Recently Lowell Cohn of the Press Democrat sat down and had a 1-on-1 interview with
owner new face of the franchise Jed York:
Here is the transcript of my conversation with 27-year-old Jed York this morning at 10:00 a.m. at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara. See what you think of York’s personality. Is he open, respectful, smart? Does he have a plan? I originally planned to run this blog on Saturday, but I thought, why wait? My column on York runs Sunday.
Cohn: What time did you get here today?
York: Today I had a dentist appointment. I got in maybe 15 minutes ago.
Cohn: When do you usually get in?
Cohn: You live in the Marina?
York: I split time. I’m here about half the time. My dad has an apartment down the street, so usually during the week I’m here. I go back to the Marina half the time. My commute today, going from the dentist in Foster City to here, leaving at 8:00 a.m., I got here at 9:45.
Cohn: Because of traffic?
York: It was awful, awful.
Cohn: In a typical day how many hours do you spend here?
York: It depends on what a typical day is. I would say Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday I stay in Santa Clara so I’m here from 6:30, 7:00 in the morning until midnight. Usually Mondays and Fridays I’ll go back, so a normal workday is 6:30 in the morning till 6 at night.
Cohn: Is 49ers pretty much what you do?
York: It’s all I do.
Cohn: Do you have a life apart from the 49ers?
York: Do you mean a personal life? I’m so committed to getting this thing right and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done it’s really hard for me to go out and do a bunch of other things. And I have a girlfriend so there’s not a lot of personal life outside of that.
Cohn: She must be very devoted.
York: She’s awesome.
Cohn: What is your job? How would you describe what your job is and what you do on your job?
York: My job is ever evolving. I get more and more responsibilities. When I started I literally went through every piece of the organization. Not as an intern but as a bottom-level employee that learned every piece of the business.
Cohn: Give me an example.
York: I started working with Steve Urbaniak in the equipment room learning to sew jerseys, watching him and how they fold laundry and then going over with the equipment group and learning how they tie different knots for ice packs, and literally going around every piece of the building the first six months or so I was here. I have continually grown in my responsibilities. I’ve always been somebody that my parents have looked to and they’ve sought my opinion. As time has gone on it’s more and more transferred to me starting to make some of those decisions.
Cohn: When you started from the bottom up was that your parents’ idea?
York: It was a combination. It was something I wanted too. I was young when I came in. I’m still relatively young. I had experience in New York working in the financial world. But coming to the 49ers, I’ve known coaches and general managers and high executives, but some of the other people that worked here might not have known me personally and I might not have known them personally and what they do. So for me working with the equipment manager and working with the trainers and seeing everything they’re doing gave me a good working knowledge of what goes into every piece of the organization.
Cohn: Coming back to this question, you did an apprenticeship, which is praiseworthy. What is your job now? You say it’s ever evolving. You spend all these hours here. What are some of the tasks you would be confronting in a day?
York: The largest task right now is obviously a new stadium and working on that. We just had the election finalized. I think the votes are final so our council in Santa Clara is set, at least for the next two years. So we can pretty much continue that negotiation with the city manager’ office and we can probably present something to them when the city manager and our group finalize a deal that we can present to the council sometime in early 2009, so we can get it on a ballot. That’s the main thing I’m working on. If you’re looking at large tasks, we obviously have a labor issue that’s out there. Working on that – how that affects us, what the potential outcomes are going to be. We have a coaching change that we just made – looking at some of the options that we potentially had before we made the change and who was the right guy. Obviously we talked, Scot and I, about who was the right person on staff. Mike Singletary was the guy that was a unanimous decision between Scot and myself. He recommended that. We seconded the opinion. Looking at the end of the season, how can we make our team better? So I’m working a lot with Scot and listening to him and figuring out — what are we looking at, cash spending, what are we trying to address in the offseason? It’s not me making that decision but it’s being part of that decision and understanding why we’re making decisions that we’re making.
Cohn: You mentioned you had worked in New York. What was your job?
York: I worked for a company called Guggenheim Partners. I started there right out of college. The guys I worked for were from all across the board – the Guggenheim family, and other prominent American families, Hearst, the Gettys, people like that. They’d had informal investing relationships for a century or so. We were risk managers. I was there two years.
Cohn: When did you come to the 49ers?
York: March of 2005.
Cohn: Do we now consider you the face of the franchise? You seem to be very visible lately. The last few times I called your dad he said, “I’m not talking.” It took a long time for it to cross a synapse in my brain that I was probably calling the wrong guy. Do I assume you’re the face of the franchise? You certainly seem more visible.
York: I definitely think I’m more visible and at the press conference (announcing Singletary) people asked, “Are you the owner?” I’m not the one who’s writing the checks. My parents are writing the checks. That’s not going to change. My parents are the owners. I’m a part of the ownership group but I’m the person who’s here on a day-to-day basis. So you’ll see me more and more as the face of the executive decision-making of the organization and I think my parents are trusting me more and more to make those decisions. If you want to call it the face of the franchise or whatever it is that’s not for me to decide. I just know what my job is. I do think I’ll be interacting more with the media than my parents will. Does that mean I’m going to answer questions on a weekly basis or a daily basis? No, but we do want to make sure our fans and the general public understand what ownership is doing and why we’re doing it. I will be the person delivering those messages.
Cohn: How much autonomy do you have in decision making?
York: My parents trust me a lot to make decisions but obviously when you’re writing checks and you’re writing big checks they want to make sure they know what’s going on. I trust somebody like Andy Dolich (Chief Operating Officer) who has a lot of experience not just in the Bay Area but professional sports in general. I trust somebody like Scot McCloughan our general manager. They’re the ones making decisions for football or business operations but they’re presenting their decisions to me. Along with my family there’s a lot of autonomy in decisions I’m making. Again, that role is continuing to expand and depending on what my parents want and when they want me to have full autonomy on decision making it’s up to them.
Cohn: How often do you talk to your mom and/or dad about business stuff?
York: I was stuck in traffic an hour and 45 minutes coming down here after my dentist appointment. My dad and I probably talked 45 minutes just catching up on where we’re at. I didn’t know if you heard about the DeAngelo Hall thing. Things like that we’ll catch up on. We’ll catch up on whatever meetings we’re having with the stadium and he keeps me up to date on some of the things from the international committee. He’s on the audit committee, and how that affects what we do on a daily basis here. So my father’s really the face of the ownership group when it comes to New York and the league office and he’s the person that’s on the majority of the committees.
Cohn: What if you and your dad and your mom are trying to reach a decision but there’s disagreement. How does that get resolved?
York: That really hasn’t happened much but if you want to go to a hypothetical they trust that I’m here on a daily basis, that I have a good feel for what’s going on in the organization and unless they think it’s really wrong they trust me to make decisions.
Cohn: How did it come about that I’m talking to you and your dad doesn’t seem to be around as much? There’s been an evolution. How did it happen?
York: It’s funny. I look at some of the pictures around here. There’s a picture of me cutting the ribbon for this building. It’s Bill Walsh, my uncle Eddie, my mom, me, and my grandfather in the background and my dad in the background. I was cutting the ribbon for this building. I was seven, eight years old. I remember being around my uncle and my grandfather and my mom when they were making decisions about either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the 49ers. And it wasn’t like somebody took me under their wing and said, “OK, Jed, this is how you’re an owner of a professional sports franchise.” They always knew I was going to carry on their legacy at one point. I think that’s carried with my parents where they wanted me to go off and do something on my own and go to New York. There was some discussion at the time. Do I come here early or after five or six years? It was kind of the plan. As they’ve seen me progressing the more autonomy they’ve given me to make decisions. So it wasn’t that my dad sat down over dinner, “Son, it’s time for you to run the team.” It’s been something kind of like Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. When’s the right time for him to take over? I don’t know. When he was ready they made the decision this summer and they pushed a Hall of Fame quarterback out. That’s kind of how it is here. When I’m ready to make the decisions they’ll allow me to do that. It’s not that something has been planned.
Cohn: You could have done other things and yet you work at the 49ers, why?
York: You say I could have done other things.
Cohn: You were at Guggenheim.
York: Right, but the rules were before you did something with the family you needed to go out and do something on your own. That was always a part of what I was going to do. In my mind I didn’t have a choice in what I wanted to do. I always knew what I wanted to do. I always wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps. (He’s talking about Edward DeBartolo, Sr.) And I’ve always worked to be on that path.
Cohn: What footsteps are those?
York: The things he created whether it was the real estate business, whether it was professional sports, I’ve always put my grandfather on a pedestal. He’s my hero. When you’re a little kid and you see you can become a major player in professional sports I couldn’t think of anything else I’d ever want to do. Obviously, I could have done something else but I never wanted to other than being a quarterback. It never crossed my mind that I could do anything other than what I’m doing now.
Cohn: Kind of like born to the job.
York: I mean with going to Notre Dame. My grandfather went to Notre Dame. My dad, my uncle Eddie went to ND. I was the third generation. There was nowhere else I was going to go to school. I was going to go where my grandfather went to school.
Cohn: What does your grandfather mean to you?
York: Everything. You see Barack Obama being the president and I think that’s a huge step for our country, a huge step forward that we’ve made a change that we can elect an African American president. When I look at my grandfather and you talk about the American dream his father died before he was born. He didn’t really like school. He didn’t go to grade school that much. He tried to work. In the situation he was in he needed to work. They ran a grocery store. His stepfather had a construction business – he was driving dump trucks when he was 13 years old. And you see what he created from literally nothing. I don’t think anybody can do the things my grandfather did. Everything that I have, everything that my parents have and my uncle has, came from what my grandfather started. To me there’s a huge legacy to live up to, not that I have to do something more than my grandfather or be bigger than my grandfather but to carry on what he started. That’s very important to me because I’ve been given every opportunity, more opportunities than probably 99.9 percent of people in the world and it is important for me to carry on the legacy that he started.
Cohn: It’s like a trust that’s been passed onto you.
Cohn: Here’s a question I got from a reader. Jed is 27. Why does Jed think he’s not too young or inexperienced to be in the position he’s in?
York: Because growing up I’ve always been around the 49ers or the Penguins or my grandfather and his real estate business. I’ve always been exposed to more things and I think I’m more mature than a typical 27 year old. But I’m not competent enough to run this by myself. I need somebody like Andy Dolich who can help mentor me. I have somebody I’ve been working with, a guy named Mike Rossi who was a vice chairman for Bank of America. He’s helped sort of guide me and mentor me in some of my executive skills. It’s not me doing this on my own. I always make sure I have somebody that I trust, that I can go to. And my uncle with football. There’s nobody better to talk to from an ownership standpoint than my uncle. Some of the decisions that I’m making he’s gone through it. He made mistakes.
Cohn: He was green at the beginning.
York: I’m green but I’m trying to make sure I have the right people around. I’m obviously going to make mistakes. But it’s how am I going to respond to those mistakes and who do I go to? I know I don’t have every answer and because I don’t have every answer I’m going to turn to my uncle or somebody like Mike Rossi and make sure I get guidance when I’m faced with a challenge I might not know how to tackle on my own.
Cohn: What is your role in turning around the franchise?
York: Everything. My role is bringing the 49ers back. We talked about this in an all-hands meeting.
Cohn: What’s an all-hands meeting?
York: Everybody in the organization. We talked about this. It was actually before we were playing the Patriots. I said they’ve taken our position on the mantle of being the professional sports franchise that everyone wants to emulate. That was the San Francisco 49ers and until we get back to that point then we haven’t achieved what we’re trying to achieve. I look at what we had here in the 80s and early 90s. I know the history and I know how tough it was to change that culture. My job is to make sure we bring that culture back and make sure we are back to that championship culture. And that doesn’t start with one player here, one coach there. It starts with a mindset.
Cohn: What sort of questions will you ask your uncle?
York: I talked to him last year about Coach Nolan. There were a lot of questions. Do you bring Coach Nolan back or not? He didn’t say keep him or don’t keep him. He just said, “You saw what it was like under Dennis (Erickson). Did that feel right?” “No, it didn’t.” “Does it feel right now? Do the players play for him?” “And yes I think they do.” I think part of the letdown you saw last week against Seattle was an emotional letdown of letting your coach go before a bye week. My uncle is influential in helping me understand the greater picture. I talk to him about guys on our staff. Obviously you have coach Martz who has head coaching experience and I talked to my uncle and said, “What do you think (about making him head coach)?” And he said, Well you have somebody who has head coaching experience but is that going to leave you weak on the offensive side?” “It probably would. There’s an extremely different task from being the offensive coordinator from the head coach.” He said, “Who’s the best leader you have?” “OK, Coach Singletary.” “Well, if Coach Singletary is there does your defense stay intact, does your offense stay intact?” “Yes.” So, it’s not that he said, “Hey, put Mike Singletary.” He just kind of helped me through it to let me make the decision.
Cohn: How do you negotiate the fact that Eddie and your dad are not close? Is that a conflict for you?
York: It’s not a conflict and they’ve never been best buddies but they’ve always had a lot of respect for each other. It’s like any typical brother-in-law relationship. You might not get along with your brother-in-law but you respect your brother-in-law. They have different skill sets and different strengths and different weaknesses so I try to pull the best from everybody.”
Cohn: Question from a reader: Do you see the need for a strong senior manager with prior experience in a successful franchise to work above Scot McCloughan?
York: I believe in Scot. I haven’t talked to Ron Wolf (former general manager of the Packers) a lot myself but my father talked to Ron a lot before we hired Scot. Scot worked under Ron. Ron is somebody I know Scot goes to similar to me going to my uncle. Bringing Ron in here would not change – not putting Ron down – I don’t think that would change Scot’s relationship with Ron and how he uses somebody that is a senior manager. I don’t think there are a lot of people out there. Just because you have a lot of experience doesn’t mean you’re a strong leader, that you can come in and help the organization. All of us will go to our people whether it’s Ron Wolf for Scot, whether it’s my uncle for me, to help us make some of those decisions.
Cohn: I respectfully disagree with you on that. For what it’s worth, I think you need someone and I do think the fan base is looking to that.
York: As I said when you asked me before (several weeks ago) during the middle of the season, we’re not discussing internally what we’re going to do at the end of the season. If the right person was there, you might consider it. But you don’t want to force something to mess the organization up. You look at what Miami did. Parcells came in and he brought his guys with him. You can’t force a Parcells into an organization because I do think Scot has a lot of talent. He’s a great talent evaluator. You’ll see him now being the general manager and having full autonomy and making those decisions. I was in the room when we picked Patrick Willis and I saw a bunch of defensive coaches that weren’t sure Patrick was the right guy or not. And Scot was the one who said, “Listen, this is who we’ve chosen. This is what we talked about the whole time if Patrick was there, Patrick is our guy.” That’s what I saw – Scot has the ability to be our general manager. I agree that both of us are green and we do need some assistance from folks around but forcing somebody in there that doesn’t fit with the culture isn’t going to make the 49ers better. You see, and I’m not going to name teams, but when you don’t have an understanding of what your culture is and you’re trying to fit talent and not personalities, you’re never going to be successful.
Cohn: If the stadium doesn’t work with Santa Clara would you consider San Francisco?
York: San Francisco is definitely an alternative for us now. But where we’re at Santa Clara is definitely the best option. In my hour and 45 minute commute from Foster City today it just kept ringing true that you need someplace that you can get to from public transportation. As we continue to move forward in 15, 20 or 30 years I don’t think you’re going to see 20,000 or 30,000 cars driving to one location for a football game. In Santa Clara you’ve got the light rail that comes across, you’ve got a commuter rail that’s right here, you’ve got 880, you’ve got 101, you’ve got a lot of parking that’s not used on Sunday afternoons. It makes a lot of sense to be in a place where the infrastructure is set. Now San Francisco doesn’t have enough infrastructure for us at Candlestick. It’s not just a football stadium. It’s how do your fans get there? And is it an enjoyable time before and after for fans?
Cohn: Last question, could you make a direct statement to the fans of why they should have confidence that this team they love will turn around in a timely fashion?
York: I’m the biggest 49er fan there is and I’ve grown up a 49er fan. It hurts me more than anybody else to see the 49ers not consistently in the playoffs and not competing for Super Bowls. I’m not going to rest until we get this thing right. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure we get this thing right and that’s spending money on talent and coaches, making sure we have the right people here to win, but making sure it’s not a culture of win at any cost. But it’s a culture of how the 49ers win, winning with class. That’s very important to me, not going out and having guys who are getting in trouble off the field and domestic abuse and getting in shooting sprees in strip clubs. That’s not the type of guys we’re going to bring in here. We’re going to win with class and we’re going to be on top of the mantle.