Out of all the topics that came up in Mike Nolan's jam-packed Wednesday presser - Ted Tollner, Alex Smith, Baylor University, yadda, yadda, yadda - the head coach was loath to talk about one. In today's Chronicle, team owner Denise DeBartolo York says the 49ers are leaning toward bringing in a strong general manager at the end of the season and relieving Nolan of his GM duties. What do you think about that, Mike? "They'll be a time to speak about that in January," he said tersely, and then used that refrain over and over when asked GM-related questions.
He did say that he leans heavily on his resources regarding his role as GM. Scot McCloughan handles all the personnel issues while Lal Heneghan handles all the league issues. Nolan, of course, has the final say on which free-agents the team brings in or which draft picks the 49ers select, but he has a lot of help. "The decisions I make are not one-man decisions," he said. "They are team decisions."
The power Nolan wields certainly is out of the ordinary. When he was hired in 2005 he was a first-time head coach who suddenly had as much control as any head coach - Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, etc. - has had in recent years. You certainly can make an argument that Nolan needs his wings clipped following this horrible season, but I'm not sure you can pin the 49ers' struggles on Nolan's role as general manager.
Sure, there have been some misses in the draft. Brandon Williams turned out to be a bust and David Baas still must prove he was worth the No. 33 overall pick. But have the 49ers been worse than any other team? No way. They've also hit on several players, including the two first rounders this season, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis. There certainly have been some misses in free agency, too. (I'm thinking of three initials). But there were two nice hits - Nate Clements and Michael Lewis - who have lifted the 49ers' defense this year. Nolan's first task upon becoming head coach in 2005 was to change the attitude in the locker-room, and you can argue that he and McCloughan have done a nice job at that.
The major shortcoming, and the reason the team is 2-8, is that the 49ers have zero - I mean not one iota of -- offensive expertise. They have a great special teams and a decent defense. But those two units are overshadowed by the massive ineptitude on offense.
This is partially Nolan's fault. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he is a cautious coach and the entire team operates under what I call Nolan's "umbrella of caution." It is why, on third- or fourth- and one, the 49ers always go to the same play - Frank Gore, draw, to the left. I know it's coming. You know it's coming. The defense certainly knows it's coming.
But Nolan also has been unlucky. Who would have thought that a team as bad as the 49ers have been in recent years would lose not one, but two offensive coordinators to head coaching jobs? Nolan had the additional burden of trying to replace Norv Turner late in the season. He couldn't lure any big-name outside candidates (Ken Zampese) in at that point and had to rely on an in-house candidate with no experience at the position.
Which is all a long way of saying this: If the Yorks retain Nolan for next year - and it seems like they will -- what he needs far more than a general manager is a strong and competent offensive coordinator.
Nolan said he tried to hire Tollner in 2005 but that he had already committed to Steve Mariucci's staff in Detroit. Nolan had already hired Mike McCarthy as offensive coordinator when he approached Tollner.
Tollner - who, by the way, is one of the classiest guys in the league - downplayed his role. He said he would merely be "another set of eyes." He did say, however, that he's been following two teams from afar - the 49ers and the Chargers. Poor guy.
If Mike Singletary accepts the Baylor job, Nolan said he expects Singletary to finish the season with the 49ers. Singletary said he didn't want to talk about the Baylor situation because he was focusing on the Cardinals.
Alex Smith said his doctor's appointment in Alabama showed that his right shoulder has not healed much from the time he separated it. It's still essentially separated and the ligaments that attach it to the collarbone have not scarred together like he expected. Dr. James Andrews, however, expects both shoulder and forearm to heal with time.
-- Matt Barrows