeah, the 2003, 2004 and 2005 49ers were pretty bad. Much like the 2015 49ers are pretty bad.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee made the comparison:
"The 49ers figure they have some promising young pieces – Tim Rattay at quarterback, Kevan Barlow at running back, Kwame Harris at tackle – who can slide into starting spots and they convince themselves, “You know what? This will work.”It doesn’t. Not even a little. The 49ers fail miserably, and the season ends with the coach sacked, the general manager booted and the team looking for a quarterback of the future.The 49ers haven’t had a turnover like that until this year.The circumstances are different. Salary cap bungling was the primary cause of the 2004 meltdown. But that season and this one are the result of failed strategies and the inability to build a bridge from a winning, but fading, era."
Cracks were seen in 2014. There was the apparent rift between front office and then-head coach Jim Harbaugh, which culminated in an infamous Thanksgiving tweet from 49ers CEO Jed York and the eventual “mutual” parting of ways with Harbaugh and nearly all of his coaching staff after the lackluster 8-8 season.
Then the 49ers went through one of the worst offseasons in franchise history. Gone were the likes of running back Frank Gore, defensive end Justin Smith, cornerback Chris Culliver, offensive lineman Mike Iupati and linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.
It almost felt as if the 49ers franchise had hit the iceberg, and the aforementioned players were the smart ones getting into the few lifeboats as quickly as possible.
Titanic references aside, York and general manager Trent Baalke put their faith in a longstanding member of the 49ers coaching staff Jim Tomsula as their new head coach. Not Adam Gase, not Todd Bowles, not Dan Quinn and not anybody who had even held the position of coordinator at the NFL level.
Oct 18, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula argues a call with an official during the third quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Ravens 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
That’s what San Francisco needed: someone with a clear, precise vision and a sure-handed approach that could traverse the tumultuous waters surrounding what has been a 49ers disaster area.
The 49ers now boast a coaching staff comprised of Tomsula, offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. Offensively, San Francisco is in dead last in both points scored (103) and total yards (2,069). And the defense is next to last with 2,842 yards given up.
These stats, and a 2-5 record, showcase just how bad this franchise has become.
And then there is the roster itself. So far, aside from the twice-seen touchdown passes to wide receiver Torrey Smith, Baalke’s 2015 free-agent class has been a bust. Running back Reggie Bush hasn’t been much of a factor, right tacke Erik Pears has been awful, cornerback Shareece Wright ended up being cut and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett didn’t even make the team.
At the head of all this is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s guy during the 2011 NFL draft. With Harbaugh gone, and the front office seemingly trying to find every way to erase his memory, Kaepernick stands as the lone holdover from the former head coach’s influence.
San Francisco’s quarterback remains Tomsula’s starter. But ongoing inconsistencies and controversy appear to be pointing in the direction of an uncertain fate.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 49ers had a players-only meeting a number of weeks back, and a few players called out Kaepernick. Maiocco wrote:
"There has been discontent with the performance of the offense in the team’s locker room after four of the team’s five losses. And, of course, Kaepernick is the central figure despite the many issues elsewhere on the 49ers’ 32nd-ranked offense.During the rough stretch about four weeks ago, there was a tense players-only meeting in which one teammate called out Kaepernick, sources told CSNBayArea.com. Another player quickly stepped up in a show of support and the exchange became heated."
Kaepernick has been put into a position where the front office can make him the target of all San Francisco’s failures this season.
“If only we had a good quarterback,” one might argue. The apparent “magic fix” would turn the offense into a bona fide force, allow the beleaguered defense to rest and would solve all the locker-room woes, right?
If only things were that simple.
The problem isn’t with a quarterback or a disgruntled player or two. San Francisco’s demise is a top-to-bottom issue resulting from a series of bad, bad decisions. And the results speak for themselves.
A proud franchise has gone from the upper echelon of sports fame to being a joke. The 49ers are mirroring what the neighboring Oakland Raiders were not that long ago — a team with no direction, focus or core. And the Raiders are looking pretty good right now.
The 49ers are not.
"Of course, the problems won’t go away. They run beyond the quarterback and are deeper than anticipated, just as they were in 2004. The 49ers began that season two years removed from the playoffs, started a massive rebuild the following year and were dreadful for a long, long time.Welcome back."
This is the reality San Francisco fans will have on their plate for the rest of the season. And no quick changes, firings, releases or whatever will change it.
And, as long as that continues, the 49ers will remain a laughingstock for the entire NFL.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.
Next: 49ers in the Midst of an Identity Crisis after Week 7
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