For the 49ers to Succeed Nolan Needs to Go

Oct 10, 2008 at 9:59 AM


The 49ers are struggling as a franchise. At 2-3 they sit with the same record as last year, albeit with different questions. The stadium is still a pipe dream. Quite simply, the 49ers are no longer relevant in the NFL. Very plainly, as long as Mike Nolan is coach the 49ers will struggle to be a relevant part of the NFL.

Mike Nolan is a good coach. The problem is, he is just...good. He is not well equipped with enough offensive knowledge to effectively run a franchise. Thus far he has relied completely on his offensive coordinator to run half of the team. Nolan's philosophy is as detailed as one can get with jumbo crayons. Run. Smash. Run. Pass (but only if you have to). In an NFL where forward thinkers reign supreme Nolan is content to go with a proven formula that may bring some success, but will never be a source of supremacy. I call it the Baltimore effect. The team is always good and is a threat to make the playoffs but rarely do they dominate during the post season.

Not having enough offensive knowledge handicapped the franchise and reduced any potential stability. Mike McCarthy ran a West Coast system with completely different terminology than Turner's digit system. Hostler tried to combine the two with little success. In instances where a coach brings a system and an identity a team can keep some continuity even when they change coordinators. Nolan, though, was at the whims of his coordinators.

Nolan's conservatism and predisposition towards the sure thing crippled the coaching staff. McCarthy, Turner and eventually Martz were all established, they proven, and thus more likely to leave for head coaching gigs. To Nolan, though, they were safe because they were known quantities. Rather than take a calculated risk, like hiring someone in the mold of Jason Garrett, he looked for coordinators with a strong history of success. While on face that doesn't sound bad, it limits the time a coordinator has with a team if he is so established that a promotion is on the horizon.

Nolan's conservative nature extends to players as well. Thus far he prefers veterans to younger players even though the younger players may be at the same level. Nolan has a long history of waiting too long to mix things up. Two years ago the defense struggled for eight weeks. The entire time Nolan had a couple of young players in Brandon Moore and Keith Lewis. When he finally played them against Minnesota the defense surged and improved over the final half of the season.

Nolan loves to bring in veteran players but often times this comes at the expense of the younger players. Dashon Goldson could develop into a wonderful safety, but he is sitting behind Mark Roman. Nolan loves to talk about how Roman is like another coach on the field but when it comes down to it, the 49ers need players on the field. If Roman wants to coach he can do so from the sidelines.

A coach has to have an eye for talent both on the field and in the coaches booth. Nolan's drafts have been anything but stellar. Scott McCloughan deserves some of the blame here as well, but until this season Nolan was the final decision maker on matters of personnel. Matt Maiocco wrote a wonderful article detailing the 49ers lackluster drafts. He notes that of the 8 players selected in the first or second round, only Patrick Willis is a Pro Bowl player.

Ultimately we are left with one question: what makes a great coach? Much like the head of a company, a great coach needs to be a visionary, have an eye for talent, and develop talent. For football that means having a clear offensive and defensive vision (what kind of defense do the 49ers run again?), hiring and developing coaches to maintain consistency, and selecting the right players and putting them in successful situations.

Mike Nolan does some of these things well, but he does not do them exceptionally. It is no surprise, then, that the 49ers have sometimes been good, but rarely ever exceptional.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


6 Comments

  • Marc Sallaz
    Nolan has to let the defense loose. We're giving up 30 to 40 anyway. Let's have some fun and blitz like Philly
    Oct 13, 2008 at 9:06 PM
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    Response: Well, blitzing recklessly is not the answer unless the 49ers want to start giving up 50 a game. But some serious changes need to be made on the defensive side of the ball.
  • sl
    of course its on the ownership! Who fired mooch? ( mooch was brough tin to keep things going since oc kept leaving. Remember Seifret was the winingist coach in teh nfl) Duh........, he only got us into the plalyoffs with some guy named Garcia, after losing HOF steve young. 2) Whose idea is it to gut a team of all talent to get under the cap? (hearst, garcia, Ol linemen, and later peterson, carter and smiley, betcha they dont miss sf right now) 3) who hired a nobody named NOlan? The ravens d was good before and after him. He had icecream put on his desk in washington. Did anyone in the league want him? Did he evr turn a team or squad or anything around. ( see what tuna is doing in Miami) ID ANYTHING THIS SHOWS HOW IMPORTANT OWNERSHIP IS: EDDIE D =PITIFUL TO DYNASTY. YORK = 5 TIME SB CHAMP/IN PLAYOFFS TO BOTTOM FEEDING.
    Oct 13, 2008 at 8:33 AM
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    Response: I think the personal you may want to place more blame on is Terry Donahue, since he was the source of the talent purge. And let's not forget that he was chosen by Bill Walsh. Seifert went on to have a lackluster career at Carolina, including a 1-15 season if I remember correctly. I agree that firing Mooch was a bad call. But from then on the Yorks learned and while not perfect they are certainly doing what they can to stay out of things and open their checkbooks.
  • Joe
    I wouldnt even say he is a good coach. He is a good salesman; a charismatic, smooth talking, man's man. But tactically, he is measured, timid and risk averse. Much like many Military Officers I know.
    Oct 12, 2008 at 8:24 AM
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    Response: Thus far he has infused the team with talent and while he could have done better the team is still better off than they were when he got here. You are right, though, that he is charismatic and tactically measured.
  • Ladale
    Great Article, your points are terrific!!! But let me say that Mike Nolan should not be fired!!! What??? No, Mike should given the opportunity for either demotion or having his contract bought out... He has done his job to the extent of his ability... Nolan was able to come in and change the selfish and destructive culture that was bound to doom the team. Although he has not brought in great talent in the draft, he has been able to rid the team of mediocre veterans in Barlow, Lloyd, etc... That said... No one is under the illusion that Nolan is championship caliber, and it is now the ripe time for a high caliber and experience football minded leader to come in and build upon this foundation. Whether it be Holmgren to the front ofc or Cowher on the field, this is the time for change. This is the home of the 5 time Superbowl champs, and mediocre leadership and decision making, only brings about mediocre results....
    Oct 12, 2008 at 7:05 AM
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    Response: I do not think Nolan is the kind of man who will accept a demotion. I agree with you that he should not be fired midseason.
  • ROY
    I agree about Nolan, he is good, but everyone else in the NFL is better and his philosophies have dragged this team down from it's potential. I also want to point out that right now the niners are 2-3, not 2-5 (however they will be very soon so it's as if you wrote this 2 weeks from now lol).
    Oct 10, 2008 at 7:33 PM
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    Response: I wouldn't agree that everyone in the NFL is better. Look at Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan. I would also say that as a HEAD coach, Nolan is better than Marvin Lewis only because of Lewis' inability to reign in his team and do exceptional things with exceptional talent.
  • niner
    anyone remember who applied for the job when out dimwitted owner fired both teh gm and hc? ( 2 years before he fired out playoff coach because he wanted more say)no homgren, no tuna ( in dallas, no kiffin ( jr or sr) no carrol nada no one zilch. Yorks aggragance was all over the NFL and many suspect thats why Lienert refused to come out. ( our OL and coaching woudl have ruined hi anyway, lets be honest) The problem is the ownership is pathetic, and im one of the first to get rid of Nolan nonsense, but lets be honest , unless the ownership changes, do we really believe that will happen? Anyone bet a no nonsense guy like Tuna would laugh at the thought of working for a dufus like York?
    Oct 10, 2008 at 2:43 PM
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    Response: Is the problem really with the ownership now? They gave the power to the football people (Nolan and McCloughan) and they opened up their checkbooks for free agents as well as rookies. Sure, they have failed on the stadium front - but the franchises failures thus far fall squarely on the football people, Nolan and McCloughan.

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