SANTA CLARA — As his team prepares to take center stage in the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York stepped into the spotlight Friday.
York met with reporters at Levi’s Stadium ahead of the team’s trip to Miami to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
York discussed the dynamic between Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, how he would handle an invitation to visit the White House and what he considers a defining moment for the franchise in its pursuit of its sixth Super Bowl title.
York first spoke with the assembled media for more than 20 minutes then did a shorter session for the cameras afterward.
A complete transcription:
Intro: I feel for all of the players and all the requests that they get. I’ve been dealing with it all week. It’s like, ticket office is closed, we’re ready to go, get our business done. I think it will be good for our guys to be out of here. It’s definitely going to be good for me to get out of here. For anybody that does have my cell phone number I will definitely be changing it.
Q: When you go through this do your reflect on the times that weren’t as fun?
York: I think every day about banners flying over the stadium for me to step down from the team. That’s always my favorite experience about the 49ers. No, I’m just focused on what we have to do. I’m appreciative of our fans, especially the 40 to 50,000 that were here in not the best times. And even those fans, you could tell their passion and spirit for the team and I think it was awesome to see that re-awoken this year. Not just here but on the road. For those of you that have traveled and seen our games on the road, it’s been so awesome to see that. I’m happy for our fans. I know being in the Super Bowl seven years ago doesn’t seem that long except for the kind of deep valley that we went into in between, but I’m so appreciative of that and for them to see the team getting back to the Super Bowl.
Q: Kyle said that when he met with you three years ago it was most important to feel that you really, really wanted to win and that isn’t the case with every team. Was that the conversation?
York: It’s funny, because I going in to it, I don’t know that when either side looked at that meeting it was like this is destined to be. It was more of, this is part of the search. For me, I think you guys know, what I was looking for, I wanted an offensive minded coach and someone that could work with a quarterback and help a quarterback. To me, when you look at the history of the league, if you don’t have a quarterback that can win big games it can really be hard to get to January let alone February. And you wanted a coach and the G.M. to be on the same page. That’s really what I was looking for. Obviously Kyle fit the offensive-minded piece and didn’t have direct familiarity at least on paper with the 49ers, but I think it became very, very clear within the first 10 minutes that we saw how to build an organization in a very, very similar way because his father was here. He saw the culture that Bill (Walsh) instilled in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. Even when Bill wasn’t here, his spirit and the 49er way was still a part of it, and Mike took that. So for Kyle, the Mike Shanahan way was really a part of the Bill Walsh 49er way, was part of what I wanted, and I think that’s where we really hit it off, and it was very clear in the first 10 minutes or so. We had a great conversation. He talked about how much he loved our roster at that time and how talented he thought our roster was (laughs). But the knocks that you heard on Kyle when you did your reference checks and things like that was, he thinks he knows everything, and you had those negative things. But he’s just honest and direct and it’s hard when you’re in my position to know when someone is really being truly honest and direct and when someone is kissing your ass. Kyle is very, very direct and I think you guys see it when you deal with him on a daily basis. He’s not really good at poker face when he doesn’t want to answer a question. He’s pretty good about being direct, and that’s what I want from a coach. If I’m doing something that’s incorrect, I’m trying to do thins the right way, but just because I want to do doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it and it’s great to have somebody that, `Hah, we need this.’ And this is what’s going to be the problem and this is how we’re going to try and fix it. That’s what I have with Kyle, and it’s awesome to go to work with him every single day.
Q: When you hired those guys, did you see it as make or break for you . . .
York: I think I’m still playing like three coaches. If we’re going to pay a coach, may as well pay the same one for six years. Seems like a good idea to me. It was just clear that we had the vision in sync. Knowing it’s a six-year deal, but to me it was really two years of fixing what we needed to fix, and knowing it was year 1 of a four-year deal. And knowing this is someone I can work with and John is someone I can work with to get through the tough stuff. I made an Andy Dufresne reference (from the movie The Shawshank Redemption) earlier, everyone wants to get to that beach at the end. No one wants to go through what he went through to get to the beach. And we had to get through that. And Kyle and John are guys that I know we can get through it with, and we needed to send a message to first our team, and second our fans, that these guys are here. Not that we knew we weren’t going to win games, but it was unlikely that Day 1 we were going to win the Super Bowl when those guys came here. But I didn’t want anyone questioning, `Well, it’s Year 3, they’re on the hot seat.’ No, it’s a six-year deal. We’ve locked ourselves in, all three of us, and we’re here together and we’re going to build this thing the right way. And when you let guys know that, not that we made every right decision, we didn’t make every right draft pick, or every right trade or sign the right free agents all the time, but it’s the combination of it, it’s not what each individual did, we’re trying to build the right team. We don’t want each individual player to be the perfect signing and the perfect draft pick, we wanted to build the right team. And you have to have a longterm vision, and to me, when you can make those long term decisions the right way and don”t have to worry about we need to do it right now and short cut it, then you give yourself a chance.
Q: How do you feel the table is set for sustained success?
York: I don’t want to put expectations on our guys. We need to focus on this week, but that’s always been my goal. I think with John and Kyle, we have the ability to hopefully keep competing. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Q: How surprised are you at how quickly it came together?
York: Somebody asked me this at the end of the game. What was the moment you thought this was possible.. I said, like when we were able to draft Nick (Bosa) I thought this was possible. Knowing the moves that they had made to, even going back to Trent, we invested in our defensive line. And that was something that was really, really important for Kyle was to have a Super Bowl caliber defensive line and when you bring Dee in through sort of trade free agency, and you’re fortunate enough to have a player like Nick there when you’re drafting second, then you knew that you had a chance. And that’s kind of when it hit for me. And just watching what we were able to last year after Jimmy got hurt, it took a little time for us to find our way, but the offense was still able to do fairly well and be an exciting offense. And knowing that our young guys had the opportunity to learn, to grow, and not that we were going to make a big push in January last year, but our guys had the opportunity to become pros. And when you saw sort of all those things, and you knew some of those younger guys that maybe not necessarily would have had a chance if you were competing for a playoff spot last year, they were able to grow up last year. And that gave you a chance to have a relatively seasoned team even though it doesn’t seem like it from their age.
Q: If someone had told you you’d be in this position now at the beginning of the season, what would you have thought?
York: Talking to all of you guys or going to the Super Bowl?
Q: Going to the Super Bowl . . .
York: Like I said, if you said that after we drafted Nick, I’d say, yeah, I think so, there’s a chance for it. But this is always what we worked for. So for anyone 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 John and Kyle for what they’ve been able to do and hopefully I can support them.
Q: Comparing culture to the last regime . . .
York: Every team is different, every team is unique. I just think that you go back to Steve Young when he talked to the team in Year 1 with John and Kyle about getting your back. They took that to heart. The team took it to heart and I think it’s become our mantra for the last three years of “I’ve got your back.’ I don’t know that there are many teams that have had it the way we’ve had it.
Q: You’ve been praised for staying out of the way, do you see that as actual praise?
York: I still submit game plans. He humors and he’ll throw a couple of plays in. Some of the reverses, those plays are mine. I don’t do things very differently today than I did 10 years ago. I think we’ve been fortunate to have some breaks go our way and I’m very fortunate that we have two guys that are excellent at their jobs and we can work together and when we do make mistakes, we can learn from them together.
Q: Said in the past Super Bowl or bust, still feel that way, or can you enjoy just getting there?
York: We have one goal. We always have one goal. And I think any time that you lower that expectation, you hurt yourself and you hurt your team. Lou Holtz would always talk about, if you aim for perfection you can achieve greatness and it goes all the way down, like you’re aiming for perfection. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfect, but if you aim for it, you give yourself a chance to be great, and that’s what you’re shooting for.
Q: Memories of the last Super Bowl trip . . .
York: It was, again this is something that I’ve said, but it’s so much worse to lose in the NFC Championship game. Especially if you lose in a close fashion and you see the team that beat you win and you always think `What if.’ It was hard to lose a Super Bowl, but we played the game. You can’t have what ifs when you play the game. And I think it’s one of those things that you have to remain focus and know that, don”t say something silly on opening night. Don’t do something silly during the week. It reinforces how important it is to just do your job for that week. Especially in a place like Miami where it’s very easy to go have fun and go do things like, hey man, I promise our players, our coaches, there’s a long time to be able to party after Feb. 2. We just have to stay focused and do our job this week and hopefully we come out on the right end of it.
Q: How has John and Kyle working together made your life easier as a CEO?
York: How much time do you have? Again, I think so much comes back to culture. It’s like any of us, the way we parent, a lot of it is how our parents parented us. The joke of `Oh, my God, my mom used to say this to me, my dad used to say this to me,’ it’s not dissimilar from this job. So when we talk about things that we want to do, the things that my uncle wanted and the things that I saw in building a championship caliber organization, that’s what Kyle saw from Mike. That’s what John knew growing up and what he saw from people. It makes it so much easier when you come from a very similar background of this is how we want to do things. I think a great example is Reuben (Foster). I love Reuben. I wish he was still here. We gave Reuben opportunities. We’ve given a lot of guys opportunities, but we set our limit and said if we can’t fix this, we have to move on from a talented player. I don’t know that that have been the case with every coach or every other general manager. Not just here but across the league, because it’s hard to give up on talent. That for me is one of the defining moments of John and Kyle being able to say, this is a first-round pick in our first year. And we moved on from it, and it was hard. We could have justified not moving on from it, there are other people that have been in worse situations than what Reuben has been in. But we knew where we had to be and I think that to me, if you look at a defining moment for those guys, and I think that’s a defining moment for the culture of this team of, we are team first and we got your back first.
Q: If you win, would this team go to the White House?
York: We have to get to that point. For me, personally, I respect the office of the president and I’m not going to get into politics. I hope that we have that decision to make and I hope we have that opportunity and I hope we’re fortunate enough to get a call from the president to invite us to the White House.
Q: What have you learned about John Lynch that makes him valuable?
York: He makes every team that he’s a part of better. He makes every team that he’s a part of a championship caliber group. We joke and his nickname is Captain America, but that’s who he is, that’s what he is. He’s real. And a lot of people aren’t real when that’s their persona, but that’s him. He can relate to the players in multiple ways. He can talk to a coach in a way that, hey, when I was playing, this message didn’t really work for me as a player, you might think about this, you might think about that. He does so many little things that their strengths complement one another. And I think that’s important, and neither one of those is trying to elbow the other to get to the front of the line, saying, “I’m the executive of the year, I’m the coach of the year.’ They’re happy for the other one. They’re happy for everybody’s success and I think that’s both their personalities. It’s awesome.
Q: Moments of doubt when you were 4-12 and asking for you to be fired?
York: I think I answered the fired question before. My life is pretty simple. My philosophies are fairly simple. The Godfather, Bull Durham and Major League pretty much make up my philosophy on life.
Q: Shawshank Redemption . . .
York: 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 and you have to remain cocky, you have to remain confident. You can’t let them get you down. And it’s hard not to let outside noise affect you, but you have to block it out and I think our team has done a great job of trying to block outside noise and I hope I’ve done a small piece of that to help them move forward and move toward the task at hand,.
Q: Kyle said there’s a good cop/bad cop dynamic between he and John . . do you see that . . .
York: I’m not sure who the bad cop is.
Q: Kyle’s pretty sure . . .
York: but even that, Kyle’s not the bad cop, he’s the direct cop. And I think that’s where people can make the mistake of, look, this isn’t a pat yourself on the back league, it’s what do you need to do to get better. I think Kyle’s very direct when he talks to players, when he talks to coaches, when he talks to me, when he talks to anybody. This is the standard and we know what we signed up for with the 49ers. We know what we signed up for with the 49ers, we know what the standard is, and if we want to achieve that standard, this is what we need to do to get there. I can’t express how appreciative I am of him for that and how blessed we are to have those two guys here.