49ers fire head coach Chip Kelly after 2-14 season

49ers fire head coach Chip Kelly after 2-14 season

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.

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”