Hallelujah! 49ers prayers are answered

Jan 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM


In a whirlwind fashion owner Dr. John York along with his personal assistants in Assistant to the general manager Paraag Marathe and Assistant director of football administration Terry Tumey came to the conclusion that out of the five promising candidates they had extensive interviews with, Mike Nolan came to the forefront.

This was one of the most intense interviewing processes recorded in 49ers history with owner Dr. John York leading a charge to change the ideology of a once proud dynasty gone south to one that could be resurrected with the right personnel decisions.

York's decisions of the past had been ones compared to a scarlet letter to all 49er fans as season after season of utter financial liability and inept motivation led to the organization's worst place standing this past season at (2-14).

His dislike for former head coach Steve Mariucci started a cyclone of weird events that culminated with his firing because of irreconcilable differences and references painted towards Steve Mariucci desiring more say in personnel matters like any head coach would want. Many fans including myself saw this as a very unpopular and sadistic decision as Steve Mariucci was a successful coach in so many different ways and had managed to highlight the 49ers in the playoff hunt on several occasions.

The aftermath of the Mariucci era was one that cast the 49ers into one of its darkest transitions as General Manager Terry Donahue was directed to go on a all-out safari to find a head coach that cared little about say in personnel matters and simply wanted to coach.

Terry Donahue was destined to try and find someone from his collegiate past and internally insisted that it was the course to take.

He all of a sudden at what seemed like a last minute turn focused on Oregon's Dennis Erickson a very successful collegiate coach with golden trophies that adorned his mantle.

Yet what many remembered about Dennis Erickson was his failure to be a success at the NFL level and what that meant to 49ers fans was yet another failure on the part of ownership to right a sinking ship. Dennis Erickson came in as probably one of the most controversial coaches in 49er history because he had so many unknowns about him at the professional level still.

He was also in all honesty handed a team in disarray because of mismanagement and failures by ownership to invest in the right personnel and inability to sustain fans thirst for more access and a new stadium at that. Salary cap issues came to a head in 2004 and a bold new plan set out by then General Manager Terry Donahue to literally sacrifice a season to come clean salary cap wise adopted.

The agony and rage 49er fans exhibited finally had reached the inner ears of Dr. John York and Denise DeBartolo. Almost to an extent that they both knew change was in order or for sale was the next order of business. They were cast in a light as being the worst owners in the NFL. And had been compared to the olden days of the Cincinnati Bengal owners as being unconcerned and impartial to the pleas of the tens of thousands of fans that expected so much more.

Now the mistakes of the past had come to a head. It was do or die for Dr. John York and he turned and flicked the switch on an era he wants to put behind him. He cleaned house in wise fashion by letting both General Manager Terry Donahue and Head Coach Dennis Erickson go. It was a moment just after our loss in New England on January 2nd, 2005 that was one for the ages.

He set an agenda and targeted coaches that had proven NFL experience and a winning track record of success inside the NFL. A stark contrast from before, as he even ate the left over contracts from both Donahue and Erickson as that highlighting the need for instant change.

This was the moment I saw pride once again. This was the moment I saw an owner reaching out to his fans and acknowledging their long misery finally. This was a moment I saw an owner saying he was sorry for his past mistakes and that he wanted to honestly make things right again. This was a moment that needed to be made to save a franchise reeling from financial mismanagement and bad personnel decisions and establish a doctrine that the coach have more power to work with.

"This is a different game than I've ever been involved in," York said. "There is a different role you play. I don't think I clearly understood that in the past." "I need to provide the right facilities. I need to supply the right support."

Certainly these are the words of an owner humbled by the blunders he thought were decisions made in the right context, as he knew them then. He now knows what needs to be done and did so by cleaning out the front office and finding a head coach with established winning credentials like Mike Nolan.

"When you educate yourself, you learn a heck of a lot more when you're losing than when you're winning," York said. "When the season ended, he fired not just the coach, who they said he might not fire because of the money," said Bob LaMonte, Mike Nolan's agent. "Then he fired the general manager." "I said whoa! That's not supposed to happen. Something's changed."

What everyone knows and has assumed is that Dr. John York is well known for being a very tight fisted and money restraining owner. And in some ways he earned that reputation over time by making comments that referred him to be just that way. But what he swallowed in both Donahue's and Erickson's contracts were close to $10 million dollars.

York went out to fix what was broken with the 49ers after learning the hard way and listening to those he trusted around him. He spent time studying the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles and looked at the way both ran in such a positive direction. These are probably the best model franchises in the NFL today and guess what? Both are in face to face at this year's Super Bowl.

York wants to follow their lead and their model and he did an outstanding job in gathering facts and data and research in this recent interview process. He picked the right individuals to talk with and interview extensively with. These candidates were model candidates in which any franchise in the league would feel honored to interview if they were in need.

New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz were all candidates considered and extensively interviewed. It was Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan that received the nod and best fit with where Dr. John York wanted to move the organization ahead.

Nolan, the revered son of former 49ers coach Dick Nolan, has monumental NFL experience dating all the way back to his inaugural season as a member of Dan Reeve's Denver Bronco's staff in 1987. He has been a defensive coordinator for four NFL teams since then in his 18-year NFL career.

Of those he has stops with the New York Jets, Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens. It goes without saying that I give Mike Nolan two thumbs way up on his hiring by Dr. John York and company.

"I think he's ready," Dan Reeves said during a Monday conference call. "He's certainly done a great job the last few year's with Baltimore."

"Mike Nolan is going to be our next coach," 49ers spokesman Kirk Reynolds said. "We're in negotiations with him and we're really excited to have him. He has a great track record as a coach and certainly he has ties to the 49ers organization."

I listened to the conference introducing Mike Nolan as the San Francisco 49ers next head coach and I came away very impressed with the vision he has outlined for the organization. Radio talk shows aired him exclusively throughout the Bay Area as an unsung hero in coming in and trying to resurrect a franchise now on life support after a season ending in (2-14).

The support from former coaches, NFL owners and former players for Mike Nolan is extensive and flattering to say the least. He has made many splashes throughout the NFL on defense, the most recent with the Baltimore Ravens the past four seasons in which they have been ranked near then top year after year in the league.

In 2003, the Baltimore Ravens defensive unit ranked third in total defense in the league, first in sacks (41) and second in takeaways (41). His 2004 defense ranked sixth overall, sixth in scoring and eighth against the run.

During his stint with the New York Jets, the Gang Green defense as it was known then improved from 21st in the league (1999) to 10th place under his tutorship. And while he was with the Washington Redskins as their defensive coordinator he won the NFC East (1999) and allowed the eighth fewest points in the league (1997).

"He's got a great football background, a great football mind," Randy Cross said of Mike Nolan. "He's young and energetic. He's an excellent choice to move this team forward." "He always knew the heartbeat of our defense and where we stood at the time," Baltimore Ravens defensive end Anthony Weaver said. "And we reflected his aggressive outlook. We were not about 'bend-but-don't-break.' We forced the issue."

Even George Seifert, a two-time Super Bowl winner in eight years as 49ers coach (1989-96), said he felt a strong kinship with Mike Nolan. "He's a young defensive coach and that's how I started out," Seifert said. "I hope everyone rallies around him."

49ers linebacker Derek Smith worked with Mike Nolan in Washington and posted three productive seasons under his guidance as he recorded tackle numbers of 126 (1997), 145 (1998) and 123 (1999). He raved about Mike Nolan's work ethic and being equal and consistent.

"I think that he will do a really good job of pushing everybody get the most of everybody and demanding a lot from everyone. I think he demands a lot from himself, he is a really hard worker and he is going to demand of everyone else what he demands of himself. And when someone demands of himself and they follow through with it then you can respect that and look up to that and try to grab on to it."

This is the man we want running the San Francisco 49ers. This is the man we want at the steering wheel and demanding a winning attitude. I believe Mike Nolan will give us just that and I am impressed at his words for fixing the franchise and what he's able to offer in terms of experience and knowledge.

"We are handing him the San Francisco 49ers," owner John York said in introducing Nolan as the team's 15th head coach," and we expect him to win."

His five-year contract is worth approximately $8 million, but at the same time he will have tremendous insight on personnel matters, and virtual control over the infrastructure of the 53-man roster. He also will be involved in picking the next general manager but will only report to the owner himself.

Dr. John York has suddenly done a complete turnaround. He's allowing his head coach to have a personal says in matters and he's giving command where command is most needed, right on the sideline. Never in a million years would see a Terrell Owens mocking a coach like Mike Nolan and getting away with it. The buck stops right here right now with Mike Nolan, and for very good reasons.

"From a decision-making process, he's giving me an awful lot of responsibility," Nolan said of York. "The owner will be involved in all decisions we make in the organization. I think what's important is that there will be one voice coming out of there, that will be mine. But they will be 'we' decisions."

Power is now in Mike Nolan's hands and he's already assembling a coaching staff that is one to be proud of as we speak. So far I am at a loss of words as this hurricane of activity in Santa Clara continues to cycle around. Success is finally a word that we can roll off our tongues and start to think about.

We will have a real plan and a real purpose with direction now. Building on what made the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles so successful over the seasons. We have an owner that understands that now and is committed to winning. We still want more and expect new revelations from him, as we should.

But the start of a new chapter in the history of the San Francisco 49ers has begun. Mike Nolan brings energy and a talent for success this franchise is starving for. Dr. John York deserves a break now as he has redeemed himself for the sake of the thousands of fans that have been patient and he continues to learn and be humbled.
The opinions 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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