49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 17, 2007
Smith, Nolan on a break?

Question: Do you sense any relationship damage between Mike Nolan and Alex Smith? They were not on the same page on the things they said. I feel like Nolan is trying to "blame" everything on Smith and Hostler, and hope his job would be safe after the season.

Ken, Fremont

Answer: The 49ers certainly are painting it like everything is hunky dory between Smith and Nolan and that the media overreacted earlier this week. But I think it was significant that Smith divulged his issues to the media. Up until that point, he had been Mike Nolan's most well behaved pupil, and indeed his obedience - remember his workout in Salt Lake City in which Nolan had him hop on one foot? - was one of the reasons Nolan drafted him. He would be what Nolan wanted at the position - an extension of the head coach.

Smith broke from that arrangement Wednesday. What was his motivation? Maybe he was tired of getting slammed for poor play and not having his coach stick up for him. Nolan kept characterizing Smith's shoulder issue as "soreness" as if he had slept funny and had a crick in his neck. In reality, Smith said Wednesday, he's been dealing with quite a bit of pain and that shoulder hasn't felt right. That's something Nolan should have picked up on. He should have defended his quarterback.

- Matt Barrows

Question: As to your latest web entry "Trouble in 49'erland" -- I'm not all that great at reading between the lines -- but I seem to sniff some trouble and dissatisfaction between Mike Nolan and John and Jed York. Can you elaborate on that?

Bill, Sacramento

Answer: No, I don't think that's the case. If anything is hunky dory at this point, it's the Nolan-York relationship. However, the Yorks have been mum in recent weeks so it's hard to say what they're thinking.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Thanks for the good reporting. My questions are about the locker room---are the players still behind Nolan, or is that falling apart? What about Smith? Do the O players support and trust him, or have they lost faith? It sure seems like everything is falling apart, but so far no one is talking. What's up?

Griz, Denver

A: There definitely was some frustration toward Smith following the Seahawks game. But I think there's an understanding among the players that Smith is battling through a tough injury and they admire him for doing that. As for the locker room as a whole - it's still in tact. It seems that everyone is still on board with Nolan. And that is the best argument for sticking with him next season. Most of the players, it seems, genuinely believe in him.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt ... Is there any talk of replacing Nolan? The team's gone from mediocre to bad to worse under his 'reign' ... I'm sure by now, everyone is wondering why roster changes aren't coming into play .. but the buck stops at the head coach ...

Jennifer, San Carlos

Answer: There's been plenty of talk about replacing Nolan, but at this point it's coming mostly from the fans. I think the Yorks are inclined to wait out the rest of the season and proceed from there. As far as roster changes, I tend to agree with Nolan. Sure, you can stick Jason Hill into the lineup. And maybe Tony Wragge should play guard. But they're not going to make a whole lot of difference at this point.

- Matt Barrows

Question: So that's what? -- 0-3 when SF calls a timeout before a 3rd/4th and short situation then runs left? Planning on grilling Nolan about that again?

Joel, St. Louis

Answer: Why should I grill him? It's obviously not sinking in. Stubbornness can be a virtue in some circumstances, a curse in others. This situation is definitely the latter ...

- Matt Barrows

Question: What happened to the Hill to Hill connection? That looked really promising in the pre-season. Also, when does the bull-headed George Bush...er...Mike Nolan decide his strategy is not working and try another? "Stay the course" only makes sense when you have a few positives, we have NONE.

Dave, Sacramento

Answer: I've gotten lots of questions about back-up quarterback Shaun Hill this week. Hill, of course, broke a finger on his throwing finger Thursday, an injury that should keep the "Start Shaun Hill!" bandwagon in the garage for at least two weeks. When healthy, Hill is definitely the third most impressive quarterback on the team. He has a funny throwing style and he's not always accurate. Would he be more effective than Dilfer or Smith in the 49ers' offense? It's impossible to say for sure - Hill's never thrown a pass in a regular-season game. But my guess is that he would not.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt...The problem, in my opinion, is York. He has yet to hire a general manager who can take the reigns and turn this thing around. Can he and everyone around him really be that clueless? How can anyone expect this team to win when...you don't have anyone who can FIND talent? It also seems obvious that without any football people making decisions, that this will not change. As a reporter who covers the team, is this obvious to everyone? Am I off base? What, if anything, do you think the team is doing to improve?

Steve, Melbourne, Australia

Answer: Well, you may have hit on one of the possible end-of-season solutions. Maybe the Yorks retain Nolan but clip his wings by bringing in a strong GM.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Looking at the '9ers, it seems that there's just a complete breakdown on the entire offense. Smith seems to be very poorly coached, including his mechanics, understanding of the plays, and understanding of what the defense is trying to do to him. Also, he doesn't have any receivers that he seems to feel comfortable throwing to (and who would blame him when they run poor routes and drop several passes). Last and certainly not least, he has no protection. They should have improved! Besides lack of talent, couldn't you put the bulk of the blame for their regression on coaching?

Justin, Manteca

Answer: I spoke to a bunch of former NFL players who watched the Monday night game, and they couldn't believe how bad Smith's mechanics looked. (I'm writing about that for Sunday's paper). The question, of course, is how much of that is due to coaching and how much is due to Smith's injuries. I'd say it's a little of both. One thing's for sure. If the 49ers don't improve on offense, they will set all sorts of franchise records for futility. If that happens, I don't see how the 49ers can stand pat in the offseason. They'll have to blow up the offensive staff and bring in a high-profile offensive guru.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I'm astonished at your recent support of McCloughan. His drafting, other that Gore, Willis and Staley, is awful. Baas is essentially a 1st rounder that can't play on a bad line in his 3rd year. His free agents other than Clements are a waste of money and they have blown their cap room. How do you sign Lelie for big money when your coaches won't play him? Franklin and Banta-Cain are non-factors. Surely the Yorks' absolute incompetence created this mess but McCloughan's incompetence will bury Mike Nolan, who deserves better. How can you support McCloughan?

Tom, Gridley

Answer: You have to remember that McCloughan doesn't have free reign as far as whom he drafts or whom he brings in. He's not a general manager. Everything goes through Nolan. You asked why the 49ers would sign Lelie to a big deal and then not play him. That's a fantastic question, but one that should be directed at the coaching staff. Nolan ostensibly signed off on the Lelie signing this past spring but then capitulated to his assistants as far as playing time. Only when an opposing team's defensive coordinator told Nolan that Lelie was the only wideout his team feared did Lelie start to see playing time. There's plenty of stubbornness on the coaching staff, from the head coach on down. I think that is preventing us from knowing whether some of the guys McCloughan brought in are worthwhile or not.

- Matt Barrows

Question: It's Mike Hart, not Leon Hart (or Leon Hall, who graduated last year).

James, Modesto

Answer: Michigan rb Mike Hart's full name is Leon Michael Hart. By the way, the guy in that game I was most interested in was WR Mario Manningham, an underclassman who I think could really help out the 49ers. He's a great route runner - so good, dare I say, that he would even satisfy the Gatekeeper.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I have Steven Jackson of the Rams on my fantasy roster. Should I be institutionalized for insanity if I fail to start him Sunday?

Sam, Sonora

Answer: Do you have Bulger? Unless the 49ers pass rush show up, I predict he'll have a Brees-like afternoon.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, You've covered the 9ers for a number of years. Have you ever seen a team perform this poorly?

Bob, Houston

Answer: I thought we reached the ground floor in 2004. Turns out there's a cellar.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt. I noticed that you listed Walt Harris as an UFA after this season in response to a question, but didn't the team extend his contract recently? If I'm mistaken, I apologize.

Andrew, Bessemer, Pa.

Answer: No - I'm wrong and you're correct. Walt has two more years on his contract after this season. His base salary starts to get pretty high starting in 2008, though ...

- Matt

Question: Hey Matt; I asked you 2 weeks ago a question. Never got answered, but no worries, I know there are a ton of questions out there for you. But I will ask again, & after last night's disgusting display of offense against the Seahawks, maybe you will enlighten us. Who in your opinion is the best QB on the 49ers roster? Perhaps Michael Robinson?

Jason, Las Vegas

Answer: The best quarterback is Alex Smith ... when he's healthy. But I wanted to expand on Jason's question. I hope you guys (and Jennifer) know that I can't get to every question each Saturday. This small batch, in fact, has taken me more than three hours to edit and write. Some questions are repetitive. For example, I had five people point out my error on Walt Harris (and I'm glad you did). Some aren't really questions, merely rants. Some I don't have answers for. Some are written so poorly and with so many depressing spelling errors and punctuation problems (I weep for the future) that it would take me hours to decipher and edit. By the way, most computer programs have something called "spell check." Please familiarize. But this is probably my favorite part of this blog, so keep them coming. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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