SANTA CLARA – Following a season of personal and professional anguish, Chip Kelly has been fired as the 49ers’ head coach.
CEO Jed York met with Kelly after the 49ers’ season finale Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks and fired him with three years remaining on a contract that reportedly pays him $6 million annually.
On Friday, York informed general manager Trent Baalke he was fired. Baalke led the past three coaching searches that resulted in the hirings of Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Kelly.
York issued the following statement Sunday evening:
“I have informed Trent and Chip of my decision to pursue new leadership for our football team. These types of conversations are never easy, especially when they involve people you respect personally and professionally.
“Trent gave this organization every ounce of effort he had over the last 12 years and his contributions were integral to the team reaching three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl. I will forever be grateful for his dedication to the 49ers, and his friendship to me and my family. I wish Trent, Beth and their daughters the very best in whatever the future holds for their family.
“Chip has my gratitude for the job he did this year, navigating the team through some adverse circumstances. I look forward to watching his career continue to unfold, and wish him and Jill great success in life.
“Despite my feelings for Trent and Chip, I felt the decision to change our football leadership was absolutely necessary. The performance of this team has not lived up to my expectations or those of our fans, and that is truly disappointing. We all expected to see this team progress and develop as the season went on, but unfortunately that did not happen. That is why now is the time to find a new direction for this team.”
The 49ers plan to hire a coach-general manager team that will work together, a source told CSNBayArea.com. York and Paraag Marathe, the team’s chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations, are expected to lead the search to fill both positions.
Next season, the 49ers will have their fourth head coach in four seasons.
Harbaugh and the 49ers signed off on a “mutual parting” following an 8-8 season in 2014. Tomsula was fired after the 49ers fell to 5-1 in 2015. When Kelly was hired, CEO Jed York was asked about Kelly’s job security if the 49ers did not finish better than .500.
"Chip's going to be here for a long time, period,” York answered.
The 49ers had one of the worst seasons in franchise history in Kelly’s only season with the club. After an opening-week victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers dropped a franchise-worst 13 consecutive games.
The 49ers ended their losing streak on Christmas Eve with a 22-21 victory over the Rams. The 49ers finished the season with a 2-14 record, matching the lowest win total in the 71-year history of the team. The 49ers also recorded two-win seasons in 1979, ’78 and ’63.
Kelly became the 49ers’ coach last January, just two weeks after the Philadelphia Eagles fired him near the end of his third season. After winning 10 games in each of his first two years, Kelly was let go when the Eagles dropped to 6-9 and out of playoff contention.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie famously stated at the press conference to announce Kelly’s firing that he wanted his next coach to have “emotional intelligence.”
While Kelly’s results on the field were abysmal, he appeared to be well-liked inside the 49ers’ locker room and within the organization. He was praised for his handling of the Colin Kaepernick protest, which became a national controversy. Kelly maintained Kaepernick was within his rights as an American to kneel for the national anthem as a way of protesting racial inequality.
“We recognize and respect Kap’s decision, and his constitutional rights to do what he’s doing,” Kelly said. “It’s sounds like it’s been a positive change. There’s been a lot of positive things come out of it.”
Kelly also received credit for keeping the energy positive and everybody on the same page despite all of the losing.
“Chip’s a great football coach,” 49ers veteran offensive tackle Joe Staley said last week. “Look at the team – he’s done a great job of keeping us together. We’ve got to hold up our end of the bargain as players as far as executing better.”
But the 49ers did not win games, and the promise of a new, cutting-edge offense never materialized.
At the press conference to announce Kelly’s hiring, York said, “I think Chip brings an innovative style to offense that is something that I think is synonymous with San Francisco 49er football.”
But that offense also lived up to all of its worst expectations. The opposition held the ball for an average of seven minutes more per game than the 49ers. That placed a burden on the other side of the ball, resulting in a league-high number of snaps that the 49ers’ defense was on the field.
The 49ers ranked last in the league in passing offense. Blaine Gabbert started the first five games of the season before his poor play led to his bench. Kaepernick was inserted into the lineup and showed improvement, but the 49ers’ passing game – with a group of receivers generally regarded as the worst in the NFL – continued to flounder.
The 49ers’ last-ranked defense, under coordinator Jim O’Neil, surrendered more total yards (6,502), points (480) and rushing yards (2,654) than any team in franchise history.
Moreover, the 49ers appeared incapable of making in-game adjustments and often faded in the second half of their games. The 49ers scored first in 11 games but were outscored 229-130 in the second half.
In addition to all of the 49ers’ struggles on the field, Kelly also experienced the death of his father, E. Paul Kelly, in early December.
After the 49ers landed in Chicago for the Dec. 4 game against the Bears, Kelly left the team to be with his family in the Northeast. He returned for the game, and the 49ers had one of their worst showings of the season in a 26-6 loss.
When asked if he considered not coaching in the game, Kelly told CSNBayArea.com, “My mom wanted me to coach.” His father was buried in a 49ers sweatsuit, Kelly later said.
Kelly made the jump to the NFL with the Eagles in 2013 after leading the Oregon Ducks to a 46-7 record and national prominence in four seasons with his high-tempo, explosive offense.
The 49ers will spend the early portion of their offseason making a third consecutive coaching hire. No team has had back-to-back one-year head coaches since the 49ers had three such coaches – Monte Clark, Ken Meyer and Pete McCulley – from 1976 to ’78. The 49ers fired McCulley after nine games.
In 1979, then-owner Eddie DeBartolo hired Bill Walsh.