SANTA CLARA -- 49ers CEO Jed York was in a good mood Friday afternoon. He was sarcastic, funny and a bit self-deprecating during a 20-minute surprise interview session with reporters on hand for the final 49ers access period before the team leaves to play Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
It’s easy to find a smile with the 49ers doing so well. They dominated the regular season, rolled through the NFC playoffs and are now set to play the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2 for the NFL title.
Just because the sun is now shining, it doesn't mean York has forgotten recent days with rainclouds overhead.
“I try to think every day about banners flying over the stadium asking for me to step down from the team,” York said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “That’s always my favorite experience. No, I’m just focused on what we have to do. ... I am happy for our fans. Being in the Super Bowl seven years ago doesn't feel that long, except for the deep valley we went into in between.”
The 49ers now have a chance to do something great. They can add a sixth Lombardi Trophy to their collection with one more win this season.
They can do so right after emerging from a dark era that included two disappointing seasons to start the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch regime. York expected that when he gave his head coach and general manager six-year contracts. Looking back, York is glad he decided to offer such long-term deals. He wanted stability after several seasons of turmoil.
“I think I’m still paying, like, three coaches,” York said with a smile. “I thought, 'If we’re going to pay them, we might as well pay the same one for six years. Seems like a good idea to me.' It was clear that [Shanahan and I] had the vision and sync. I know that it was a six-year deal but, to me, it was two years of fixing what we needed to fix and then this was Year One of a four-year deal. It was important knowing that Kyle is someone that I can work with and John is someone I can work with to get through the tough stuff.”
The tough stuff. 49ers fans know all about that after suffering through some terrible seasons after the Jim Harbaugh era ended. York evoked “Shawshank Redemption” when describing the journey through bad times to reach this good one. The description was both apt and dead-on accurate.
“I made an Andy Dufresne reference earlier. Everybody wants to get to the beach at the end [of "Shawshank Redemption"], but no one wants to go through what he went through to get to the beach,” York said. “We had to get through that. Kyle and John were guys I knew could help us get through that. I wanted to send a message to our fans and our team that these guys are here. Not that we knew we weren’t going to win games, but it was unlikely that we were going to win from Day One and win the Super Bowl right away.
“I didn’t want people to wonder in Year Three if they were on the hot seat. No. It’s a six-year deal. We’ve walked into this thing together and we’re going to build this thing the right way. We didn’t make every right trade or draft pick. We didn’t sign the right free agents all the time, but it’s the culmination of everything we do. We want to build the right team. You have to have a long-term vision and, when you can make those long-term decisions the right way without worrying and trying to shortcut it, then you give yourself a chance.”
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York kept working through mistakes in both personnel and executive/coaching decisions, but didn’t lose sight of his goals trying to dig the 49ers out of a hole. He used more movies to describe how he was mentally able to get through it without shaken confidence.
“My philosophies are pretty simple. "The Godfather," "Bull Durham" and "Major League" make up my philosophy on life. And maybe Shawshank a little bit. But it goes back to Crash Davis talking to Nuke LaLoosh. You’re going to get lit up when you’re in the pros. You have to remain cocky. You have to remain confident. You can’t let them get you down. It’s hard to not let outside noise affect you, but you have to block it out. I think our team has done a great job blocking out the noise and I hope I’ve done the small [things] to help them focus on the task at hand.”