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Former 49ers exec sees echoes of Bill Walsh in new regime

SAN FRANCISCO — Longtime 49ers executive John McVay could have been nostalgic Monday night as he headed into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
After all, he wore one of his Super Bowl rings. And one of his many cornerstone-building draft picks, tackle Harris Barton, stood just a few feet away as part of his induction class at the Westin St. Francis Hotel.
Instead, McVay cast his eyes to the future — and he said it looked a little familiar.
McVay said the current 49ers front office dynamic reminds him of the days when McVay, Bill Walsh and Eddie DeBartolo were in charge.
“The three of us worked beautifully together. And I kind of see that right now with Jed York, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan,” McVay, now 87 said.
The current power trio helped right the 49ers ship a year ago, when the team rebounded from a 1-10 start to close the season with a five-game winning streak.
Along the way, McVay, hired by the 49ers in 1979, noticed the same spirit of collaboration that helped them turn the franchise into a dynasty by the early 1980s.
“I see the interaction between the coach and the general manager,” McVay said. “I see them (exchanging ideas): ‘How do you like this kid? How do you see that kid?’ And so on and so forth.”’
McVay helped keep the peace during the 49ers glory days, serving as the calming presence between the iron-willed Walsh and the equally formidable DeBartolo.
McVay credited DeBartolo for being a “willing owner” but also a demanding one.
“He’d say, ‘Just tell me what you need and we’ll get it — but you’d better win,” he said, smiling wide.
McVay laughingly recalled the time he asked DeBartolo for permission to sign a tight end. DeBartolo gave him the go-ahead immediately. But McVay said it wasn’t so easy because it was a tough market at the tight end position.
“Eddie said, ‘Well, you’d better get two in case you need him,” McVay said.
Those early 49ers — like the current version — got a spark from the arrival of a new quarterback. McVay said that it’s easy enough to evaluate Garoppolo. After all, the the QB is 26 years old with some NFL experience.
But the willowy kid the 49ers took in the third round of the 1979 draft required a leap of faith.
It worked out: Joe Montana could play a little bit.
“The reason he was there was because he was not a big 6-4, 230-pound quarterback,” McVay said. “People would say, ‘Oh, he’s not that strong. He’s not that heavy.’ But he’ll pick your eyes out.
“And he was just a super guy. We had a locker room full of great guys — not at first. But then they made some changes, just like you see them doing right now.”
— Also inducted Monday were Barton, former Warriors guard Tim Hardaway, former soccer star Brandi Chastain and former Giants pitcher Matt Cain.

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