By GARY SHELTON
Special to woodypaige.com
He was one of the top handful of safeties ever to play the game. He’s smart. He’s driven. He studies the game. He made an impact like a hammer falling from a building.
Yeah, I can tell why so many people doubt John Lynch today.
Why, the 49ers were much better off with a clod named Trent Baalke, right?
Yet, the comments sections are filled with skeptics about Lynch, some calling him a disaster waiting to happen. There are torches, there are pitchforks and there is loud griping afoot from guys who couldn’t name three NFL general managers if you spotted them two.
It’s as if nine Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl season are actually working against Lynch, as if the 49ers would be much better to have hired some faceless drone from the back offices of the New England Patriots, where his main job was to separate the lattes from the frappuccinos.
Me, I like the hire. If you saw the way Lynch used to outsmart the best offenses in the league, how can you help it? I know Lynch, and I know how sharp he is, and I know how hard he studies. I don’t think it will hurt that he’s seen the inside of a huddle. And I think if 49ers owner Jed York doesn’t get in the way, Lynch has a fine chance to succeed.
Those who criticize Lynch by suggesting he will be a puppet obviously have no clue about the man. Those who suggest that the 49ers would be better with one of their former greats running the show don’t get it, either. It isn’t that Lynch was a great player; it’s the type of player he was. He was quarterback in college and a safety in the pros, so he has a feel for both sides of the ball. He was an overachiever with a fiery yearn to win. He left receivers with dents in them. He was a calming presence in a locker room filled with personalities.
Would I be better convinced if he had 3-4 years as a scout on his resume? Sure. But I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker.
So where is all the criticism coming from. Some if it is criticism of the 49ers, who were terrible. Some of it is criticism of York, who has made a lot of dumb decisions. And some of it is because Lynch is someone else’s star; I daresay that if the Bucs had hired him as g.m., no one would have said a peep. Because here, we know Lynch. In San Francisco, he was generally that guy on TV on Sunday mornings. No one was bonded to him there.
Then there is the fact that Lynch didn’t pay the usual dues. He wasn’t a scout. He was — egad — a TV analyst.
Look, I admire scouts. I like the dedication they show as they crisscross the league, charting players, digging out the unknown in an effort to avoid a bust. But let’s face it: Scouts aren’t infallible, either. Not when you are trying to get inside a young man’s skull and see whether he wants his moment or just the money.
For a day, however, a lot of people have given Lynch a hard time because he hasn’t been in the trenches. Oh, there are analysts who just get a coach and players to repeat what they said to the newspapers this week, and there are analysts who try to to learn a team and its weak spots.
You know who has expertise in the front office? Bruce Allen has it. Mark Dominik (whispers are he could be one of Lynch’s yes-men) has it. Baalke had it.
Hey, I get it. It’s easy to scoff. A guy walks into a job without working his way up in the usual way, and so you throw shade at him. Never mind that most of the guys who get that job in the usual way fail, too. There are a lot of ex-scouts who don’t work out. There are a lot of bright front-office people who stub their toe.
And so there are fans who have compared Lynch to ex-Detroit general manager Matt Millen, a guy who generally managed the Lions into the dirt.
But can’t you also compare Lynch to John Elway, who has done pretty well with the Broncos? Elway didn’t exactly get to be a general manager by timing punters in the 40-yard dash, either.
You know what it takes to be a good general manager? It takes intelligence. It takes working well with others. It takes luck. It takes a good personnel department. And if a guy happens to have been a great safety, I don’t think that hurts, either.
The best general manager the Bucs have ever had, of course, was Rich McKay. By occupation, he was a lawyer. He didn’t grow in the personnel department, either. But he was smart, and he had good people working for him. When it got time to take Warren Sapp or, say, Ellis Johnson, he could look around the room at Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell and get their opinions.
This just in: Lynch will have college scouts, too.
No, he won’t be perfect. If you remember, Lynch really missed on safety Mark Barron as badly as the rest of us. He had done some work for Elway that year, and he loved the way Barron attacked at offense. Never mind that Barron simply didn’t make enough plays. Lynch once told me he was impressed with Detroit coach Jim Swartz. That didn’t work out, either. But I’ll bet there isn’t a front office worker in the NFL who hasn’t thought some guy who failed would make it.
What could stop Lynch? Well, York could. If he picks the wrong guy when co-workers disagree. If he doesn’t come up with the money for Lynch’s free agents. If he insists on doing the job of general manager himself, as owners sometimes do. If he listens to homeless men about which quarterbacks to draft.
But the 49ers have enough money. They have a high enough draft position. They could get a lot better before they get worse.
But it’s hard to find a star player who is more willing to work with others than Lynch. He has his opinion, but he’ll listen to yours, too. I’m sure he disagreed with me at times when I would write my opinion, but all he ever said was “you’re tough but fair.” It was good to hear.
Then again, John was always the voice of perspective. When you needed an assessment of the way the defense was playing, or you wanted to talk about teammates or coaches, he was a go-to opinion.
While he was with the Bucs, I watched John will himself to stardom. He wasn’t the fastest safety in the world, but he was rarely out of position, and he was a great tackler, and he was sharp. Being a great player doesn’t make one a great general manager, of course, but it can’t hurt.
I think he can do the same thing here. Will he be the world’s best capologist. No, but he’ll have guys for that job. Will he be the best guy to decide one sixth-round tight end over another? No, but he’ll have guys for that, too.
Look at the general managers of the NFL. Jerry Jones became one by virtue of owning his team. Micky Loomis? Les Snead? Ryan Pace? Bob Quinn? Tom Telesco? Mike Maccagnan? Did any of these guys even win their office fantasy league?
I know, I know. The fans of the 49ers have every right to believe whatever choice their team makes is the wrong one. And, like him or not, Lynch is limited in his front office resume.
But, sometimes, it’s better to go with smarts than with a guy who has made charts. It’s better to trust someone who has played than someone who has held a stopwatch.
Me? I’m in the Lynch mob. If York stays out of the way, I’ll bet on John.
(Gary Shelton is one of America’s most-honored and distinguished sports journalists. Gary has spornamed the Associated Press Sports Editors’ No. 1 national sports columnist twice, has been a top five finisher five ot,her times and was chosen by sports editors in the top 10 columnists eight different years. He has been selected Florida’s Sportswriter of the Year six times. He was a columnist with the St. Peterburg/Tampa Bay Times for 25 years after joining the newspaper from The Miami Herald. Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls and 10 Winter and Summer Olympics, The Masters, the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals and national championship in college football and basketball — all on multiple occasions over the past four decades. He currently has his own website — garysheltonsports.com — blanketing all sports in the Tampa Bay area. He is among the most creative and thoughtful and opinionated, and hard-headed, columnists you’ll ever read. And funny. And one of the good guys. Don’t ever miss his columns, interviews and stories on garysheltonsports.com. Gary has agreed to be an occasional contributor to woodypaige.com.)