49ers Blog and Q&A

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

November 30, 2007
Smith-Nolan: A marriage on the rocks?

Question: Okay, I have to take this opportunity to fire a question at you since you're the inside man with the good scoop. Do you think the relationship between Smith and Nolan has soured to the point where it is irreparable? One minute Smith and Nolan are strolling hand in hand down Lombard Street, and the next Nolan is mocking Smith at press conferences. Are we nearing the end of the Nolan/Smith marriage? I'm a big fan of Smith and Nolan and cannot believe what I've been reading. When a team starts to point fingers, it is usually a sign that the end is near.

Ray, San Jose

Answer: Ray, it's the question we "insiders" are asking, too. It seems as if Nolan can't help but snipe at Smith (and perhaps Smith's agent, Tom Condon) every chance he gets. Many of you have seized upon Nolan's comment earlier this week that Trent Dilfer, in the Nov. 18 game against the Rams, played better than any 49ers quarterback has played since Nolan has been in San Francisco. That certainly was a nice thing to say about Dilfer, but how do you think it made Smith feel? Dilfer finished with a 44.8 passer rating in that game. Is Nolan forgetting Smith's performance in Seattle last year (which, by the way, was a win) in which Smith finished with two passing TDs, a rushing TD and a 102.4 passer rating?
Maybe it's calculated. Maybe, like a lot of people, Nolan worries that Smith lacks the eye of the tiger and he's trying to fire him up for next season. Maybe it's a twisted form of motivation. But whatever the reason, Nolan isn't coming off well and his relationship with Smith is like Smith's forearm -- strained.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Mike Nolan continues to make negative references about Alex Smith " Dilfer gives us the best chance to win", again regarding last week Rams loss " that the best quarterbacking we have had in three years" Is this Nolan's way of getting Alex fired up or is this indicating that Nolan no longer see Smith as the quarterback of the future or even the starter? What do you think? Lastly, I caught some looks of Alex during the game and he looked sullen. Was that so and what was he like after the game? Thanks

Julian, San Francisco

Answer: To be honest, the locker room in Arizona was so frantic and there were so many players I had to talk to, I didn't even notice Smith. He did talk to reporters this week, and he seemed normal. But as we know, Smith doesn't exactly wear his heart on his sleeve.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, this question may be a little premature, but say the offense averages 3-4 touchdowns the rest of the season. Does Nolan retain Hostler? Will, or should, all the credit go to Tollner? In your opinion is Hostler past the point of redemption? As of now, a part of me wouldn't like to see him back under any circumstance, but, if he continues to improve, I'm willing to keep an open mind; considering continuity is preferable over another rookie coordinator (yes, even Zampese). Now, if Norv Turner or Cam Cameron are let go, adios Hostler.

Terry, Davis

Answer: Is Hostler past the point of redemption? That's a good question. Remember, the 49ers put 37 points on the board against Arizona, but it's not as if they were an offensive juggernaut. The defense and special teams set them up nicely for several scores. The way I see it, the 49ers will finish with four or five wins this season. Can the Yorks afford to stay with the status quo following a season that began with such high expectations? Not if they expect to sell tickets next year.

- Matt Barrows

Question: What kind of impact would you say that Ted Tollner has on the 49ers? I know it's really easy to say that he had a huge impact being that the '9ers had their best offensive game, probably in the whole Nolan era, in the very same week that Tollner was hired. Also, was Tollner a consideration for offensive coordinator after Turner left? It would seem to me, since Tollner has coordinator experience at the pro level, and knows the Air Coryell system that Turner was teaching, that he should have at least been a logical candidate. What do you think?

Justin, Manteca

Answer: I really like Ted Tollner, think he's one of the classiest guys in the league. But I think his input on Sunday was minimal. He was still in catch-up mode, learning the offense, familiarizing himself with the personnel, at kickoff. I also think it would be unfair to Hostler to give all the credit to Tollner. As far as whether he was a candidate for offensive coordinator ... I know that Nolan was considering him for quarterbacks coach back in 2005 but that Tollner instead accepted an OC job with the Lions. I think when Turner left, Nolan was more interested in continuity than he was in bringing in an experienced play caller. Tollner's background is with the West Coast offense and he certainly couldn't/wouldn't have picked up where Turner left off. Was it the right move? Hindsight is 20/20.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Do you think that the 49ers will take a QB in the first three rounds of the draft in 2008? If so, who do you think it would make sense for them to look at?

Sam, Endicott, NY

Answer: I don't know if Missou QB Chase Daniel is coming out after his junior season, but he seems like a really smart player. To be honest, though, I have no idea at this point. Ask me again after the combine.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt, You mentioned earlier that Coach Nolan may be interested (next year) in Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby and Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs. Do you think they would continue to stack the position, or let Smith &/or Ulbrich take a hike?

Don, Citrus Heights

Answer: Well, I mentioned Dansby more because I think he's a good player than because I think Smith/Ulbrich need replacing. But a Dansby-Willis combination in the middle would be mighty intimidating. As far as Suggs, my guess is that he would challenge TBC for the OLB role opposite Manny Lawson. At this point, however, it's all pure speculation.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt: When you start listing the best available free agents who could offer a solution to the 49ers offense, how about Alex Faneca of Pittsburgh. Per reports, he is extremely angry at the Steelers management over the way they have handled his negotiations and is determined to leave. Every time I see him play he is "pancaking" his man and he is an excellent pass blocker.

James, Lincoln

Answer: Maybe if Larry Allen retires the 49ers will replace him with another top-notch guard like Faneca. But I just don't see the 49ers footing that bill when they have two guys - Adam Snyder and Davis Baas - waiting in the wings at that position.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Trent Dilfer played well last week. With all the QB struggles, and I'm not giving up on Alex Smith, but if Dilfer retires at the end of season, would Chad Pennington make a good backup for us? Drafting another young gun would set us back another 5 years, and Chad lost his job, but he really was not playing that bad. Also Kendrell Bell lost his job in Kansas City. Bell was a good inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme in Pittsburgh, with aging Derek Smith, how do you feel about Bell? One more, is Faneca on your list?

Webster, Atlantic City, NJ

Answer: Pennington has suspect arm strength. I think he'd be ok in a West Coast system, but if the 49ers keep the Turner system, they'd need a stronger arm. ... As for Bell, he might be one of the few guys Derek Smith can beat in a foot race.

- Matt Barrows

Question: David Baas has received positive mention a couple of times recently. How do you rate his overall play? Compared to Justin Smiley? Think Baas is in the starting lineup to stay?

Kevin, Pleasant Hill

Answer: Baas had a nice game against the Cardinals. Did you see which way Frank Gore ran on his long TD run? To the right.

- Matt Barrows

Question: What do you think of Michael Robinson's "field sense?" He ran out of bounds on the fake punt against AZ when he clearly could have just got the first down. Last year against in St. Louis, prior to the celebrated 4 down, he had the first if he would only put his head down and dive but he didn't, trying to get yards that weren't there. He makes that first and the Niners probably make the playoffs last year. Your opinion?

Ray, Davis

Answer: I'm a Michael Robinson guy. Yes, he stepped out of bounds on the fake punt but he's a much better runner than he was at this time last season. Think of how much better he'll be next year.

- Matt Barrows

Question: What happened to LeRon McCoy?

Austin, Yreka

Answer: Still alive. Hasn't satisfied the gatekeeper.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: What's with Jason Hill? Is he really hurt that much, or do they think that that he doesn't have that much potential?

Bob, Penn Valley

Answer: They like Hill but his injuries are legitimate. He had a quad strain early in the season. Now he's got a bad groin. And no, I don't think he's Rashaun Woods ...

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, Love your stuff, how could someone not have come up with Patrick "Whatchu talkin bout" Willis? Seems too good to pass up. Love to know what you think.

Josh, Redwood City.

Answer: Lots of people came up with that. It's a great thing to shout with your buddies after he makes a hit, but as a nickname? It's nine syllables. Even "Round Mound of Rebound" had fewer. To me, nicknames should be short, sweet and descriptive, such as "Hammerin' Hank," "Broadway Joe," "Sweetness" and "The Fridge." Michael Jordan's was only three letters - Air.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Whatever Willis' nickname is, can we all just call Dilfer Professor X (He's bald, wise, and immobile)

Robert, San Jose

Answer: But can he read the minds of defensive backs? His INT total would seem to suggest he can't.

- Matt Barrows

Question: M-A-I-O-C-C-O ... stopped the P-Willie vote! First he is trying to dominate the blogosphere and now he is holding down the "fanclass" by denying our right to vote. How does he do it?

John, Lafayette

Answer: If only he would use his genius for good and not evil. Sadly, it seems that every Superman (me) must have a Lex Luthor (him). And no bald jokes!

- 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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