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When Mike Nolan took the reins of this franchise, little was said about how the offense would mature and grow from the time of his inauguration and hiring of offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who had departed from the New Orleans Saints.
The odds were definitely stacked against Mike McCarthy from the very beginning of the 2005 NFL season. He came into a franchise riddled from salary cap battles and coaching changes that had all been the result of a learning curve of owner Dr. John York and his wife in hiding, Denise DeBartolo.
As 49er fans sat and observed the offensive side of this team they came away more and more disgusted each and every day. Reasons were evident from day one, though, as to the magnitude of what this offense was experiencing...the first and foremost being the quarterback position.
Tim Rattay started the season with a bang, finding a way to defeat the St. Louis Rams in Week One, but quickly vaporized as the season progressed and injuries took hold of the offensive line. Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett both saw action as well, but of these two only Ken Dorsey had mediocre success at that.
First Round Pick Alex Smith was implanted to allow game time experience to materialize, but that was just the tip of a swiftly evaporating iceberg that crumbled just at the end of the regular season. This led to mounting uncertainty as to whether Alex Smith would be able to lead this offense into the future.
One thing that can be said of Mike McCarthy, though, is that he was and still is a pupil and a teacher of the West Coast style of offense. Mike didn't have a true sense of success in San Francisco because of the handicaps he was handed with on almost a daily basis. The injuries were a definite barrier to continuity and consistency, and the learning curve of first and second-year players was mind altering to say the very least.
He did finish the season strong with back-to-back 100-yard individual rushing performances. And he had finally made the mental aspect of Alex Smith's game as he threw his first touchdown of the entire season that final day against the Houston Texans in front of a vacant Monster Park arena.
Mike McCarthy was hired by the Green Bay Packers to become their next head coach. Funny when you think about what that front office is thinking, especially based upon what they observed all season with McCarthy at the offensive joystick of the San Francisco 49ers. One would imagine he would be the last candidate in the world to fill a head coaching vacancy on a prominent team such as the Green Bay Packers.
As January gave way to the teams not in the playoffs, Mike Nolan suddenly had a coaching position to fill and it was one he couldn't talk lightly about as it involved an anemic offense incapable of establishing any kind of consistent pattern throughout the entire 2005 season.
With the Oakland Raiders parting ways with long-time offensive mind Norv Turner, Mike Nolan suddenly saw a golden opportunity to hire his former boss and mentor from his Washington Redskin coaching era. Mike Nolan made it clear almost from the beginning as Mike McCarthy was leaving that he wanted a coordinator of imminent experience to assist this franchise and steer it in the right direction for 2006.
As soon as Norv Turner learned of Mike Nolan's predicament, he became very interested in moving across the Bay and reprising his familiar role as an offensive coordinator, a position he knows better than almost anyone. In fact, he instantly called three teams to notify them that he was out of the running for a head coaching position should they be interested. Norv Turner has extensive credentials as an offensive guru, and will be a critical piece to helping the young internship of Alex Smith become a success story we can someday read about.
Turner does not come though with a successful record as a head coach. He posted a 58-82-1 record in eight seasons within the NFL. He was fired from the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 3rd, after guiding them to a 9-23 record in just two NFL seasons. San Francisco brought Norv Turner in under Mike Nolan's recommendation and signed him to a three-year exclusive contract.
There are reasons as well as to why Mike Nolan would hire someone like Norv Turner after having little to no success as a head coach, and after the fact that he was surrounded by offensive playmakers in Oakland and didn't do anything with them. He did nothing with superstars such as wide receivers Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and even running back LaMont Jordan, all of whom should have prospered under his leadership and become larger than life.
Norv Turner is not known for directing or even teaching the West Coast style of offense, which begs the question...what is Mike Nolan thinking? He's now in the very arena of where the teachings and principles of the West Coast style of attack were cultivated and given a long life, through the mastermind of Bill Walsh himself. Instead Norv Turner looks to a power-running game as the focus of attack and the long ball down the field in order to make a big play. Mike Nolan may be thinking that catering to Alex Smith's strengths as he had done so in college may be the key to his success inside the NFL.
"I think we have the right situation," Nolan said one Tuesday at a press conference with his new coordinator. "I believe he's going to be Alex's teacher for some time, which is a real positive."
San Francisco's offense is on life support as we speak. And it is in need of a person that has extensive experience and a willingness to start from scratch and tutor talented individuals into something more appropriate for the NFL. It also needs a leader that is self-motivated and energetic to the cause of working long hours and reaching the minds of the players he's teaching.
Can Norv Turner do all this? Some say he is old and should be discarded after one failure after another as a head coach. But not everyone is cut out to be a head coach in the NFL. Some are best suited for what they did to gain success in the first place, and that is as a coordinator and delving into the expertise that made them great to begin with.
Norv Turner is known for his work while he was with the Dallas Cowboys in their greatest hay days as a franchise. He's known for his power running games and big-play offense that became a staple for him in his three seasons as a coordinator in Dallas now over a decade ago. Quarterback veteran Troy Aikman won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys with Norv Turner at his controls, and he'll more than stop and let you know that it was Turner that turned him into the star he was at that time in his life.
"You never start over," Turner said. "Alex has a year under his belt. That's the hardest year for any young quarterback. The year he has invested is going to help him be a lot better."
As Mike Nolan searches for someone with a football mind for the building he works in at headquarters in Santa Clara, he does know he's getting a football mind to pick with Norv Turner in his camp. Advice will be sought and mulled over between these two that are very familiar with each other from their days together at Washington.
"I do believe Norv is going to take us to the next level," Nolan said. "I do feel we've gotten better in a lot of respects, not only at the coordinator job but from the standpoint of my job having someone to talk to."
Again this reference indicates that Mike Nolan is serious about having more football knowledge inside the building at Santa Clara and has made it clear that he cannot bring this franchise back to prosperity without more insight from experienced minds.
Norv Turner is well known for his immense patience as well, which will bode well for a young mind such as Alex Smith. Many sports analysts agree that Norv Turner is all washed up and is a bust wherever you put him. Still, others believe once he's settled down in a comfortable environment and not in full charge like at a head coaching position, he'll prosper under the right guidance and leadership should he buy into what is happening.
"There were other places I could have gone," Turner said of working with Nolan again. "But I feel very comfortable with Mike. I know what Mike is about, and he knows what I'm about."
Alex Smith became close to former offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy and even admitted that he was looking forward to playing in his system next year. However, when he received news that Mike was on his way to Green Bay, instant telephone communication began between Mike Nolan and himself. He was kept in the loop and Norv Turner made the calls thereafter and assured Alex Smith that he would cater to his strengths and that the 49er passing attack would commence next season.
"It's sort of hard to go into detail over the phone," he said. 'But he feels like we can really get this passing game going."
When you look at Alex Smith's record in the tailspin of 2005, he started seven games and posted a 2-5 record. He completed 84 of 165 passes (50.9%) for 875 yards, with just one touchdown and 11 interceptions.
Knowing Norv Turner as a great teacher and philosopher of offense, Alex Smith plans to consult with former legendary quarterback Troy Aikman regarding Turner's guidance. He wants more than anyone to come to terms with his new coordinator and start to grasp the concepts of his system.
Is it right for us to dump the West Coast style of offense to further fit what Alex Smith is used to from his days in Utah? Probably not considering he has already been indoctrinated to it by Mike McCarthy, but the hope is that Turner will still apply some of those schemes and simply put; build a hybrid of the West Coast Offense while he's with us.
Former Dallas Cowboy wide receiver superstar Michael Irvin had this to say about his former coach: "Norv is a great, great offensive coordinator and I see Alex Smith as a perfect fit for what he does. Coaches too often think every player can do everything. It's more often that every player can do something and it's up to the coach to make use of those skills."
But one has to remember that whenever Norv Turner has been successful as a coordinator it has been because of the talent he's surrounded with at the time. Can he generate anything out of this talent and ability starved team in what we call the San Francisco 49ers? Will he be able to get anything going with the bunch McCarthy had at the very end or will it be another year like last?
"There's no question that the style of the offense has been about being able to run the ball and make big plays in the passing game," said Turner. "I always smile when I read things like does the run set up the pass or does the pass set up the run, but I think it changes every week. Ultimately, the more things that you get really good at, the harder you are to defend. That's our goal from day one. We want to find out how many things we can be good at and that we can do consistently."
This offense cannot get any worse than it already is. We all know that as fans. Now is the time for a revival of epic proportions and let it be with a man of experience at the helm of this rudderless offense. If this is the guy that can turn Alex Smith around and guide him to prosperity let it be it.
I want to apologize for my absence from the mainstream in article writing as of late following the regular season. I have experienced something at home that has affected my ability to process things clearly as my dad struggles in a fight against cancer. I know that many of you out there have loved ones as well with this horrible disease and I pray for you as well.
I ask that you pray for my father who also struggles each and every day just to find a minute not riddled with pain. I ask that you become patient with me while I try and cover events in between as I deal with this very close issue. For that I would be grateful.