Can the Yorks afford to stay with the status quo following a season that began with such high expectations? I wrote that sentence six months ago when the 49ers were at the nadir of their 2007 season. The team had lost eight of 11 games, the fans were calling for Mike Nolan's head and Denise DeBartolo York was hinting at big changes to come. It seemed reasonable that Nolan might lose his job and it was a near certaintly that the offensive staff would be reshuffled.
That was November. It's now late May. The 49ers still might add a free agent or two, but the bulk of their offseason moves have been completed. It's likely that all 22 starters are now on the roster. The coaching staff is set, and we got a glimpse of the staff in action earlier this month. In other words, the 2008 49ers are now assembled. So how much different are they than their disappointing 2007 counterparts?
Sure, Nolan got his wings clipped a bit when Scot McCloughan was promoted to general manager. But you would really have to squint very hard to see any differences in their relationship. McCloughan still leans heavily on Nolan and his coaches before making personnel moves - and for good reason. You don't want to bring in a player the coaching staff has no intention of using. Nolan is still the face (television) and the voice (radio) of the organization. McCloughan is more comfortable in the background.
The duo also brought in the same type of players they have favored in the past. As I've written before, the team had the same meat-and-potatoes draft last month it had when the twosome first arrived in 2005. They like interior linemen, big defensive ends and thick-bodied receivers. That profile didn't change a bit, even with the arrival of Mike Martz.
Nolan's coaching staff is mostly unchanged, too. I always felt that the Yorks would end up retaining Nolan (you can check my work if you want). But I also figured that if Nolan were to keep his job he would have to bring in an entirely new offensive coaching staff. That didn't happen. In fact, there was just as much coaching turnover following the 2006 season (five new coaches) as there has been following 2007. The offensive line was abysmally bad last season, especially early in the year. George Warhop seemed like he was on the way out following the season, but he was ultimately retained when the 49ers hired Martz, an admirer of Warhop. The 49ers appeared to slap Warhop's wrists when they hired Chris Foerster. At the time of the hire, the team said that Warhop and Foerster would be co-offensive line coaches. At the minicamp, however, Foerster was listed as assistant line coach and seemed to be Warhop's subordinate during position drills.
In fact, you can argue that the 49ers made only one bold move following their wretched 5-11 season. The team is hoping that Martz - whose imaginative offenses are the antithesis to the San Francisco's lame 2007 version -- will jolt the 49ers back onto the upward course they seemed to be following at the end of 2006. When Nolan met with the Yorks following the season he was able to convince them that two-thirds of the team was in good shape. Fix that third part and - voila! - the 49ers are back in business. The Yorks, of course, bought the argument and stuck with the status quo for another season. Are they genuises for not bailing out too early or are they daft for sticking with a regime that hasn't produced a winning season in three tries? I have no clue .... yet. In another six months, the answer should be clear.
-- Matt Barrows