The team's owner, John York, is happy with the team's development.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Dr. John York doesn't mind one bit that his NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers, probably won't draft an impact player today who could immediately step in as a starter in September.
"Heaven knows, we certainly had enough immediate needs to fill in the last few drafts," said York, the 49ers director and owner's representative.
Unlike the past three seasons when the 49ers had to release many veterans to get under the NFL's salary cap, the 49ers are coming off a 12-4 season with 20 offensive and defensive starters signed and two veteran free agents filling out the roster.
Glaring holes simply don't exist on the current starting roster, so today's draft will be a much different experience for the 49ers braintrust.
"This one is a change, but I don't think it changes the intensity," said York in between final draft preparations at the team's headquarters here.
"Our team feels a lot stronger with the moves we made in the offseason, signing our own free agents and bringing in three outside free agents."
In the offseason, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue re-signed center Jeremy Newberry, running back Garrison Hearst and fullback Fred Beasley.
The team also added Bears safety Tony Parrish (to replace 2001 starter Lance Schulters), Rams backup defensive end Sean Moran and Giants guard Ron Stone, whose signing means last year's starter, Ray Brown, will be released.
"We're in better shape entering the draft than we were at the end of the regular season," York said. "That obviously takes some of the pressure off."
The franchise has rebounded nicely since York and his wife, Denise DeBartolo York of Canfield, assumed control of the NFL team a little more than three years ago after Denise's brother, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., relinquished ownership following his plea to a felony in Louisiana.
In 1999, York's main problem was to find a way to steady the NFL franchise that had won five Super Bowl championships from the 1981-1994 seasons, but was in tremendous salary cap trouble.
"We tried to stabilize the football team itself when we first came in here, making sure that [Coach] Steve Mariucci was signed to a good contract," York said.
"We then tried to stabilize the football operations with [former coach/GM] Bill Walsh coming back and [former UCLA coach] Terry Donahue joining him."
Today's draft will be the first for Donahue since he was promoted to GM last May. Walsh, still the team's executive consultant, will be in the war room to assist.
York's other task was bringing in Peter Harris as chief executive officer and Les Schmidt as chief financial officer. "They have really solidified [our front office]," York said.
"My role to stabilize and solidify is sort of over," York said. "So when I'm out here now, it's totally different than three years ago when I was here to get the right people to run things.
"Now, I'm inside the building half the time and out [in the community] the other half."
One of York's favorite projects in California is the 49ers Academy.
"It's for middle-school-aged children who have been in trouble or have learning problems and don't seem to get along well in traditional schools," York said. "Many of the students in that program graduate from high school and go on to college."
Friday, York led a contingent of 49ers personnel to San Francisco's City Hall where Mayor Willie Brown welcomed his contemporary from Osaka, Japan.
In August, the 49ers will play the Washington Redskins in the NFL's 2002 American Bowl in Osaka.
A native of Muskogee, Okla., York graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1971 then received his medical degree from Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine. He's proven to be unafraid of challenges.
"I have been in the medical laboratory business, the thoroughbred racing business and now I'm in the National Football League," York said. "Other than being trained as a physician, I have no training on how to run a laboratory or how to run a race track or how to run a football team.
"But I do thoroughly enjoy [learning to] understand a business and get the right people in place so we can compete in whatever arena and be recognized as tops in that business," York said.
"And we want to be recognized as good citizens in that community, whether that community is Shreveport, La., with Louisiana Downs or San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose with the 49ers or whether it be the DeBartolo Corporation in Youngstown."
Living between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, York is well aware of the passion that Mahoning Valley football fans flames for the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Like the Steelers, he's proud of how fast his team has rebounded from recent non-playoff seasons.
And he welcomes a comparison to the Steelers, who also have a playoff team with 22 veterans in place in the starters' roles.
"If you can see similarities between the 49ers organization and the Steelers organization, then Denise and I would both be very, very proud to be compared with and to be in the same grouping as Dan and Art Rooney," York said. "They are both terrific people and run a fine organization."