“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” –Sam Walton, Walmart and Sam’s Club Founder
The San Francisco 49ers had a makeover this offseason and not one that makes them look better. They have lost head coach Jim Harbaugh, middle linebacker Patrick Willis retired, Frank Gore is a Colt, and Justin Smith appears to all but have officially retired. That is a huge loss not just in the talent each of those individuals possessed but in the leadership they brought to the table.
Say what you want about Harbaugh, he got guys who had not won anything to believe they could. He raised their self-esteem and the result was better production on the field. Alex Smith was a bust until Harbaugh came to San Francisco. The defense had talented players but they were not dominating until Harbaugh came. He helped to change the culture of a team that had not been successful in almost a decade.
Making Harbaugh’s job easier were veterans like Gore, Willis, and Smith. They led by example. They worked hard in practice and played hard on Sunday’s. They also were accountable when things did not go the way they wanted. Those are the kinds of players coaches pray for.
With those guys having now departed, the question is where that level of leadership will come from? With all due respect to Jim Tomsula, he is seen as a yes man to upper management. That does not mean he cannot coach, it just means he is more of a puppet than a true leader. Most franchises look to their star quarterback to be the team’s leader. Colin Kaepernick just does not appear to be the guy to lead in the traditional manner that other quarterbacks have. His skin appears to be too thin. Comments from fans and media alike have flustered him. In no way is this to say he does not lead by example, he just is not the rah-rah type guy or the guy who will calm the storm when things begin to go wrong.
Some of the replacements for guys who have moved on are good players but one, it is hard for guys who are new to the team to lead. Secondly, they have not been true leaders in the past. Reggie Bush is a solid running back, but he is no Frank Gore. Furthermore, he is often injured and fumbles too much. As talented as he is, his voice will not come close to carrying the weight Gore’s did. Torrey Smith is a nice addition and will break the top off of coverage, but he is not a leader. He is very emotional and can go into a shell if he begins to struggles.
Normally in these situations a wait-and-see approach would be taken. Give the team a chance to at least get to a mini-camp before drawing any conclusions. The problem is the team appears to be falling behind in their own division. The Seattle Seahawks were one play away from repeating as Super Bowl champions and have since gotten better. The St. Louis Rams may actually have a quarterback who will play 16 games and their defensive line got even better with the addition of Nick Fairley. The Arizona Cardinals have holes to fill but if they can pull off the Adrian Peterson deal that is in the works, they get even better.
No one is saying push the panic button, yet, simply that there are enormous shoes left to fill. Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke have basically made themselves the face of the franchise. Time will tell how well that strategy works out; the strategy they had in place before was working pretty well before they tinkered with it.
Photo Courtesy: Jose Sanchez AP