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A totally random look at the state of the 49ers

Feb 21, 2008 at 3:13 PM10

As I search for a new career that will hopefully be more fulfilling and challenging than my last, my mind wondered and began to compare failing corporations to the current state of the 49ers. As my mind wondered, I began to think about customer base versus fan base, and management in the corporate world versus bad team management. Some companies are too stubborn to drastically alter their business plan for a chance at success. I mean, here I was in a company that had horrible management and seemed to be very disorganized. Its failures came from their inability to adapt to their customer base. But in other ways, it is very different than the 49ers organization. Certainly there is a sense of loyalty from fans in sports that you typically will not find in most major corporations. However, the 2007 season may have been unique. Going into the season, expectations of a playoff team were high. The team seemed to have built a solid foundation on defense to help compliment what many thought would be an improved offense.

The offensive core was there and the team seemed to have the making of a solid threesome in Alex Smith, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis. They added some new faces on defense in players like Nate Clements and Patrick Willis. Clements would be the first shut down corner that the team had since Deion Sanders. Patrick Willis ... well ... he would be Patrick Willis. As many fans on this site have pointed out, "2/3 of the Earth is covered by water. The rest is covered by Patrick Willis." On paper, this team certainly had the look of an improved club. While the offense never really got into sync, the team managed to edge out wins during their first two games. From there, it was a horrible slide of eight straight losses.

Now, when I talk about management, I am not saying that the 49ers owners don't have a desire to win. Even if the motives are purely financial, the desire must be there. Winning brings in more money. As long as the money is coming in, there is very little reason to change your methods of running a company. A company typically fails when there is no more demand and you have an excess of supply. Those that do not adapt, die. It will be very interesting to see what happens to the 49ers fan base after an embarrassing 5-11 season. Will the demand still be high or does the team have too much supply to meet the fans' needs?

Fan expectations

To add insult to injury, in 2008, the team raised ticket prices for a product that continues to disappoint. The expectations from prior to the 2007 season have certainly been lowered. Those fans that are in the know may still head out to see what Mike Martz, our 2008 draft picks, and any free agents have to offer, but unless things improve soon, the team may be looking at more empty seats in 2008. The fans that jumped on the bandwagon last offseason are probably long gone at this point.

What does it mean to be part of the Niner Faithful?

Then there are those fans like myself who will continue to follow the team no matter what. We may be disappointed, but it is our team. We are the Niner Faithful. The funny thing about faith is that it is often blind. I have no proof that this team will improve and it is entirely possible that this team will suffer through another miserable season, but I have to believe. After all, faith is an obligation of loyalty. It is a desire to belong to something that is bigger than you. It is a promise of alliance to something. In the case of the Niner Faithful, it is a promise to always support the team no matter what. Sure the Faithful may sometimes feel that the team is more trouble than it is worth, not willing to dish out the high costs of attending a game, but they continue to watch and hope for brighter days. After all, this is their team. It is like family. No matter how much some family members may annoy you, they are still family.

The 49ers can no longer afford to "Stay the course"

In the corporate world, if someone fails to do their job properly or if the person's cost outweighs the gain, that person would most likely not be with the company for that much longer. However, this was not the case for San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan. I am not totally unhappy with this decision to keep him as many other fans are. However, I do believe that this is Nolan's last chance to convince the fans that he is the right guy for the job. How many times have we heard him say, "Stay the course" during a press conference or interview? If this team is to improve, that course will need a few alterations on the map. Nolan is known for being very unreasonable when it comes to deviating from the course, even in the slightest.

His obsession with the 3-4 defense despite the lack of proper personnel is an instance of a bad decision. The 49ers may have the linebackers to pull it off, especially after Manny Lawson returns, but they simply do not have the defensive line to get it done. This team looks like a team built for the 4-3, yet Nolan continues to force the unit into a defense that is not right for the players that they have. Yes the defense improved. You probably did not notice it since they were on the field so much due to the offense's inability to move the ball. However, during half of the team's games, the defense held the opposing team to 20 or less points. The 49ers only won 4 of those games. Proof enough that the biggest flaw in this team was not the defense, but the offense. Now imagine what this team might have done with a slightly improved offense and a defense that was using its personnel correctly.

Another bad decision was Nolan's refusal to start anyone other than quarterback Trent Dilfer after Alex Smith's injury. Dilfer was, in a word, terrible. He had one great game in his stint as the starter, a 37-31 overtime win against the Arizona Cardinals. Outside of that, he was painful for fans to watch. Dilfer may be a smart quarterback, but he simply does not have the physical ability anymore to match his intelligence. Even at the top of his game, Dilfer was the type of quarterback that would not lose a football game for you. However, he was never the type of guy that would win a game for you. For a quarterback like Dilfer, you must already have a solid team built around you. Fans were crying to see what Shaun Hill had in the tank long before an injury to Dilfer forced the lineup change. The result was a fairly solid game against the Minnesota Vikings and two wins in his only two NFL starts against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite being the team's third quarterback, he looked more prepared to lead the offense than either Alex Smith or Trent Dilfer. Now this is not a "bash Alex" commentary since I have seen flashes of what he could be. A quarter here and there where he really stepped up and a couple of preseason games against good defenses where he shined. His injury was a serious one and before that, the team's offensive coordinator was not exactly letting Smith open it up with the passing game.

These are just a couple of examples of bad decisions in 2007. Hopefully the introduction of Mike Martz and the stripping of some of Nolan's power will allow this team to be more flexible with the course that they have set. The goal is to arrive at your destination. It does not really matter which road you take.

Alex Smith versus Shaun Hill

That will probably be one of the more intriguing things to watch out for in training camp. Who will win the starting job for the 49ers? If the team drafts a quarterback in April, the competition gets even more interesting. As I said, I feel that Smith has the ability to do well in the NFL. He has shown things here and there that lead me to believe that he can be successful. Will he ever be? Who knows? I am sure that his confidence took a shot in 2007. Add to that the fact that he will now have some serious competition trying to take his job and it may push him to improve even more and become the leader this team needs him to be. One criticism I always had about Smith is that he lacks the intensity needed at the quarterback position. When he makes a mistake, he hangs his head and heads back to the sideline. On the other side of that, we have Shaun Hill who gets excited about every big play or score that he is part of. It is like watching a kid playing a pickup game with his buddies. During one score against the Bengals, he practically jumped on top of Larry Allen while heading off the field. Allen just kind of gave him a pat with a "yeah, good job kid" kind of look. The point is that Hill seems to display that desire to succeed and it motivates the players around him. Smith does not display enthusiasm like this and that can be a real problem when you are trying to forge some team chemistry. Am I saying that Hill should start over Smith? No. Training camp will determine that. I am saying that this young team needs that type of enthusiasm out of their leader...whoever it may be.

In closing...

Yes, I know that there was no real point to this commentary. It was just a collection of thoughts on this Thursday afternoon. Outside of linebacker Derek Smith's release, not much is going on right now. However, that will all change in a week when free agency begins. Go Niners!
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.


  • cNiner
    I lost my faith not in the team but in ownership for not firing NowinNolan and doing the Dog and pony show by changing the GM and less power to Nolan and hiring Martz. Martz is good but if he can help Alex and Hill to go to the next level will help him self for getting HC'ing JOB next year and save Nolan jow for another year. however if this experment don't work what do you think ownership would do raise ticket prices or do you trust them hiring the next HC ? Love my Niners but hate ownership and hate the direction we are going !
    Feb 28, 2008 at 6:22 PM
  • ninerfan49
    Yeah, I am a bit confused as to what Nolan is doing when he takes the field. His offseason decisions seem solid, but when it comes to game planning and decisions, it is all very confusing.
    Feb 27, 2008 at 1:53 PM
  • RonO
    You clearly have the same understanding of business as you have of football. Very little. If a company is doing badly and the board gives the job to a new CEO based on a multi-year recovery plan, the board would not fire the CEO half way through the plan if he/she can demonstrate that the plan is progressing. Exactly the same applies to Nolan. When he says "stay the course", he means stick with the plan that he started with and not be panicked by a bunch of moronic journalists and bloggers into throwing all the good away and starting over. I understand the impatience shown by you and your ilk to see the 49ers back in the Superbowl but that was clearly not a 2 or 3 or 4 year proposition when Nolan took over based on the state of the roster at the time. That was truly horrible. The team has made big steps forward. Much more than the other perennial bottom dwellers who use the new year/new plan philosophy with a notable lack of success. See Raiders.
    Feb 25, 2008 at 10:20 AM
    Response: First, I would not consider Nolan the CEO of the 49ers so your logic is somewhat flawed there. Second, if the plan was not to have this team be a success in 4 years, then maybe the owners should have looked for someone with a better plan. If you don't believe that you can turn things around, you won't. Third, what steps has the team made to improve? Going from 7-9 one year to 5-11 the next? And most of that because of bad decision making. His original plan did not work. You can't stay the course with that plan. That is why some power was taken away and some drastic changes were made (an aggressive OC). I am fairly certain that the goal of a business is to succeed, not fail.
  • ddmur
    On ESPN about a month ago a supposed ESPN anlayst stated that Dilfer was the "ideal NFL back up quarterback." In my own view, Nolan is too concerned about what his buddies in the league say and what football insiders are saying rather than what is truly good for the team. Dilfer may be poplar around the league and Nolan's buddies in the NFL may well have criticized Nolan for benching Dilfer, but I think that stubborness mentioned in you commentary may have cost the team a couple of wins. This time last year Nolan was quoted as saying that he hired our now departed offensive coordinator because he reminded Nolan of himself when Nolan was a younger coach. It therefore follows that the was going to be great because he was like Nolan. If Nolan were given the choice of having the niners be a playoff team for the next five seasons but he was also going to be personally disliked by the NFL coaching fraternity, I am not sure that he would choose the playoffs for the niners. Maybe he is already resigned to be being an NFL assistant coach in two years. Maybe this time next year NFL insiders will be saying that Nolan was a great pickup as someone's D coordinator.
    Feb 24, 2008 at 3:32 PM
  • FaitfulLess
    As a sports fan in general and the Niners season tickets holder I'm really appaled the way this team mgmt treated its fan base- terrible product, terrible service and now terrible price. I'm done with spending my money with them. I still love them as a fan but only on tv! They have guts to increase the tickets price...there will be empty sits in that stadium next season!
    Feb 23, 2008 at 1:33 PM
  • Shifter
    I really enjoyed this article and I am sorry that there is one glaring oversight, and it is common amongst fans. You infer that profitability i.e. revenue is balanced by the win loss column. This is simply NOT the case. Owning an NFL franchise is unlike most businesses, you can put an inferior product on the field, and due to revenue sharing, run an EXTREMELY profitable business (reference Forbes magazine search:most profitable NFL teams for an unbiased look). Many franchises (Lions,Cards, and Bengals come to mind) have/had operated for seasons or even decades on end without putting in a real bid for being NFL champions. I am not saying the current regime has resigned itself to this type of participatory status, but not for matter of bottom line, it is a matter of pride.
    Feb 23, 2008 at 8:09 AM
    Response: Absolutely true. I doubt teams like the Cowboys or Redskins would ever have a loss due to miserable seasons. However, winning means even more money and that has to be plenty of incentive.
  • Jeremy
    Excellent article man. You pretty much hit a homerun on the way I see things. Kudos.
    Feb 21, 2008 at 8:43 PM
  • rj
    you know the term "FAITHFUL" is a marketing ploy and yet you cling to the name. i am a die hard niner fan til the day i die but i will not call myself a faithful because york told me to be. open your eyes and love the team because you do and not because someone told you to.
    Feb 21, 2008 at 7:16 PM
    Response: No one told me to be faithful. I was faithful for years prior to their marketing ploy, so I am not sure what you are getting at. Whether it be a term brought up by marketing or not, I am still a 49ers faithful fan. I am fairly certain that the San Francisco 49ers organization does not own the word "faithful."
  • JohnnyO
    As a east coast fan wedged between Eagles *!* fans it's been tough on us as 49ers fans. As I spend my money on airplane tickets and hotels not mention big dollars for my game tickets to see my beloved 49ers, I wonder when things will turn for the better. I agree with all of your comments. I do belive this team is not too far away. The league is set up that way now. You get a couple breaks and stay healthy and you are have a chance. I just hoped the Yorks loved the 49ers as much as I do. I won't give up hope, I will pay my Directtv Sunday Ticket money and fly over 10,000 miles next year to see my team play. Win or lose , we here in NJ, in this house, as 49er fans will stay FAITHFUL. Go Niners!
    Feb 21, 2008 at 7:13 PM
  • HB
    The Yorks responsibility can not be overstated. They are the principal reason the 49ers are the sad franchise they are now. Denise is a behind the scenes meddler who refuses public duty. John is a proven nitwit the architect of destruction and the fans should not have to fund nor live through Jeddy cutting his teeeth in the NFL. The best way to pay the yorks back for their ineptitude is to stop buying the new gear and merchandise when they decide to change colors, again. Dont spend money at the stadium if you do go. They are untouchable except for their pocket books. Worst owners in football. Traitors to their namesake just for a quicker buck. F U York family
    Feb 21, 2008 at 4:14 PM

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