Nolan's Outrage Refreshing
October 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM
By Brett Pahler
In the wake of Sunday's loss to the Cowboys, most media columns have been surprisingly critical of Mike Nolan's harsh words, insinuating that his recent actions will polarize the locker room and make rebuilding more difficult. Nonsense. Nolan has every right to be upset, and his words are a breath of fresh air compared to the listless verbiage we've heard from our coaches over the past decade.
Put yourself in Nolan's shoes. You work long hours with your coordinators drafting the game plan. You spend all week practicing, teaching, and coaching, to make sure your players understand their assignments and are in the right positions.
Fast forward to the second quarter of Sunday's game. You're up 21-6. You watch on the sidelines as the Cowboys march down the field throwing what seems like eight consecutive completions to their tight end. 21-12. "We covered this in practice," you think.
Fast forward to the waning minutes of the third quarter. You're up 31-19 with time ticking away. If you play prevent defense, you win. Bledsoe to Glenn for 58 yards. A great toss by Bledsoe, squeezing it in there? An immaculate route by Glenn, completely crossing up the corner? Actually, a blown coverage - on a scheme you've been trying to drive home since training camp.
No problem. You're still up 31-26. The defense comes to the bench. Your coaches show them aerial photos of the play. They show them, again and again, where they should be on each formation. The players say they understand. Everyone's got it. We've been through this 100 times, and last time was just a slip up, right?
The defense goes back out on the field. After a couple of nice defensive possessions Bledsoe completes a 44 yard pass to Terry Glenn. Was it Bledsoe threading the needle? Was it Glenn out-leaping two defenders? Actually, another blown coverage.
You think to yourself, what's the cause of the blown coverages? Do the guilty parties not understand what the coaches are asking of them? Or are they trying to cover different parts of the field that aren't their responsibility?
You're gathering your thoughts after the game. Actually, your thoughts are quite clear. You lost because the Cowboys scored 21 of their points on drives where some of your players arbitrarily threw your well-crafted game plan to the wind. You're upset. Of course you're upset. Anyone with a pulse would be upset.
So, you have to face the media. Do you sugarcoat the loss and make warm, happy, feel-good statements, alluding to improvement? Do you tell everyone that we should all be happy because we're on pace to win more than two games? Or do you tell them how you really feel? Do you tell them that it is absolutely unacceptable to lose that game? Do you tell them that we didn't lose because we lacked talent, but because we lacked focus, and that the guilty parties better figure it out because you intend to take this team to the top with or without them?
What Nolan understands better than anyone is that calculated anger is a tool, no different than playbooks and white boards. The best coaches know how to tap into those human emotions, such that their players prepare for and play the game not only so they can win, but so they can avoid scrutiny in the film room on Monday mornings or so they can keep their jobs. A perfect example is Ray Lewis. When players play on that defense, yes, they want to win. Yes, they want to play well. But they also want to avoid a humiliating situation where Ray Lewis gets in their face on the sideline and screams at them to man their position. That extra motivation cannot be underestimated, and it's nice to see that Nolan brings that to the table.
There's been much speculation about the damage Nolan may have wreaked upon the locker room. What damage? Brandon Lloyd said he liked the fact that the coaches get mad - in sharp contrast to his previous coach who was all too accepting of defeat. He thinks it's going to make everyone better. You can bet that other players appreciate the accountability as well.
Speaking of accountability, watching Sunday's game, my untrained eye only noticed one Jamie Winborn mistake. The one I saw occurred on what I believe was a 3rd-and-9 play in the second quarter, where Drew Bledsoe completed a pass to his tight end Jason Whitten over the middle in front of a flatfooted Winborn. If Winborn runs with Whitten - someone he's much faster than - the 49ers force the Cowboys to punt, go into the locker room up 24-6, and probably win the game.
Most of us have been relatively pleased with the way Mike Nolan has infused the organization with energy and accountability since his hiring in January. We see him as a good, clear thinker who has a good grasp on how to make this franchise successful.
But reading the newspapers this last week, one would think that Nolan had snapped, giving rise to Nolan's true and irrational self. Is this the logical conclusion? Is it not more reasonable to assume that Nolan is not demoting one of his better players because of one mistake, but because he and his coaches (especially Singletary) are witnessing a pattern of irresponsible play, and this is merely the straw that broke the camel's back?
If Winborn's forte is pass coverage, and he's coming up short in that responsibility, does it not make sense to start Andre Carter, who can at least get after the quarterback? Does it not make sense to give more minutes to Corey Simon, who had the best preseason out of anyone on the team and broke through the Dallas line twice in limited minutes to hit Bledsoe?
Perhaps Nolan demoted Winborn to make a point. More likely, Nolan demoted him so he could get the 11 guys on the field who will play as a cohesive unit. Is that not what coaches are for? Does this send a message to the rest of the guys that they better pay attention in film study and take their assignments seriously? You bet. Is it something more? Probably not.
The media jackals have portrayed this week's events as a colossal power struggle in which the supreme dictator Nolan needs to strengthen his iron grip on the franchise and make examples out of players in order to fuel his insatiable desire for discipline. Contrary to popular belief, demoting players is not enjoyable - especially when involving a nice guy like Winborn. Nolan has no control over how the player responds. If Winborn had accepted his fate but vowed to work harder and return to the starting lineup, somehow I doubt that Nolan would have cleaned out his locker. But Winborn probably stated that he would have trouble accepting a backup role, forcing Nolan's hand. It was likely out of respect for Winborn, not out of scorn or a power trip, that Nolan decided to trade him to put him in a better position.
Given the uproar, it sounds like many would have preferred that Nolan had answer questions at Sunday's news conference in flowery language and made nebulous references to progress and dynasty. I just like a coach that calls a spade a spade.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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