Can John Lynch follow John Elway's footsteps again?
John Lynch grew up as the biggest fan of John Elway. He wanted to follow in his cleat prints, first to Stanford, where he was recruited as a quarterback, then to the NFL.
Lynch was switched to safety by Bill Walsh, and his career arc followed that of Ronnie Lott. In fact, for the third time, Lynch will be a finalist Saturday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Super Bowl LI. But Lynch still has a chance to follow Elway, who took over as general manager of the Broncos and built a Super Bowl championship team.
On Saturday, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said the hot rumor at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., was that Lynch may be hired as the 49ers general manager, despite having no front office experience. Since retiring, Lynch has forged a critically acclaimed career as an NFL analyst with Fox.
The 49ers announced Lynch's hiring late Sunday night and he will be paired with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who will be hired as the 49ers head coach after Sunday. Lynch played four seasons for Shanahan's father, Mike, in Denver.
According to ESPN, both Lynch, 45, and Shanahan, 37, are expected to receive six-year contracts, which is astounding for a first-time head coach and first-time GM.
It doesn't surprise me that Lynch wanted more from his post-playing career than to be considered one of the game's best broadcasters. He actually initiated the whole process. He called Kyle Shanahan about week ago to volunteer for the job.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Lynch spent Thursday and part of Friday with Niners CEO Jed York in the bay area. He returned to San Diego on Friday night to attend a daddy-daughter dance.
Lynch then flew to Atlanta and had more interviewing with York, and spent some time with Shanahan as well.
"Nothing is guaranteed," York told Sports Illustrated's Peter King. "But so many opportunities are missed in the NFL because people don't want to do something different. We're okay with that, because I am confident in Kyle and John. John has watched John Elway and how he's built a team in Denver. ... I talk to Kyle, and he says John is the most prepared of all the TV (people) he meets in the production meetings before games. We understand we'll have to live with growing pains, but I'm willing to do that because I believe the upside with both of them is so great."
The trend around the NFL is to pair coaches and GMs. That relationship is critical to a team's success, but there are plenty of examples where it hasn't worked in the past. Lovie Smith essentially hired general manager Jason Licht, but Smith kept the final say over the 53-man roster.
Head coaches worry about winning on Sunday. Outside of perhaps Bill Belichick, it's risky to give final say on personnel to them. There needs to be some checks and balances, and you would hope that Lynch will make all the decisions about the draft and free agency.
Nobody should ever underestimate Lynch. First of all, he knows how to relate to all types of people. Remember the array of personalities on that Bucs' Super Bowl team with Warren Sapp, Keyshawn Johnson and Simeon Rice? Lynch's communication skills and rational thinking may bring some calm to a chaotic franchise.
But he is going to have to surround himself with good scouts and personnel people. Building a scouting department may be the most important thing for any GM. The other strong rumor from Mobile was that former Bucs GM Mark Dominik may join the 49ers. That still makes sense since Lynch was in Tampa Bay with Dominik for nine of his 11 seasons with the Bucs.
There will be a lot of comparisons between Lynch and former Lions GM Matt Millen, the last guy with no front office experience to come from the broadcast booth. I believe he will be more successful than that.
For starters, there isn't a more competitive person than Lynch. He also will know his weaknesses. But having been around Walsh, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Shanahan on very successful teams, championship teams, he knows what it is supposed to look like.
Just the same, York doesn't have a great track record. Anybody who would fire Jim Harbaugh for Jim Tomsula and then give Chip Kelly all of one season before firing him isn't running a good organization. The 49ers flew the Vikings' George Paton and the Cardinals' Terry McDonough to Atlanta for second interviews last week, then went completely out of the box with Lynch's hiring.
This is a ground-up rebuild, so maybe the six-year deal reflects knowledge of that. The 49ers have plenty of resources to begin that process. In addition to owning the No. 2 overall choice along with nine other draft picks, they have $100 million of salary cap space.
What a week for Lynch. Six days after being named the 49ers GM, he could be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then he has to work on finding a quarterback.
Somebody exactly like Elway would be nice.