The case against Mike Nolan has been well-documented by virtually every 49ers writer. "He's coy with reporters. He may have lost the team. He forces people back from injury too soon. He undermined his 23-year-old quarterback in the locker room and to the media."

All of these criticisms are perfectly valid, and may or may not individually or collectively represent reasons to replace him. From my perspective, there are two main reasons he should go.

1st, it's not clear whether Nolan simply cannot objectively assess the value of his players, or whether he plays favorites. For instance, after a mere three games as coach, Nolan traded Jamie Winborn, considered by Erickson to be our best defensive player in 2004, for a 7th round pick. Without question, the slight-of-build Winborn was frequently injured and best used sparingly; but even so, his 2004 numbers are staggering. 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and 8 passes defensed. To put this in perspective, Derek Smith has 13.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 35 passes defensed in his 11-year career. Winborn's production in a mere one season in these four categories ranged from 23%-40% of Smith's production over an 11-year career. One player was given a nice contract extension. The other was given away for free.

Nolan traded Winborn because Winborn did not practice with a suitable degree of intensity. Fair enough. But isn't the job of the coach to reach out to such players and establish some sort of common ground? By all accounts, Winborn was an incredibly good guy with a bubbly personality. He certainly wasn't the first professional athlete who didn't treat Wednesday mornings like Sunday afternoons.

The issue transcends Winborn. The fact that Nolan's first instinct was to tell one of his best players to clean out his locker three games into the season speaks volumes about the way he views himself and fosters relationships with the people he works with.

Continuing along these lines, if the 49ers organization were the Shakespearian play Othello, is there any doubt Nolan would be cast as Iago? When he's not telling Jonas Jennings that he can't travel with the team, he's questioning Ahmed Plummer's commitment to the game. When he's not lying to reporters about Alex Smith's injury status, he's holding a twenty-minute press conference about our offensive line depth and failing to mention David Baas' name. When he's not demoting Ashley Lelie, arguably our most impressive receiver this preseason, to 5th string, he's leaving Roderick Green off the active roster, or the team. Does Nolan have a reason for pushing people's buttons, or does he push them just to push them?

This last point bugs me the most. Out of nowhere last year, Roderick Green had 4.5 sacks in a mere nine games, playing as a mere situational pass rusher in those nine games. For his efforts, he did not even make the team this season. On November 7th, the 49ers resigned him. He notched two sacks in four games, again, a better sack per game ratio than any other player on the team. For his efforts, he gets left off the active roster for the Minnesota game. Hard to believe.

Taking it a step further, it's becoming increasingly difficult to believe the information that's coming out of the 49ers organization. One season Denver wants to trade a first round pick for Justin Smiley, the next season, Nolan isn't sure whether Smiley is good enough to start at guard in the NFL. One moment Manny Lawson appears to be a bust, registering 2.5 sacks in 18 career games, the next moment, Nolan is purporting that the loss of Lawson to injury is the reason our defense is among the worst in the league.

Too much smoke. Too many mirrors.

Regrettably, I could probably live with the undermining if Nolan was a great tactician. Unfortunately, it's becoming increasingly clear that he is not. In last night's game, the decision not to kick the field goal with six minutes to go to put us up by 10 poses serious questions of intellect and motive. The kick would have been a 41-yarder. Nedney was a perfect 16/16 from within 50 yards on the year. Furthermore, he was 2/2 on the evening, with neither field goal close to missing. A reasonable person might suggest that Nedney had a 90% chance of making the field goal and making it a two-score game. Furthermore, the 49ers are the worst offensive team in the league, and one of the worst teams in the league at converting 4th downs, with their success rate hovering in the 30th percentile.

Again, what seems like a relatively trivial point is actually quite telling. The question is simply, why would a coach prefer a 30% chance of icing a game to a 90% chance? If he's ignorant of the percentages, he should not be a coach. If he knows the percentages, and still cannot arrive at the correct decision, he also should not be a coach.

The only reason I can think of as to why Nolan would go for it in that situation is because he fancies himelf as a gutsy coach who is not afraid to make difficult decisions. Unlike Bill Walsh, who deliberately squeezed any and all emotion out of his body before games so he could make purely rational decisions, Nolan has shown a propensity to go out of his way to make irrational decisions in order to show the world that he's tough and fearless. In other words, when choosing between what he thinks is good for his image and what's good for the team, his image takes the day. Not what I'm looking for in a coach.


There are plenty of other reasons to replace Nolan. Trading what looks to be a top-five pick for Joe Staley, under the blind optimism that our defensive line would suddenly generate a pass-rush and that Alex Smith would metamorphosize into a top-15 quarterback. Furthermore, due to our draft positioning and improved salary cap situation, the roster is more talented now than it was when Nolan first arrived, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Erickson was plagued with low-round offensive linemen, receivers that could not start anywhere else, a running back that I believe is out of the league, an oft-injured tight end, and a seventh-round quarterback. And yet, his offense looked like the Indianapolos Colts compared to what we've seen from a much more talented group this year. If it was fair to fire Erickson, and it was, it's fair to fire Nolan.

The only question in my mind is whether we could get Schottenheimer. I have no doubts in his ability to turn our 4-12 team into a perennial playoff powerhouse just as he did for Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Diego. The man has had two losing seasons in his 21 seasons as a head coach. If you simply compare their resumes, no owner in the league would prefer Nolan's 15-31 record to Schottenheimer's 200-126. I feel terrible that the Yorks would have to buy out his last two years after already having to buy out Erickson's last three years, but I would tend to think that Marty would pay for himself.

Three years ago, it was Erickson and Donahue who could not coexist. Both did such a poor job that neither of them will ever coach or manage a team in the NFL again. In the present, it is Nolan and Smith who cannot coexist. If York were to cut both of them loose, I cannot help but wonder whether they would ever coach a team or lead an offense again.