On June 12, I wrote a story about a movement by 49ers’ fans to support coach Mike Nolan by showing up to the team’s first home game dressed in suits. Six months later, there’s an entirely different movement afoot. These days the Internet is abuzz with various schemes designed to convince the Yorks to cut tied with Nolan.
Some fans plan an en masse walkout of Saturday night’s prime time affair with the Bengals. Fans who once wore “Rollin’ with Nolan” T-shirts now intend to come to the game equipped with signs jeering Nolan. One group has even hired a plane to fly over the stadium in the first quarter with a lighted sign board. The message in the night sky: FIRE NOLAN. Of course, most fans will show their unhappiness with how the season has gone by not showing up at all. Orange seats send a very clear message.
The most damning no-confidence vote, however, was delivered today by someone who six months ago also had an entirely different view of Nolan. Over the past month, it’s been clear that Alex Smith has been upset with how Nolan and the 49ers handled his shoulder and forearm issues. In today’s Mercury News, he enunciated it more clearly than he ever has before, telling the newspaper that he felt Nolan was trying to undermine him in the 49ers’ locker room. Next to today’s story, the Merc ran a photo of Nolan and Smith smiling on the podium the day after the 49ers drafted Smith No. 1 overall in 2005. The photo, however, was ripped down the middle.
It’s a perfect image. The two have been joined at the hip almost as soon as Nolan took the 49ers’ job. Nolan chose Smith over Aaron Rodgers and Braylon Edwards, and it was clear at the time that if Nolan was to become a successful head coach Smith would be the player who brought him there. Now it appears as if the two can’t co-exist. Smith simply doesn’t trust Nolan.
Up until today, I thought Nolan would return as the 49ers’ head coach in 2008. I felt that the Yorks could find just enough reasons to bring him back. I felt that they could convince themselves that if the 49ers’ had just the right offensive guru on board, Nolan could turn the team around. And it seems as if that’s what Nolan thought as well.
Because the Yorks have been mostly mum about the 49ers’ disastrous season, the only voice in the organization who has commented recently on how the Yorks view the job Mike Nolan is doing is, well, Mike Nolan.
“They’ve been as disappointed as anybody,” Nolan said Monday, a day after his team lost its 10th game in 11 tries. “Their expectations were just like ours were, just like our fans’ were.”
Nolan admitted that those lofty expectations came from him. After finishing 7-9 in 2006, Nolan believed that the 49ers would make a push for the playoffs, and he told the Yorks as much. “I was wrong,” Nolan said.
The Yorks fired Terry Donahue and Dennis Erickson because the results of a horrendous 2004 season were not what they were told to expect. Will they cut ties with Nolan for the same reason? Saturday’s game seems like it will be the perfect storm of events – national television, unhappy fans, unhappy quarterback. You have to wonder whether the Yorks still will be rollin’ with Nolan after this weekend.
-- Matt Barrows
* I reported this earlier today: Smith is scheduled to have shoulder surgery on Thursday. Dr. James Andrews will perform the procedure in Birmingham, Ala. You can read into that that Smith doesn’t want anyone affiliated with the 49ers handling his surgery. But I think the real reason is that Andrews is considered one of the foremost orthopedic surgeons in the country. Smith also is tight with the Saints’ Drew Brees, who had successful shoulder surgery performed by Andrews.