Sports

49ers Hire John Lynch as GM Despite Lack of Front Office Experience

John Lynch was known as a smart player during his long NFL career, and has been a solid TV commentator. The 49ers are betting that's enough to make him a winning GM.
January 30, 2017, 5:03pm
When you see the "relevant experience" portion of the application. © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers have a new general manager, and not just for the foreseeable future. On Sunday, the team locked down the former All-Pro safety and FOX broadcaster John Lynch to run their front office for six years. It's quite a commitment for someone with no executive experience on any level.

Initial reactions interpreted the six-year commitment as a sign that the 49ers were desperate to fill what will surely be a difficult job. The team had interviewed Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Cardinals vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough, and had met with presumptive new coach Kyle Shanahan in the days before the move, although there was a report that Paton wasn't interested. After the team was turned down by Josh McDaniels, there was the perception that the Niners head coach and GM jobs were something no one really wanted.

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But if Albert Breer is to be believed, the six-year figure was by design, and something the team had also discussed with McDaniels. Stability is something the team is after, and it especially makes sense for a team coming off back-to-back years with one-and-done coaches. The franchise has been in disarray since Jim Harbaugh departed, so arguably even just the appearance of a steadying hand is important.

Still, the access reporters, the folks who are paid to see these things coming, were caught off-guard by the news. Those insiders say Lynch had been considered a possibility to replace John Elway in Denver down the line, but that seemed like a distant possibility, and one that would made possible only with a little grooming.

Yet the 49ers were sufficiently impressed to give Lynch the job now, a decade after his playing career ended with nine Pro Bowl appearances. His career as an executive could coincide with his induction into the Hall of Fame. This year, he's a finalist for the fourth time.

Lynch has been a broadcaster since 2008, shortly after his retirement from playing, which makes sense. He had long been hailed as a smart player and he proved a capable announcer as well. Of course, the least generous way to view this move is to compare it to the Detroit Lions disaster with Matt Millen, another former player and broadcaster who took over an executive position at a football team with no prior front office experience. Detroit went 31-81 in his seven seasons there, and went 0-16 the year after he left, a feat for which he bears some responsibility.

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There are certainly former players who have had tremendous success as general managers. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore is regarded as one of the league's best, though he was elevated to the position after holding other front office jobs.

Precedent aside, though, Lynch objectively has a hell of a task ahead of him. San Francisco's roster is considered one of the least talented in the NFL. That takes time to replenish, even when the team has the second overall pick and $80 million in cap room to play with during the off-season. The organization's reputation for full-spectrum dysfunction doesn't help much, either, and that makes it less encouraging that Lynch seemingly has the job mostly because he charmed Jed York, and because York is feeling just daring enough to try something crazy.

"So many opportunities are missed in the NFL because people don't want to do something different," York told The MMQB. "We're OK with that, because I am confident in Kyle and John. John has watched John Elway and how he's built a team in Denver. As easy as it is to say he hasn't built a team yet—I get that—I talk to Kyle, and he says John is the most prepared of all the TV [people] he meets in the production meetings before games."

"Most prepared of the TV people" hardly comes off as a ringing endorsement for an executive personnel job, but evidently it was plenty for Jed. For what it's worth, Lynch had a pointed comment about Shanahan in the booth not too far back.

John Lynch said "Kyle comes off arrogant in his interviews" - I've heard that as well. Hasn't come off well during this process
— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) January 14, 2017

Play nice, guys. At least Lynch has six years to figure things out. Shanahan may not, but then, he hasn't even gotten there yet.