JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Matt Millen couldn’t help but chuckle about the similarities to his own career path when John Lynch was hired as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.
Like Millen, Lynch is a former Pro Bowl defensive player who went straight to the broadcast booth before taking over the front office of a struggling team.
“It’s funny. The parallels between John and I are very similar,” Millen said in a phone interview Monday. “He will just have to learn the job fast. It’s not an easy job. It’s an all-encompassing job and it’s a job that never ends.”
The 49ers made a surprise move Sunday night when they hired Lynch out of the broadcast booth at Fox ahead of several more experienced candidates to be general manager of a team coming off a two-win season.
Millen made the same jump 16 years ago when Detroit hired him as team president and CEO. He added the general manager duties to his plate two years later. In seven-plus seasons at the helm, Millen posted an NFL-worst 31-84 record and was eventually fired three games into an 0-16 campaign in 2008.
Millen had some advice for Lynch to avoid the traps that he fell into more than a decade ago in Detroit.
“Learn the people. It’s about people, it’s not about football,” Millen said. “Football he’ll know. That’s the easy part. He’ll spend more time with non-football stuff then he ever will with football stuff. I thought I’d be talking about how we handle blitzes and how we’re attacking protections and stuff like that. You never did that. That was all coaching. What you had to do was manage your people so you could get the right people and manage your coaches so you could perform at the highest level. It’s a people job. It’s about human capital. That’s what it’s about.”
Lynch comes into a difficult spot with San Francisco’s talent and performance plummeting after making three straight trips to the NFC title game and one Super Bowl appearance under coach Jim Harbaugh from 2011-13.
Harbaugh was let go the following season in part because of friction between him and general manager Trent Baalke and Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly followed with one-year tenures as coaches.
Kelly and Baalke were both fired after the Niners matched the worst record in franchise history at 2-14 and CEO Jed York has spent the past four weeks looking for replacements.
He settled on Lynch over the weekend after conducting second interviews with more experienced candidates in Minnesota assistant GM George Paton and Arizona vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough.
Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is the only remaining candidate for coach and is expected to get his first head coaching job after the Falcons play in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
That will put unproven leaders at the head of an organization that needs to build almost from scratch after being the only team not to have a single player receive a vote for the NFL’s All-Pro team in 2016.
“The biggest thing John doesn’t have is he hasn’t done it,” Millen said. “It has nothing to do with his understanding of the game because he’s a bright guy. It has nothing to do with his understanding of schemes and all that stuff because you rarely ever get to that. It comes down to how you manage people.”
Key in that is the relationship between general manager and head coach. Shanahan and Lynch have not worked together in the past but Lynch did play for Shanahan’s father, Mike, for the final four years of his career in Denver.
One of York’s main goals in the search was finding a coach and general manager who could collaborate, which will be key to Lynch’s success, according to Millen.
“Inevitably it comes down to trust,” he said. “You have to be able to trust the people he’s working with. I know he will because he’s inherently a trusting person. The relationship with the head coach is probably most important because the head coach’s main job is not about X’s and O’s. It’s about managing your coaching staff. John will learn all of that stuff. That stuff is doable.”
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