Ready to spend?

Dr. John York paid for some of his mistakes this week. And, with one clean sweep, he went from cheapskate owner to a man apparently willing to spend enough money to win. But just how much?

It will have to be a lot to get the 49ers out of the quagmire in which they currently reside. This realization must have struck York smack in the middle of his forehead at some point during the past month while the Niners were playing out the string in their disastrous 2-14 season.

It would seem out of character for York to spend multiple millions to right the franchise, particularly in light of the bottom-line mentality he has brought to the organization in the past six years, which includes several instances of business-prudent penny-penching and cutting corners.

But here's the deal: When York took over as top 49ers honcho after the transfer of the team was complete from previous owner Eddie DeBartolo to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, York was under the assumption he could run the 49ers like a business and the team would still squeeze out wins.

That's not the way it works in the NFL. And the realization of that was a lesson York had to learn the hard way.

But remember this: He is a very successful businessman. Imagine the horror when he sees his biggest asset going down the drain, it's glowing reputation tarnished and the ultimate revenue-producer – the fans – in an outcry and threatening to stay away from games in droves.

So York bit the bullet. He fired coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue, who, if they had remained, would have perpetuated the sagging image of the franchise throughout the next year until the Niners had a chance to prove things might be different on the field come September.

Might is the key word there. It's a word that can go either way, and you better believe a lot more people are on the negative side of the thin line than the other way around. That wasn't going to change until wins started coming.

Firing Erickson cost York the remaining $7.5 million on the coach's deal. York reached a settlement to part ways with Donahue, who had just signed an ill-advised four-year extension four short months ago that was believed to be worth about $5 million.

So figure York is out $10 million – at a minimum – to rid the organization of that duo. Add another million or two for the assistant coaches who will be shown the door in the upcoming weeks, since all already are under contract with the team for 2005.

And figure it's going to cost anywhere from $20 million to $25 million to bring in the top-notch coach York is looking for and the team desperately needs. Then he'll have to pay that coach's staff. And then don't forget the new general manager, either, who also will have to be compensated handsomely.

The bills won't stop there. York has to spend in free agency this year to start the rebuilding of his team, and the Niners should be about $20 million under the salary cap, so they'll have some room to spend.

And don't forget about that No. 1 draft pick. If the Niners keep it, that's going to cost York a humungous signing bonus, not to mention the other millions of dollars it will take to get what will be a huge 2005 draft class under contract.

"Look, we're going to spend what it takes to win," York said after dumping Erickson and Donahue.

If York really means that, then nobody should doubt he's committed to winning and rebuilding the 49ers the right way. Remember, York also could be on the hook for more than $200 million if the new stadium project goes through as he himself has said it must for the team to ultimately be successful.

The $550 million concept to build at Candlestick Point would involve an NFL loan of about $100 million and the $100 million bond issue that San Francisco voters passed in 1997 to build a new stadium. Unless he gets outside funding for that, York would be picking up much or all of the rest of the tab.

So, yes, it's going to cost – big-time – to get the 49ers back where they belong. York seems to realize the price now, and this week he began paying some of the initial cost.


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