49ers Blog and Q&A

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

February 2, 2008
Q&A: Sullivan's rep doesn't match his productivity

Question: Matt, two questions please: 1) In your opinion, why was 49ers running backs coach Bishop Harris fired? 2) Jerry Sullivan is widely considered one of the best receiver coaches in the NFL. So why has he been unable in 3 years to develop receivers to be more productive and/or offer advice to McNolan in drafting or signing a #1 & a #2? Jackson and Lelie were both more productive other places, and the 49ers are no further along with their receivers than 3 years ago. Other teams draft receivers who become productive faster. What gives?
Scott, Los Altos

Answer: Great question. For the past three years, the 49ers’ coaching staff has enjoyed a great deal of power. Nolan was the ‘one voice’ of the organization and his lieutenants, hand picked by Nolan, felt emboldened by that. If Bishop Harris didn’t care for a particular player, for example Thomas Clayton, he didn’t play him. If Sullivan didn’t like a receiver’s technique, Ashley Lelie’s, for example, Lelie sat on the bench. That power structure, of course, changed last month. Now the personnel staff – the guys who bring the Claytons and Lelies into the organization – holds sway. In other words, I think you’ll start seeing more production from free agents and rookies because there will be more impetus to play them more. It should also be noted that Sullivan's crew has suffered just as much from four OCs in four years as the quarterbacks have. In other words, a little consistency will make everyone look better.
- Matt

Question: Matt -- With all these offensive assistants Mike Nolan has hired (Tollner, Gase), is he trying to make up for his lack of such quality assistants on the offensive side in years past to help overcome his lack of knowledge on offense? Also, I thought Singletary was "assistant to the head coach"?
Ryan, La Miranda

Question: Tollner is “assistant to the head coach,” while Singletary is “assistant head coach.” Meanwhile, Dwight Shrute is “assistant to the regional manager” while George Costanza is “assistant to the traveling secretary.” … To answer your first question, yes, Nolan is surrounding himself with experienced offensive assistants after last year’s debacle. The question is whether he can actually allow them to coach without any interference. If you watched the Senior Bowl game, you would have seen Nolan approach Martz at one point and say something while Martz was calling in the play. I couldn’t tell if the words were, “A field goal will win it, Mike” but I really hope they weren’t.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt - It's really nice of the 49ers to send you names of players to watch in college games and now in this Texas vs. Nation game. Seems nice, but not smart. Why tip your hand that you like someone? Maybe it doesn't hurt them but I don't see how it benefits them unless they are faking, and we know they're not smart enough to do that. You can bet the Pats aren't telling people whom they like. Seems like another example of 49er management being better suited for Boy Scout troop leaders than NFL executives.
Erik, San Francisco

Answer: I wouldn’t sweat it, Erik. There’s a very good chance they are faking or that the players who they truly like are tucked up under their sleeve. But you’d be surprised how much scouts from the various teams interact and trade observations. At the Senior Bowl, it was common to see a New York Giants scout next to a Minnesota Vikings scout (and various other pairings) while watching practice. I think the real subterfuge begins in April …
- Matt

Question: Matt, if the 49ers are truly going to draft the best player available, don't they seriously have to consider Henne, Flacco, or Woodson with one of their first-day picks? The three QBs probably represent the best value in the late first and early second round if all the top-tier prospects are gone.
Terry, Davis

Answer: I don’t see the 49ers using a first-day pick on a quarterback when they have so much invested in Alex Smith. That goes double if they pick up a passer in free agency.
- Matt

Question: Matt- Lifelong 49ers fan, now transplanted to Utah. Thanks for such a great blog to keep me informed. I keep hearing rumors from other fans about the team hoping to pick up Suggs, Briggs and Berrian in free agency. Is that really a possibility to get all three with salary cap numbers? And if we can't get all three, which two do you think would help the most? Thanks!
Eric, Springville, UT

Answer: The 49ers certainly have the cap space to pull that off, but I would guess, due to competition from other teams, they would only be able to lasso one of them. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record (or an agent. Yikes!), but I think Berrian would be an excellent fit in Martz’s offense and would give the team the deep threat it hasn’t had since Antonio Bryant left town.
- Matt

Question: This draft class is supposed to be very deep at WR and obviously we need a WR. I am just wondering how come no one is talking about Andre Caldwell from Florida? He seems to have the size, speed and hands that Martz covets. Nolan has a history of drafting players he coaches and it was obvious to me that the staff trusted Andre in key situations. They threw to him on 4th and long and also they called a fade and a reverse for him on 2 of the final 4 plays of the game. What are your thoughts on Andre?
Daniel, Kennesaw, Ga.

Answer: I thought Caldwell had an excellent Senior Bowl and I remember noting that he came down with nearly every throw that came his way (See my Jan. 22 blog). I think he and some of the other South receivers really benefited from the absences of Early Doucet and Limas Sweed because they got a lot more playing time. (Caldwell also was at the table next to mine when I ate dinner at Wintzell’s Wednesday night). I think if the 49ers waited until the third round to draft a receiver, they would still find a very good one.
- Matt

Question: What do you think about linebackers Gary Guyton and Philip Wheeler from Georgia Tech. Is it possible that the Niners coaches are giving these guys a look come draft time?
MJ, Atlanta

Answer: I think Philip Wheeler could be an option at Ted linebacker. The 49ers certainly like Guyton – after all, they are the ones who suggested he be invited to play in the Senior Bowl.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, What do you think the fate of Nolan is after next season? Judging by the schedule, the 9ers are going to have a tough go. Does Nolan get another pass and stays for year five because of lower expectations? Also, do you see Ainge in the 9ers future?
JR, Penngrove

Answer: Schedules can be very deceptive. The teams you think are going to be patsies in February (Cleveland, for example) turn out to be formidable in December. Nolan has made the argument that he merely needs to fix one-third of his team – the offense – in order to be effective. If the offense improves but the overall record does not, Nolan will be in trouble. … As for Ainge, he may not have improved his draft stock as much as Flacco and Henne, but he made himself a bit of money in Mobile.
- Matt

Question: Made the mistake of catching Senior Bowl on NFL Network. Commentators Burmeister, Mayock and Davis went overboard with: "...if we're even, I'm leavin"; ..."Wheel route" "dig route" "3 technique" yada, yada, yada,ad nauseum! I've followed the Niners since the 50's, but the jargon of those three seemed way over the top. Wondering what your thoughts were/are with the folks that go there to that extent? Post, skinny post, flat, 2-Gap, etc., etc we all know, but this! Whoa! ps: I fired off an email to NFL sharing my thoughts/opinion.
Sammy, Sacramento

Answer: Because I was there, I didn’t watch any of the practice-week coverage (thank God), but I sympathize with you. If they’re going to bombard you with that stuff, they should provide a glossary of terms. We call that being a “Joanie Jargon” and it’s frowned upon in journalism.
- Matt

Question: What did you want to know about Dixie St.? They played Azusa Pacific last season. APU won 30-20 but were ahead 30-0 in 4th Quarter. Dixie St is a 2nd year Division II school located in St George, Utah. I didn't see the game but my nephew plays for APU and he can answer any questions you have.
Randall, Walla Walla, Wa.

Answer: Well, for starters, why is a university in Utah called Dixie State? That’s like a school in, say, Chicago being known as Northwestern. It’s a geographic oxymoron.
- Matt


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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