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SBD/January 5, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
The 49ers last night named VP/Player Personnel Trent Baalke their new GM, according to David White of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Baalke "was considered the front-runner all along by league and team sources." 49ers sources said that President & CEO Jed York "liked how Baalke ran the draft and personnel department after" former GM Scot McCloughan left the organization in March. Baalke, who "joined the organization six years ago as a regional scout," had to "hold off a strong push from" former Raiders Senior Personnel Exec Michael Lombardi. But York "stuck with a familiar face he intends to trust with all personnel decisions." Baalke's promotion "comes 10 days after York announced he was going to fill a position left vacant since" McCloughan left. Baalke's "first assignment is to hire a head coach" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/5). CSNBAYAREA.com's Matt Maiocco noted "all signs point to" Stanford's Jim Harbaugh "being at the top of the wish list" for the 49ers in their coaching search. A league source said that the team is "willing to give Harbaugh 'significant' power over personnel decisions" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/4). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported a "lot of people in the league thought maybe Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh wouldn't work because Baalke isn't an established GM, but I'm hearing that may not ultimately matter at all and there's a good chance Harbaugh will stay in the Bay Area" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 1/4).
INSIDE THE SEARCH: ESPN.com's Mike Sando noted York said that he "wanted to consider as many candidates as possible" for the GM position, and he "wound up interviewing four guys out of the NFL -- Tony Softli, Mike Lombardi, Ted Sundquist and Rick Mueller -- and one in his own building." This "was not, by all appearances, an exhaustive search," which "reflects well on Baalke, but not on the 49ers' ability to attract hot candidates" (ESPN.com, 1/4). In Sacramento, Matt Barrows noted York "winnowed his list of candidates to two, Baalke and Lombardi, on Tuesday afternoon before finally settling on Baalke around" 6:00pm PT. It is "not known whether York offered Lombardi a position in the team's personnel department" (SACBEE.com, 1/4).
HARBAUGH OR BUST: In S.F., Scott Ostler writes for York, the "best man for the job was (and is) Trent Baalke." But there was "at least some misdirection on York's part." He "almost surely wanted Baalke all along, but knew it wouldn't go down well with the fan base if he just came out and said that." Ostler adds Harbaugh "is the only coach big enough to make the York-Baalke combo look legit" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/5). CSNBAYAREA.com's Ray Ratto wrote York was "talking completely through his hat when he said he wanted a strong general manager to hire the new coach and run the 49ers' football department." Ratto: "If they don't get Harbaugh, all Jed did was move a few chairs around, hoping that feng shui would solve what years of baffled stumbling could not" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/4).
The Raiders yesterday announced that they "won't pick up the two-year option" on coach Tom Cable's contract, according to Steve Corkran of the OAKLAND TRIBUNE. Raiders Owner Al Davis "had until Jan. 17 to decide whether to exercise the two-year, $5 million option on Cable's contract." That Davis "dumped Cable so soon portends his desire to head off other teams from making a play for offensive coordinator Hue Jackson or, perhaps, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 1/5). ESPN.com's Bill Williamson wrote "one of the biggest problems in Oakland has been the lack of stability," and by changing head coaches again, the Raiders "have compromised their continuity." Williamson: "I just don't understand the timing." If Davis "didn't think Cable could lead Oakland to the playoffs, he should have just fired Cable a year ago, fresh off" allegations he assaulted former assistant coach Randy Hanson (ESPN.com, 1/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Matthew Darnell wrote Cable's dismissal may mean Davis "wants a bigger name and flashier presence on the sidelines" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/4).
STAYING ON IN CINCY: In Cincinnati, Joe Reedy reports the Bengals and coach Marvin Lewis "agreed to an extension believed to be for two years." Bengals Owner Mike Brown: "This gives us our best shot going forward, to be the team we want to be." Brown and Lewis "were vague on changes" during a news conference yesterday (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 1/5). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, “Of course they might as well keep Marvin Lewis. They got to get rid of Mike Brown. He's the problem there, not the coach or the staff." Fanhouse.com's Kevin Blackistone: "This is really more representative of the franchise itself. It's just poorly run. (Lewis) is the only coach way up north who doesn't have a covered field to practice in in inclement conditions" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/4). Brown and Lewis both "agree the team needs an indoor place to practice." However, Lewis "wants it yesterday; Mike is not 'as keen' on making that happen" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 1/5). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "This is how the Bengals operate. The rest of the NFL is IBM and they are the corner grocery. ... Other teams have 11 people doing a job, the Bengals have one. They don't dedicate their resources to getting these things done, which is why they can't be consistently good" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/4). NFL Network's Charles Davis: "The Bengals tend to do things a little bit different than other people" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 1/4).
Vikings promote interim coach Leslie Frazier To Full-Time Role
LABOR RAMIFICATIONS: In Jacksonville, Hays Carlyon wrote the Jaguars' decision to keep coach Jack Del Rio "isn't popular, but it's the best move for the franchise in light of the impending lockout next season." Carlyon: "If the season is trimmed down to 10 or 12 games, the teams with the best shot at making the playoffs will be the ones with stability" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/4). In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross in determining the fate of coach Tony Sparano "has to be thinking, as all NFL owners are thinking, about what best serves his bottom line during the famine of a football shutdown." Sparano "could get the 2011 Dolphins up and running in a couple of weeks, if that's all NFL coaches are afforded in preparation for the season opener." A new coach "means a new staff and maybe even a new general manager, all of which represent new expenditures." And if a lockout occurs, "now we're talking about player evaluations being made on the fly and a new system being taught to players in August, not April" (PALM BEACH POST, 1/5).
The Chiefs have "started winning again, but attendance hasn’t gotten much better" at Arrowhead Stadium, according to a front-page piece by Kent Babb of the K.C. STAR. The Chiefs will host the Ravens in an AFC Wild Card game this weekend after winning the AFC West for the first time in seven seasons, but "attendance at Arrowhead is still suffering from a lingering hangover from those forgettable" years. During the regular season, the Chiefs had the "lowest attendance by capacity percentage among the 12 teams that reached the NFL playoffs." Arrowhead’s crowds filled an average of 88.6% of its 76,416-seat capacity, "far less than the next-lowest playoff team," the Seahawks, whose fans filled Qwest Field to an average of 93% capacity. All but two Chiefs games in '10 were at less than 90% capacity. Chiefs Exec VP & COO Mark Donovan said that the "numbers have been disappointing, but he said that sports attendance is actually influenced more by what happened the previous season, rather than what has happened more recently." Donovan noted that the Chiefs "sold more 2011 season tickets last week, as the regular season closed and the playoffs approached, than were sold throughout all of last year." In addition, "all non-club level seats" for Sunday's game against the Ravens have sold out. Still, Arrowhead "hasn’t been its familiar sea of red this season," and Donovan admitted that the Chiefs have "seen their most significant 2011 sales boosts in the lower-priced regions of the stadium." As a result, the team has "made a push to keep fans who did spring for the stadium’s most expensive seats," offering discounts to "club-level ticket holders who pledge a new three-year commitment." Donovan said, "Still a lot to do. Still a lot to learn. But we think we’re getting a lot better" (K.C. STAR, 1/5).
A LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes under the header, "Empty Seats At Arrowhead No Sign That Fans' Interest In Chiefs Waning." Donovan contends that "every important indicator toward ticket sales is up double digits, and in some cases, triple digits." The Chiefs’ Facebook page "averages more than a million views per day, merchandise sales and Web traffic are up as much as 50 percent and TV ratings continue to be enormous." Chiefs games this season averaged a 38.9 local rating in the K.C. market, up more than 25% from '09 and more than 20% from '06, the "most recent playoff season." Mellinger: "Blame any attendance problem on the Chiefs, not the fans. This was a lousy team for years with substandard fan service, leftover arrogance from the years when the product sold itself. By most accounts, the in-stadium experience is now better and the team is worth paying to watch again" (K.C. STAR, 1/5).
NFL Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson “met formally with the media Tuesday for the first time in nine years,” and he “made a couple of references to the team's finances," according to a front-page piece by Joseph Person of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Richardson “bristled at a question about the team's willingness to spend money" and at a reference to former coach John Fox's "lame-duck status" during the '10 season. Richardson said that he “chose not to fire Fox before this season in part because he didn't want to pay off Fox and his staff, with a total of $11.4 million in contracts, while also paying a new coach and assistants.” He said, "You know, we are running a business here. And people don't like to see their ticket prices go up. … I have 14 partners here in town. I own approximately 48 percent of the team, or our family does. And 52 percent is owned by partners, and I have an obligation to give a fair return to them." Person reports Richardson "wants the new coach to be more involved in the team's marketing efforts." Richardson also indicated that he “would not sign any of the team's pending free agents until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, which he predicted would not be any time soon.” But when asked about his "commitment to invest in the team, Richardson pointed to the upscale stadium lounge where the news conference was held.” Richardson: "Does this room look like it's a room (where) we're not spending money?" Meanwhile, Panthers President Danny Morrison said that the Panthers “would not raise ticket prices -- as they did before last season -- and would offer fans refunds for any games that are affected by a possible lockout” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/5).
SHORT TERM GRADES: A Charlotte Observer online poll asked readers, “Are you confident in Jerry Richardson’s Leadership?” Twenty-four percent of the readers said that they are “very confident,” 31% indicated they are “so-so” and 44% said that they are “not at all confident.” A total of 2,579 readers responded (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/5). Meanwhile, Richardson yesterday said that he “plans to own the team until he dies.” In Charlotte, Scott Fowler wondered, “Beyond then what happens?” Richardson “wouldn’t say, saying he was focused more on the short term” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/4).
WHICH BIG CAT IS BETTER? In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell wrote the Bobcats “have a more humble, transparent and practical owner” in Michael Jordan than the Panthers do in Richardson. Bonnell listened to Richardson’s press conference on the radio and found the owner “cordial and personable,” but was “embarrassed by his attitude.” Bonnell: “He was flippant, he was condescending and he was certainly patronizing toward women among his questioners.” Panthers fans “deserve better than that” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/4).
The Predators took a "critical step toward long-term financial stability last week when the hockey franchise's local ownership group completed the refinancing of a 3-year-old $75 million loan," according to Nate Rau of the Nashville TENNESSEAN. Predators Chair Tom Cigarran yesterday said that refinancing the debt "allows the team to recruit additional local investors and begin negotiations with Mayor Karl Dean about extending the Bridgestone Arena lease agreement that expires in 2012." The refinancing transaction was "led by Regions Bank but included investments from five other financial firms." Cigarran said that the $75M loan "equates to about half the team's net worth." The team "wasn't able to aggressively pursue refinancing the loan until the ownership group bought shares owned by former partner William 'Boots' Del Biaggio" in September. Metro Sports Authority Chair J.D. Elliott said that he "couldn't think of any lingering contractual issues between the Predators and the board, which serves as the landlord at the arena." Cigarran noted that with the refinancing out of the way, he "would like to begin searching for new investors in the coming weeks." The "hope is to find local investors," but Cigarran said that the ownership group "would look outside of the Nashville area, as well" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/5).
In Atlanta, Ken Sugiura notes the Atlanta Spirit ownership group in an open letter sent to Hawks and Thrashers fans “reiterated their dream to bring NBA and Stanley Cup championships to Atlanta.” The group recently settled a lawsuit with former partner Steve Belkin, and co-Owners Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson “thanked fans for their support during ‘a very unique set of circumstances.’” The letter, sent out yesterday morning through fan newsletter e-mails, read in part, “Come be part of the dream” (AJC.com, 1/4).
TURNING THE HEAT UP: The Heat and team sponsor Kumho Tire USA last week opened the Kumho Fan Zone on the 300 level at AmericanAirlines Arena. A gaming wall “includes four 60-inch HD-TVs, Sony Playstation and game software” (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 1/4). Meanwhile, in Miami, Israel Gutierrez writes the Heat is “missing a true, definite, inspirational home-court advantage.” The crowd for yesterday’s Bucks-Heat game “certainly didn’t have much to offer.” Gutierrez writes “as excited as this city was when” Heat F LeBron James decided in July to join the team, the “response during actual games doesn’t actually match that level of enthusiasm” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/5).
KICKING AROUND: In Chicago, Mitchell & Kaplan report there “have been discussions” about Manchester United playing a friendly at Wrigley Field this summer. There is “still a long way to go before it’s a done deal,” but Chicago-based AON is the EPL club’s new jersey sponsor and company Chair Pat Ryan “has a great relationship with the Cubs.” A source said, “The game is currently on the 1-yard line with 99 yards to go” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/5).
THE NEW HEARTBREAK KID? Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban yesterday “took issue” with Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s comments about Mavericks F Caron Butler’s season-ending injury. Cuban said, “I love that Jeanie Buss’ boy toy had something to say about us. I don’t know if it was his thought or Jeanie’s thought, but it’s nice to know that she lets him speak in public about other teams.” Buss responded, “I got a kick out of it, but maybe Mark just did it to make me giggle. I am Madonna now and Phil is my boy toy.” Jackson added, “I consider myself an old man. I’m a boy toy? That’s terrific” (L.A. TIMES, 1/5).