49ers Blog and Q&A

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

January 16, 2008
Sparano in SF? Nolan tried

As someone who has twice been bitten by an offensive coordinator leaving for a head coaching gig, Mike Nolan has to be wondering whether lighting will strike thrice with incoming coordinator Mike Martz. After all, Martz has made no secret of wanting to become a head coach again. And if he can breathe life into the 49ers’ moribund offense, his name likely will be a hot one early in 2009.

Nolan almost has filled out his offensive coaching staff but has yet to make a decision on two positions – quarterbacks coach and running backs coach. I spoke to Nolan on the phone a little while ago and he said the perfect situation would be to bring in an assistant with whom Nolan would feel comfortable promoting to the coordinator job should it come open. But he said that premise was a bit idealistic. His first priority is finding someone who can do the job at hand and who meshes with the rest of the staff. “Put it this way,” Nolan said. “I want to make sure that the new running backs coach is the best guy for the running backs.”

Nolan said he has interviewed enough candidates for the open positions but probably will wait until after the Senior Bowl to make a final decision. While at the Senior Bowl, Martz will coach the quarterbacks while Ted Tollner – whose 2008 role has yet to be defined --will work with the running backs. Senior Bowl practices begin Monday.

New Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano was one of the candidates Nolan wanted to interview for the offensive coordinator position when Norv Turner left for San Diego last February. It was former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, in fact, who suggested Nolan take a look at his former offensive line coach. Nolan, however, couldn’t get permission from the Cowboys, who didn’t want to part ways with a valuable assistant so late in the offseason.

Nolan got the same response everywhere he turned and eventually promoted an in-house candidate, quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler. Hostler’s offense, of course, finished last in league in 2007, Hostler was released at the end of the season, and now, in Martz, the 49ers have their fourth coordinator in as many years.

But even if Nolan had somehow pried Sparano away from Dallas, you have to wonder whether the 49ers would still be on coordinator No. 4 this season. Parcells is obviously enamored with Sparano and would have tapped him as the Dolphins head coach. Nolan would have been powerless to prevent him from interviewing and accepting the job.

And what if Sparano’s offense failed just as miserably as Hostler’s? It may have prevented Parcells from making Sparano the Miami head coach but it also may have prompted Sparano’s release in SF. Any way you slice it: four years, four coordinators …

-- 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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