Trading Young and Haley might net San Francisco two additional first-round choices in a draft rich with talent. The 49ers badly need some young impact players; they've drafted only one, defensive lineman Pierce Holt, in the past four years. What's more, three offensive stalwarts—wideouts Jerry Rice (who is unsigned) and John Taylor, and fullback Tom Rathman—all turn 30 this year. That's Big Chill age.
At the end of another long workday recently, Policy spied Niner p.r. director Jerry Walker in the outer office and recoiled in mock horror. "Every time I see Jerry," said Policy with a wince, "I say, 'Oh, no! What have you got today?' "
A few words of optimistic caution here: Although the Montana-less Niners started 4—6 last season and missed the playoffs, they finished superbly, routing three playoff-bound teams by a total of 66 points while racking up six straight wins. San Francisco ranked third in the league in scoring (24.6) and fourth in points allowed (14.9). Nonetheless you have to wonder, given the tremors generated just by the wooing of Walsh, What toll will the off-season upheaval take on the team?
It all began when DeBartolo invited Walsh to be his guest at a National League Championship Series game in Pittsburgh. While the two men had clashed during Walsh's 10 years as the Niner coach-football czar, Walsh had become a DeBartolo confidant, and he still cared about the team. In fact, when Walsh heard about Montana's sniping at Young in training camp and early on last season (Montana thought Young was a whiner who wouldn't accept his role as a backup gracefully), he contacted the two quarterbacks individually—unbeknownst to the 49ers—and counseled both players on the matter.
Anyway, that night in Pittsburgh, Walsh and DeBartolo hatched the idea of Walsh's returning to the team as a consultant. In follow-up meetings involving Walsh and members of the 49er brain trust—namely DeBartolo, Policy and Seifert—Walsh's role with the team was ironed out: He would oversee the draft, recommend trades and maintain the offense he had implemented as coach by working with the new offensive staff.
One club source says Seifert became "real uneasy" when Walsh, obviously close to rejoining the team, outlined his ideas for the 49ers' immediate future in an interview that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 13. "The loyalty factor in the building could have been splintered," says Walsh now. "It wouldn't have been fair to George to have me lurking in the background. I wanted George to be the central figure, and I'm not sure it would have worked had I been around."
What will San Francisco miss most without Walsh? His backbone, perhaps. Walsh doesn't shy away from being the bad guy. And the 49ers may need someone like that when the time comes to tell Montana he's finished. It might be this fall, or it might be three falls from now. But knowing Montana's competitiveness and the love for him in the locker room, he might not bow out gracefully. Who will have the guts to tell Montana it's over?
The realization that Walsh was a handshake away from rejoining the Niners opened old wounds for Tony Razzano. As chief of scouting, he had never liked how the team's chain of command worked for the draft—with the coach digesting the scouts' input and dictating every pick—even though both the team of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steeltrs, and the team of the '80s, the 49ers, were built that way. Razzano thinks the scouts were ignored by Walsh, who relied on his coaches' opinions and his own gut feelings. Razzano also believes he deserves the credit for the Niners' having picked Montana in the 1979 draft. Instead, he says, all he hears is how the decision was Walsh's and how Walsh made Montana a great quarterback.
"My whole problem emanates from that—Bill profiting from a kid he did not want," Razzano says. "He wanted Steve Dils [a Stanford quarterback in Walsh's first stint as the school's coach, in 1977 and '78], and I'll go to my grave knowing that. Over the years Bill began thinking he was a genius personnel man, but he wasn't even close to being a good one. The success of the 49ers is Joe Montana. We could have been a true dynasty, but Bill made drastic mistakes."
Razzano wants to write a book, in part to discredit Walsh's reputation as a personnel expert. "Yes, it is a vendetta," he says. "But the public has a right to know these things."