SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers were 4-12 last season, so expecting to play in Super Bowl LIV was unrealistic even if the team believed it was better than its record suggests.
Team president and CEO Jed York understood that well. He hired head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to revamp the roster and slowly build the franchise back into a period of sustained success. York gave them six-year contracts back in 2017, a sign he knew this process wouldn’t happen overnight.
He weathered 6-10 in 2017 and 4-12 the following year. There was a moment, however, where York believed his 49ers could make a quantum leap. Yeah, all the way to the Super Bowl.
“The moment we were able to draft Nick Bosa, I thought that this was possible,” York said Friday in an Q&A with local media. “Knowing the moves that [Shanahan and Lynch] had made already, even going back to Trent Baalke, we have invested in our defensive line. Something important for Kyle was to have a Super Bowl caliber defensive line. When you bring Dee Ford through a trade/free agency, and then you’re able to get a player like Nick there when you’re drafting second, you knew that you had a chance. That’s when it sort of hit for me.”
Bosa has proven York right. The 49ers will play Kansas City for the NFL title on Feb. 2 in Miami thanks in large part to the presumptive Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bosa has made a huge impact on the 49ers this season, helping form the NFL’s best defensive line while dominating against the run and pass.
Bosa headlines a productive NFL draft class that also includes receiver Deebo Samuel, linebacker Dre Greenlaw and punter Mitch Witchnowsky. They joined a group that went through hard times in 2018 after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt, but still managed to play some close games and provide optimism for the future.
“Watching what we were able to do last year after Jimmy got hurt, it took some time for us to find our way,” York said. “The offense was still able to do fairly well and be exciting. Knowing that our young guys had an opportunity to learn and grow was important. Not that we were going to make a push into January last year, but our guys were able to become pros. Some guys who maybe wouldn’t have been able to play if we were in a playoff hunt got a chance to grow last year. That gave us a chance to have a seasoned team, even if it doesn’t show it from their age.”
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York wasn’t just looking for signs of progress with Garoppolo back and Bosa in the fray. He came into the year expecting big things, with full confidence in Lynch and Shanahan that they could reach the highest level and play in this Super Bowl.
“This is always what we’ve worked for,” York said. “Anybody that says we aim to go from 4-12 to 8-8, that’s never what we’re looking for. I always believe that, if you have the right mix of culture and talent, you give yourself a chance to win. I give so much credit to Kyle and John for what they’ve been able to do, and I’ll do whatever I can to support them.”