Listening to Damon Bruce's 49ers postgame show on KNBR following the loss to the Cleveland Browns, I heard an interesting comment. Bruce said that head coach Mike Nolan probably would have coached this year's New England Patriots to a .500 record. After thinking about it for a while, I had a difficult time coming up with enough reasons why this statement would be incorrect. The 2007 49ers were no Patriots squad, but there was enough talent on the team to at least win at least half of their games. Among fans, a 5 win season was unacceptable and seen as a step in the wrong direction.
If fan reaction over the past month or so is any indication, the fallout from Tuesday's breaking news that Nolan will remain the 49ers' head coach in 2008 could be disastrous. A number of fans have threatened to refrain from renewing season tickets. Some have even said that they will not support the team in 2008 should Nolan remain with the team.
However, the decision to keep Nolan did not come without conditions for the coach. Nolan will have to relinquish much of the power that he has possessed over the past three seasons. That final say will now go to the team's new general manager, who many believe will be current vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan.
Over the past few weeks, there were many theories among the media regarding the fate of Nolan. Some even changed their opinions along the way. A decision to let Nolan go would have been shocking to a few, but the decision to have him remain with the team is shocking to many more. Nolan's eye for talent has not been questioned as much as his ability to coach on Sundays. After all, Nolan did help to bring in talents like Frank Gore, Manny Lawson, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis. All of which will become cornerstones for the team in the years to come. He also brought in big potential guys like Vernon Davis, Ray McDonald...and for those willing to give him another shot, add Alex Smith's name to the list.
It is his on-the-field decisions that frustrate most of the 49ers Faithful. Nolan's bad timeout management, decisions to go for it on 4th down when unnecessary, decisions to not go for it on 4th down when absolutely necessary, and inability to take control away from guys like offensive coordinator Jim Hostler are just a few of the factors that created hatred among much of the fan base. According to the NFL Coach Approval Rating conducted by ESPN, Nolan's fan approval rating has gone from 89% during week 1 to 23% at the end of the season.
Don't forget the rift he placed between himself and his franchise quarterback, Alex Smith. After Smith's injury, Nolan called him out in front of the team and Smith may have a hard time believing in his coach again. The damage may be too much to repair.
With the offseason acquisitions that the team made, it is tough to believe that this team failed to make the playoffs. During his first season, Nolan won 4 games. The following season, the team improved to 7 wins and hopes were high for 2007. Instead, the team regressed and won only 5 games. Shaun Hill, the team's third quarterback on the roster, won both of his starts, completed 68.4% of his passes, threw 5 touchdowns with 1 interception, and had a quarterback rating of 101.3. And he did all of that with a broken finger. In comparison, neither Alex Smith nor Trent Dilfer completed over 52% of their passes, threw more touchdowns than interceptions or had a quarterback rating over 58. Yet it was Shaun Hill, the team's best chance to win games, that sat on the bench for the majority of the season even after Alex Smith's injury. The decision to keep Trent Dilfer as the starter after a number of uninspiring performances left many fans scratching their heads.
Want to see how Nolan has improved the team during his tenure? Below are the 49ers' rankings since he has been the head coach.
If he wants to prove to fans that he belongs with the team, Nolan has a lot of work ahead of him in 2008. The fans that remain will be critiquing every move he makes.
Date: January 18, 2008 at 9:35 AM
Comment: STEVE I agree with you that Nolan has done a good job year one and two. But with the team he had year three he FAILED to recognize the problems and how to fix them in time. The, what we'll call, Tollner/Hill change, should have been done a LONG TIME AGO no excuses. A HC with more experience on both sides of the ball would have recognized that. Now I agree he should be given another shot but on a short leash. If things turn ugly by midseason we should be looking for somebody else. The Martz hiring makes sense but it also doesn't. Any success by Martz may mean a new HC position which means exactly what for us?
Date: January 18, 2008 at 8:38 AM
Comment: I won't watch once they start losing. I'm tired of being disappointed. I was sick with the first 2 wins the way they played. Hopefully with Martz there will be some excitement.
Date: January 4, 2008 at 8:52 PM
Comment: I find it amazing how many pro football experts are on this website. Don't quit your day jobs. I'm glad Nolan's back. He was given the keys to a completely disfunctional organization from top to bottom. It was too much to ask one person to re-do it all. But Nolan has done a hell of a job. Just the fact that so many of you so called "fans" are this bent out of shape of a down year, tells it all. Knowbody was fired up about this team until Nolan got here. He brought in McCarthy (went to G.B), brought in Turner (S.D.), and had little choice but to give Hostler a shot with Norv leaving so late. It didn't work out; add losing your TE in wk 3 for a month, losing your starting QB in wk 4 (never healthy the rest of the year), and a gimpy RB most of the year and it's easy to see why this group never got going. Just an avergage offense and they're atleast 8-8. The defense is improved, special teams are improved and the talent level is greatly improved. As far as game management, yeah I've questioned some things too. Too many timeouts? What do we know? Are we on the sidelines; each scenario is different. New, OC, healthy QB,RB,TE, and a good offseason = progress. Common Sense
Date: January 3, 2008 at 4:39 PM
Comment: I really thought Nolan was gonna get the boot.. This whole thing about S.M. becoming the GM, is just a smoke screen to make us fans think that the management is trying to do something. It didn't make sense that Nolan was given soo much power to begin with, considering that he has never held so much responsibility before. 2008 will be the finale year for Nolan, unless he gets it turned around big time.... I am willing to give Nolan one more try, but listening to Rice, and Young, it makes me believe that the niners would be better off with someone else.
Date: January 3, 2008 at 3:53 PM
Comment: any chance that the Dork's would have have the good sense to hire Mike Holgram as President of Football Operations, or Carmen Policy?
By: 49ers 4 life
Date: January 3, 2008 at 3:46 PM
Comment: im from memphis too lol go niner empire south
By: Bill Batten
Date: January 3, 2008 at 1:56 PM
Comment: In a candid interview last year, Norv Turner compared Alex Smith to Troy Aikman. He said that Smith has every throw an NFL QB must be able to make and more, as well as greater speed and quickness than Aikman. Assuming Turner wasn't simply blowing smoke, the only thing we really don't know about Smith is whether or not he has the football mind. What made Montana and Young great quarterbacks was their brains, although Montana was a much better athlete than people give him credit for. I'm still inclined to trust professional football people like Turner over fans in this regard. I think Smith deserves a chance to get comfortable in a system before anyone declares his professional career a bust. Montana had three years in the same system before he became a winner and so did Aikman. Brett Farve was written off long before he became a sure thing. And, please remember what they said about Elway - that he had the tools but wasn't a winner. I think Smith is a great athlete with an extremely strong arm, high intellect and good character. I can't imagine why people are so darn sure he's a bust at this point. I don't think he's a sure thing, but I'm far from ready to count him out.
Date: January 3, 2008 at 1:37 PM
Comment: Re: Alex Smith It makes me furious to have people giving up on Alex Smith so quickly. No quarter back, even Joe Montana, leaves the college game and steps onto an NFL field and is instantly a winner. Good coaching is a vital part of the success of every great quarterback. The quarterbacks coach is responsible to coach quarterbacks on their mechanics...in Smith's case this obviusly was not done. The first time Jaworski announced a 49'ers game and saw Smith, he immediately pointed out flaws in Smith's mechanics. If that obvious, where in hell were the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator that they couldn't help Smith correct it? Nolan and his staff are basically incompetent and the 49'ers will not succeed until there is a major housecleaning.
Date: January 2, 2008 at 7:22 PM
Comment: 1st to Bill Batten. "With all do respect to your opinons", the threat of withdrawing ticket support is the only real tool fans have to express dissatifaction and demand change. I to am a long time 49er fan all the way from Memphis, and certainly am not ready to jump off the band wagon as some have done, nor do I propose hurting the team financially, but I know that winning and not losing will quickly fill that wagon again. I do however, give up on Alex Smith. He is simply not a pro athlete. The boy is like MLB pitcher Randy Johnson in the pocket with a very methodical and painstakingly slow delivery that is too predictable. Shaun Hill, the team's third quarterback on the roster, won both of his starts, completed 68.4% of his passes, threw 5 touchdowns with 1 interception, and had a quarterback rating of 101.3. He did it against the best defense in the league for an entire half. Therefore, the only way Nolan would have coached the Patriots to a 500 record, would be to have sat Tom Brady on the bench and stayed the course with 3 & out golden boy Alex Smith or old man Dilfer.
By: Bill Batten
Date: January 2, 2008 at 3:40 PM
Comment: I don't want fans to misunderstand my post below. I think the Yorks are incompetent owners. A competent owner would give a GM complete control over football operations and allow that person to make the decision on the coach. Nolan seems to have a good feel for defensive personnel, but seldom have I been more dissatisfied with game-day coaching decisions than during this season. Some of his game-time decisions have simply been incomprehensible to me. So, I'm not satisfied with him either. I'm just saying that a fan is a fan. There are fans of teams who have seldom even gotten close to a championship and you just don't see discussions like "will the fans support the team." One can hate the owners and dislike the coach but still support the team. I think Al Davis, for example, has been a complete crackpot for years but I still like the Raiders as our local AFC team. Sorry fellow Niner fans. Yes, I'm one of those loyal Niner fans who also supports the Raiders, unless they're playing the Niners. To me, it's a bay area thing.
Date: January 2, 2008 at 3:32 PM
Comment: This article summarizes it all...Nolan's one strength was talent evaluation. He gets that deferred now to McCloughan. His biggest problem is his coaching skills...which has shown no progress in 3 years...so he gets to keep coaching...priceless.
Date: January 2, 2008 at 1:24 PM
Comment: When are people going to stop lamenting the loss of Eddie & Carmen? They aren't coming back! So tired of hearing our fan-base say they want Eddie and Carmen back! We have to look to the future not the past. They are gone, get over it! And I guess we'll see if the problems were coach-caused or just bad-luck. The future will tell the story.
Date: January 2, 2008 at 8:57 AM
Comment: Is there a more incompetent HC in the NFL? (See Miami or Balitmore giving us a draft choice for him?) Assuming there are 23% of NOlans and Yorks relatives out there wantign him to stay, how about combining it. Is there any HC/Owner combo more laughed at or hated??????? NO!
By: Hawaiian Niner
Date: January 1, 2008 at 10:39 PM
Comment: Like Bill, I have been a Niner fan since the seventies. I remember when OJ came to our team and when Eddy D bought the them. The point is I have seen the ups and downs also. I love the "idea" of my organization, however they are simply only the Niners by name now. Yes they still posses the trophies and championships but they have very little in common with that organization. How I wish Carmine would come back. How I would love for the York's to seek Eddy's advice, but they won't. The York's are out of touch with the genuine passion and understanding we have for our club and the game it plays. They can't fathom that I rush to my computer to check updates all day. They might be nice people, but they have abused the faithful to a point of irreversible damage. Yes I will go to the Stick, but I go knowing that I am watching an organization that is a pail shadow of it's former self. The innovative and explosive Niners are gone. We are just another pro franchise, competing for dollars and stats, no longer a place in history. Sad, very mediocre and all too typical. As for Nowin, I'll be here long after he is gone.
By: joe frazier
Date: January 1, 2008 at 10:37 PM
Comment: Bill Batten, I can see your point. I have been a true fan since 1980, so I feel I understand your die hard loyalty. However, if we feel the team is going in the wrong direction, we, as fans, should protest. Not buying season tickets is one of the many ways in which we can get the Yorks to understand our frustration. I don't want to see the team leave or suffer or anything negative, but COME ON. The Yorks fired Mooch, brought in Erickson, refused to keep anyone associated with Eddie DeBartelo and therefore, Walsh, and now this thing with Nolan? Just show him the door already. I hate to see him fired like this, but he should have played Hill and hired a more seasons OC. Nolan didn't, so Nolan should be held accountable.
By: Mike Flores
Date: January 1, 2008 at 9:05 PM
Comment: I disagree with your analysis. Remeber based on Nolan's performance in 2006, expectations were high and people were "rolling with Nolan". The 49ers draft was given exceptionally high marks, ESPN identified Trent Dilfer as one of the top back up QBs in the NFL, and many prognosticators were identifying the 49ers as the NFC West champions before the season started. Also remember, unlike many fans, Nolan was loyal to Smith through most of the year (if you read published quotes by him) and loyal to the entire team all year. With one bad year after a season projected to be a play off year, I can understand the Yorks giving him another year...especially with many of the challenges the team faced this season. Turner leaving so late into the year, QB injuries, and a highly rated offenisve line that struggled early on. The same line that helped Gore to 1600 yards the prior year. As a reminder to us all, it is not the fan's team or the writer's team...it's the owner's team, and both York and Nolan both want the same thing the fans and writers want...a play off caliber organization. Ultimately they must their own decisions to accomplish that goal.
Date: January 1, 2008 at 8:59 PM
Comment: They should make coaches take the wonderlic intelligence test they give at the draft combine. I would be very curious to see how Nowin scores on that.
By: Bill Batten
Date: January 1, 2008 at 8:45 PM
Comment: I don't even understand the premise of this discussion. My support for the 49ers is based on the fact that I have been a fan since I was a kid growing up in San Francisco. Yes, I'm just as frustrated as anyone with what I perceive to be shortcomings in Nolan's coaching. Yes, I agree that he hasn't been successful and I would have liked to see a coaching change rather than a change in his responsibilities, but none of that affects my support for the team. I'm a 49er fan. I was a fan in the late 60's and early 70's when they were a contender, a fan in the mid-70's when they were very bad and a fan in the 80's and 90's when they were terrific. Nolan seems to have the emotional support of most of the players and with a strong offensive coordinator and a strong general manager to keep him in line, he may well end up as a successful coach. The niners have some great players and I wouldn't necessarily give up on Alex Smith at this point either. He's got all the throws, the speed and the brains to be a successful NFL QB. I may be a little "old school" here, but I don't respect people who withdraw support for a team because it's going through hard times. It's weak-willed and weak-minded.