Long Term Outlook Just Peachy for 49ers

Sep 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM


My wife has a coworker who broke up with her fiancée because he couldn't change a tire. Well, it wasn't exactly because he couldn't change a tire, but because when the tire deflated on this particular occasion, he pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, opened his arms to the sky, and yelled, "Why me???"

To some people, life's inconveniences are dramatic experiences, consuming of all time and patience, and the groundwork for exhausting days of non-stop complaining and ornery dispositions. Others are more understanding of the limitations of society and ourselves, and accept the fact that from time to time these things happen.

And while the relevance may be a minor stretch, much of the same holds true in football. Every NFL team has its great draft picks and its poor ones, its playoff years and its salary cap purges, and an assortment of injuries, holdouts, and off the field distractions.

For some coaches, the obstacles are roadblocks. Injuries to key players explain away any lack of success. Salary cap casualties relieve coaches of any responsibility. Rookies that struggle are deemed culpable for mounting losses. For other coaches, the obstacles are speed bumps. Holdouts are expected. Draft picks are mere investments, not saviors. Injuries are as much a part of the game as three-and-outs.

You don't need a degree in psychology to determine which category applies to Mike Nolan and which applies to Dennis Erickson. In fact, it is somewhat painful to imagine how Erickson would have handled some of the happenings in 49ers camp this last year - including the potential turmoil of not having Alex Smith under contract in the days before the draft, the infamous video, the starting quarterback situation, and the tragedy that occurred three Saturdays ago.

The difference between the two coaches is that Mike Nolan has handled all of these matters with the utmost confidence and professionalism, suggesting that he understands that these situations are not unique to him, but part of life in the NFL. He understands that these events, while undeniably speed-bumpy by nature, do not change his mission of teaching X's and O's and improving the technique of his players. This thought-process alone represents a dramatic upgrade over the previous regime.

Our second smidgen of hope stems from the fact that Nolan was able to convince several highly successful coordinators and position coaches - McCarthy, Sullivan, Singletary, and Warhop - to sever ties with their current employers, uproot themselves and their families, and move to San Francisco for the golden opportunity of coaching the same position they coached before, but this time for the worst team in football.

These coordinators and position coaches had no more incentive to come to San Francisco than a six-figure consultant would have to leave his stable and lucrative firm and accept an equivalent position at a firm whose earnings per share had substantially declined for three straight years. The success that Nolan had in filling out the coaching staff is a barometer of the respect other coaches in the league have for Nolan's strategic and managerial capabilities - no small matter.

Once again, this represents a stark contrast from the previous regime, when Erickson struggled to find replacements for Greg Knapp and Jim Mora Jr. Erickson implied, of course, that the phones were ringing off the hook. Who's to say otherwise?

Far be it from me to weigh in on a complex and multi-faceted aspect of professional sports such as a coaching search, but I find it somewhat difficult...no, peculiar...no, impossible to believe that Erickson's exhaustive search through a myriad of exceptionally gifted and knowledgeable present coordinators, former head coaches, and up-and-comers revealed that those most qualified to coach the offensive and defensive units were none other than our very own quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner, and Erickson's very own longtime friend and defensive backs coach of the Steelers, Willy Robinson. More succinctly, no one with any talent wanted to tarnish their resume by working for Erickson.

The point being, the 49ers are building a structurally sound organization from top to bottom. It may not translate into success on the field this year, but there's a natural infusion of talent that occurs over several years as organizations improve their ability to discern, attract, and retain quality players. In a short time, Nolan has shown that he can run an efficient organization where he emphasizes details and demands excellence. Unlike our fiancée from the anecdote in the opening paragraph, Mike Nolan has proven that he can change a tire.
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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