San Francisco 49ers: From Premier NFL Team to League Worst

With the firing of coach Chip Kelly, the once-great franchise has sunk to a new low

San Francisco 49ers have sunk to a new low with the firing of Chip Kelly. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Gett

The Monday following the end of the regular season in the NFL is usually known as "Black Monday," where teams usually cut ties with coaches who didn’t produce a winning season.

The San Francisco 49ers, no stranger to head-scratching decisions, decided to move the timetable up by firing head coach Chip Kelly after one season on Sunday. The team also canned the man who hired the former Eagles coach, general manager Trent Baalke. More examples of just how bad things have gotten for one of the prominent teams in the NFL.

"Despite my feelings for Trent and Chip, I felt the decision to change our football leadership was absolutely necessary," team owner Jed York said in a statement released by the 49ers. "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."

It's just the latest in a series of events that make the Bay Area team's fall from the top of the football world all the more maddening. What, exactly, happened to the 49ers that took them from perennial contender for nearly three decades to the worst team the the league? Sure, record-wise the Cleveland Browns have them beat this year, but San Francisco have underperformed in ways that were almost unimaginable a few years ago when the team made it to the Super Bowl. The fall, frankly, has been really hard to watch. 

Since Jim Harbaugh was fired after losing a battle for team control from Baakle, the team struggled mightily. After all, the 49ers have dealt with lack of stability in head coaching, subpar drafts, players unexpectedly retiring, injuries to key players, players arrests and key players just not panning out. Kelly was supposed to be the remedy, but things only got worse.

That's probably why Baalke wasn't shocked by the decision.

"It didn't surprise me," Baalke told in San Francisco radio station KNBR-AM on Sunday. "We've done some awful good things. Some very successful seasons. Unfortunately I regret we weren't able to bring a championship to the Bay Area, which they so deserve."

This team's 4-12 record, which was punctuated by the polarizing stance taken by then-backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is tied for the second worst regular season record in franchise history.

During the season Kaepernick, who staged a protest by not standing for the National Anthem starting in the preseason, was named the recipient of the team's most prestigious Len Eshmont Award. The award, which is voted on by team members, is given to the 49er who best exemplifies the "inspirational and courageous play." Eshmont, who coached for Naval Academy, was the one of the team's original members. Past award winners include greats Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

At this point in time, calling the 49ers – one of the NFL's premier franchises in terms of Super Bowl victories – a hot mess would be an understatement.