By all accounts, John McVay has a lot to be proud of. By those same accounts, he is one of the least prideful people you’ll meet.
And he has reason to be boastful: McVay, an executive who wore many hats, including the general manager’s, in his 21 years over two stints working in the 49ers front office, stuck around for all five of San Francisco’s Super Bowl titles.
At training camp in Santa Clara on Monday for the 49ers announcement of his induction into the organization’s Hall of Fame, McVay was happy give credit to his modern equals.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn,” McVay, 82, told a group of reporters Monday afternoon, “but I like what I see. From the top down: You look at [CEO] Jed [York], and coach [Jim] Harbaugh and [GM Trent] Balke – Balke has done an amazing job. They have managed to corral a magnificent group of players, and lots of ‘em.
“What we’re looking at it, if you look at the success the last two years, and look at the talent we have right now, it’s definitely a warm, fuzzy feeling.”
Assembling talent was also a specialty of McVay’s regimes. Known for his ability to mesh the stronger personalities of his own head coach and owner, Bill Walsh and Eddie Debartolo Jr respectively, throughout the 1980s, he still attends two or three 49ers games per season and hosts Sunday parties at his Granite Bay, Calif. home. (He watched the Super Bowl from Hawaii, where he needed to take advantage of a use-it-or-lose-it timeshare.)
Three losing seasons as a 40-something coach of the New York Giants, 1977-79, colored his attitude going forward in the NFL.
“From my perspective, I said, ‘Any franchise or coach that I work for, I’m going to make damn sure that they enough players,” said McVay, whose Giants coaching staff hosted then Stanford coach Bill Walsh before they became friends. The pair reunited in ‘79 when Walsh accepted the 49ers’ coaching job and tasked McVay with directing player personnel. “I was on the first plane,” he said.
With DeBartolo’s resources as well as the know-how of McVay and Walsh, San Francisco started a breeding ground for talent, both in uniform and on the sideline. According to McVay’s memory, this is how an exchange would go between he and his coach and DeBartolo.
“Eddie, we need a tight end.”
“Well, get one. Better yet, get two.”
The McVay-Walsh duo used all avenues to accumulate talent, including open workouts on a high school field at 711 Nevada Street in Redwood City, Calif. that produced 1980s role player Bill Ring. More often than not, however, Walsh would get the best out of the 49ers’ growing number of scouts.
“Bill would say, ‘Don’t tell me what they can’t do,’” McVay remembered. “He says, ‘Tell me what they can do for us.’
“Bill was scary in his ability to evaluate talent.”
Of course, the third-round selection of Joe Montana in 1979 set up San Francisco for its championship-winning ways.
“Over the years and at that time, there was no absolutely no shortage of 49er personnel – scouts, assistant coaches, equipment men, trainers, everybody – no shortage of people who took complete credit for drafting Joe Montana,” McVay said. “Actually, it was Bill Walsh who drafted him.”