49ers' York follows advice and path of Uncle DeBartolo

Ira Miller, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


Stop me if this sounds familiar: The San Francisco 49ers are rolling into the Super Bowl with a young owner, whose first couple of coaching hires were flops, who was an outsider in a city that is suspicious of outsiders, and who at times acted just a little too impetuously.
Sure sounds like Eddie DeBartolo, doesn't it? Only this time it's his nephew, Jed York.
It is hardly a coincidence that the 49ers, who dominated the league for two decades when DeBartolo owned them, are back in the championship conversation just a couple years after York was given the big office and began to lean on his uncle for advice.
So much in common ...
Eddie hired Ken Meyer, Pete McCulley and Fred O'Connor as coaches. Jed was in on the process that hired Mike Nolan, then hired Mike Singletary by himself.
"He made mistakes, and I made mistakes," York said in an exclusive interview with The Sports Xchange.
Yeah, they did. But then both of them proved they knew how to recover from their mistakes.
DeBartolo settled on Bill Walsh from Stanford, and the rest is history. York signed Jim Harbaugh from Stanford.
It's hard to remember, but even while the 49ers were winning five Super Bowls between the 1981 and 1994 seasons, they didn't do everything perfectly. There were occasional stumbles. John McVay, a team executive in those glory days, used to say the franchise made mistakes even then. But, he added, once those mistakes were realized, the team was quick to cut ties with them.
That's a lesson DeBartolo was able to pass on to York.
York admits he was "maybe a little too quick" to promote Singletary.
But "when I realized he wasn't (a good coach) I didn't hesitate to move on," York said.
And there's more in common ...
DeBartolo was 31 when he took over the 49ers in 1977 and 35 when they won their first Super Bowl. York is 31 now, and the 49ers are in their first Super Bowl in 18 years. Both were supposedly too young to be handed an NFL franchise. Both were outsiders, from Youngtown, Ohio, to a city that is unusually insular and protective of its local sports figures.
The lost decade between DeBartolo's ownership and York's ascension occurred when York's dad, John, was running the franchise into the ground. There's no love lost between DeBartolo and John York, and that was never a secret.
But once Kid York was given the reins and John moved into the background, suddenly DeBartolo was an insider again. Jed York made his uncle the first inductee into the 49ers' Hall of Fame. He leaned on him for advice, because Eddie knew what it was like to be a young nobody in the NFL's inner circle. DeBartolo was neither a scout nor a coach nor a real football expert. So he couldn't tell his nephew much about what happens on the field, but he told him a lot about what goes on with people.
"I think it was simple," Jed York said. "He said, 'Just do what you think is right. Don't listen to the pundits.' Obviously, at the time I took over, there were a lot of pundits who were not in favor of my family."
That is putting it mildly. Critics had a field day with John York's management style and his reputation for thriftiness after the free-spending DeBartolo days. More than one NFL owner was hoping the Yorks would sell the team.
It was a strange time for the franchise because, in the old days, the 49ers not only won, but they spawned imitators. Dallas owner Jerry Jones and New England owner Robert Kraft were among those who followed DeBartolo into the NFL and then trekked to San Francisco to observe how a franchise should be run.
Many of those lessons were lost during the first decade of this century. Back East, young Jed heard the critics, and, he says, "That just made me want to work harder" when he was given control of the team.
"I knew we could put together a team that could compete for Super Bowls, and I knew that we could get a new stadium built and be one of the teams that others in football and other sports leagues would emulate," he said.
Why not? They did the success part once before.
And the new stadium, for years a pipe dream, is scheduled to open for the 2014 season.
There are some differences, too, between DeBartolo and Jed York, but they are mostly in the public persona. Eddie hated being a front man. Jed, who grew up in the social media era, is better at that. He's a regular on twitter with his comments to fans. In 2010, when the 49ers had an 0-5 record, he tweeted they would win the division, a comment even now he says he does not regret, believing the results of the last two seasons validated his opinion of the 2010 team, which finished 7-9.
"I think I have a different skill set (than DeBartolo)," York said. "I'm more comfortable talking to the media, being in front of people. I don't know that I necessarily enjoy it, but I absolutely understand it is an essential piece of my job. I can't hide and I'm not trying to hide. It's not always fun to take that feedback, but you have an obligation."
For now, Jed wants to try to enjoy a Super Bowl week because he understands there's no guarantee it ever will happen again. He says it's a "paralyzing" feeling because there's nothing he can do to affect the game.
Of course, Eddie is in the same situation this week. He's a finalist, for the second time, in voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and voters will decide his fate the day before the Super Bowl. It could be quite a double for the 49ers.

---Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.