SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers fired coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke on Sunday in the latest overhaul for a franchise that has fallen from perennial Super Bowl contender to the bottom of the standings in three seasons.
Team CEO Jed York announced the moves just hours after the Niners (2-14) matched a franchise record for losses in a season by losing the finale to Seattle 25-23.
“Despite my feelings for Trent and Chip, I felt the decision to change our football leadership was absolutely necessary,” York said in a statement. “The performance of this team has not lived up to my expectations or those of our fans, and that is truly disappointing. We all expected to see this team progress and develop as the season went on, but unfortunately that did not happen. That is why now is the time to find a new direction for this team.”
The team has been searching for success ever since cutting ties with Jim Harbaugh following an 8-8 record in 2014. Harbaugh had led San Francisco to three straight trips to the NFC title game and one Super Bowl appearance from 2011-13 in the only stretch of success in the past 15 years for a franchise that has won five Super Bowls.
Jim Tomsula was fired after going 5-11 in 2015 and things only got worse under Kelly, whose once bright coaching star has dimmed after being fired by Philadelphia and San Francisco the past two years.
This marks the first time in nearly four decades that a team fired coaches in successive years after just one-year tenures. The only other time that happened since the 1970 merger came when San Francisco fired Monte Clark after the 1976 season and Ken Meyer the following year. The Niners then fired Pete McCulley midway through the 1978 season and interim coach Fred O’Connor after the year before hiring Bill Walsh to start a dynasty.
“It’s frustrating we’re in this position again,” left tackle Joe Staley said before the news became official. “As a player you have to look at yourself first. What can I do next season to make sure we’re not in this position?”
Kelly entered the NFL as one of the most highly sought coaches after his success in college at Oregon. After winning 10 games in each of his first two seasons in Philadelphia in 2013-14, Kelly was fired with a 6-9 record for the Eagles late last season.
He then lasted just one season with the Niners, raising more questions about whether his up-tempo, spread offense that was so successful at Oregon can work in the NFL.
He never had much of a chance at success with San Francisco with a roster that featured Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick as the top two quarterbacks and had no playmakers on the outside.
“We don’t control the roster, so I think the one thing is our job as coaches is to create an environment where our players have an opportunity to be successful, and that’s what we have to do,” Kelly said before getting the news in a meeting with York. “I don’t look at, ‘I wish I had this. I wish I had that.’ We were fortunate for the guys we had and we tried to coach them as hard as we could and as well as we could.”
Baalke helped build the roster that made three straight trips to the NFC title game from 2011-13 and one Super Bowl appearance. But the team has had declining win totals the past three seasons, including a record 13-game losing streak this season.
“While we experienced our share of success over the years, I am disappointed at where we are today,” Baalke said in a statement.
The 49ers lost 13 straight games at one point this season and their only wins came against the Rams. San Francisco set franchise worsts for points, total yards and yards rushing allowed in a season and blew four double-digit leads in eight home games.
Now they will look for a fourth coach in four seasons.
“When we lose like we did and have a season like we had, changes are made, or can be made,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “That’s from coaches to players. It’s all of us. We were all a part of the problem. That’s why our record is what it was.”
Baalke originally joined the Niners as a scout in 2005 and quickly worked his way up to director of player personnel where he helped then-general manager Scot McCloughan put together many of the pieces of the team that would be one of the most talented in the league.
Baalke replaced McCloughan as the top front office executive shortly before the 2010 draft and came away from that with a load of talent led by Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman.
Baalke was given the title of general manager the following year when the Niners hired Harbaugh as coach and Baalke had another successful draft that featured All-Pro pass rusher Aldon Smith and Kaepernick with his first two picks.
The talent well went dry after that. Despite having 51 picks since 2012, Baalke has not added an impact player in any of those five drafts as he frequently drafted players with injuries and stayed away from skill position players.
Since 2012, Baalke has had 15 picks in the first three rounds and used just one — second-round running back Carlos Hyde in 2013 — on a quarterback, receiver or running back.