drummer’s bio: Hello everybody. I’ve been a fan of the San Francisco 49ers for a few decades now. I live in Southern California after living in San Francisco most of my adult life. The only thing I missed from SoCal when I lived in SF was the Mexican food. Tell me where I can find a better bowl of Menudo in SF, and I may move back. Being that I can’t find good Pho soup down here, I may move back anyway.
Outside of Alex Smith, one of the more polarizing figures of the 49ers when it comes to debate amongst the fanbase is GM Scot McCloughan. One side of the camp thinks he is doing a credible job during the rebuild of the roster, while the other is firmly planted in the "meh" to "FIRE HIM NOW!" side. The media has also joined in, with KNBR post game host Damon Bruce tying McCloughan to the whipping post, and on the flipside, the once very cynical Mike Silver of Yahoo Sports being one of McCloughan's biggest fans. The primary focus of this article is to concentrate on McCloughan's years as GM, his second removed from the physical presence of his one time boss Mike Nolan. Rather than go into a comprehensive study of personnel decisions from 2005 and so forth (the illustrious Florida Danny has some great articles regarding the past drafts), this will be more of a look at the team philosophy from the Front Office on down, and how this offseason could be a critical one for the trio of Jed York, Scot McCloughan, and of course, Mike Singletary.
But first, after the jump, let's reflect a bit on how this all started.
"I'm eighteen, with a bullet. I got my finger on the trigger, and I'm gonna pull it"
"I will remain the one voice in this organization, and the face," Nolan said. "I don’t believe it will change at all. The important thing is that we will maintain the relationship. We’ll still communicate on all issues. ... I’m not disappointed at all. I was in favor of it. I’ve been in favor of it for a long time."
Going into his 3rd year as the "Face of the Organization", Mike Nolan fell flat on it, and 49er fans had their faces firmly planted in their palms witnessing a team that struggled mightily in almost all phases of the game. It was truly one of the worst teams in the history of the 49ers, with an offense so bad that it looked like a totally different franchise from the one that set records on offense. Going into his 3rd year as the "trigger man" with McCloughan as his sidekick, Nolan still hadn't established an offensive identity, at the cost of the defense, which was and still is his specialty. The offense wound being ranked at the bottom of the League, with the defense in the bottom tier. It was a disaster of a season with a team that showed promise a year prior and it was another embarrassment for John York. York had fired his woefully incompetent General Manager, Terry Donahue, who Nolan replaced, not as GM, but to spearhead the rebuild of the entire football operation, even though Nolan had no prior experience in any aspects of his job descriptions. Instead of hiring a GM with real proven experience, York gambled on who he thought was a bright young football mind who also had a legacy with the Franchise. But York had underestimated the poor state of the roster's talent, as well as underestimated the scale of the rebuild of the team. It was an overwhelming task for Nolan, and was proven in his 3rd year. Nolan was on his 3rd offensive coordinator, and on his second defensive coordinator in 2007. Despite the coordinator change on defense, and outside of Nolan's crazy hybrid schemes, the basic philosophy and scheme was intact. The offense? Well........
"Forget pulling the trigger, it'll be over after we bomb Pearl Harbor."
Sincerely, the Germans.
The disastrous 2007 season convinced the Yorks that there needed to be a checks and balance order in place, and alluded to hiring a GM prior to the end of the season. Enter Scot McCloughan, Nolan's VP of Player Personnel. Despite the 49er's lack of success, the 49ers had improved greatly as far as talent. Of course, any improvement over the 2004 squad isn't the quite the building of Rome, but it gave enough confidence in McCloughan to the 49er brass to not have to give up on the rebuild with another GM, hiring outside rather than from in house. Hiring McCloughan also helped the process of Jed's ascension to President, and given John York's past experience with Terry Donahue, having a person they knew and trusted to work with Jed makes sense due to the familiarity. But there was still an Elephant in the room, and that was Mike Nolan, who now had to answer to a person he brought in, and had the authority to determine his future with the team. Nolan seemed defiant during in the press conference announcing McCloughan's promotion and the promise of a smooth transition of power was undermined by Nolan's hiring of none other than Mike Martz. When asked about the prospective offensive coordinator candidates in the 2008 offseason, freshly minted 49er GM Scot McCloughan told the media that "Martz isn't a consideration". Nolan hired Mad Martz shortly afterward, to which McCloughan had to explain some sort of gaff in communication between himself an Nolan, and that he was on board with the hire.
Now, another Elephant walks into the room, and that was Alex Smith. One of the problems in not having a true GM in the hierarchy is the lack of another person of authority over the Head Coach before the team President, or owner. Nolan had nobody outside of John York to answer to, and his well documented handling of Smith in 2007 created more cause for demotion going into 2008. Smith, coming off an injury, now has Mike Martz for his 4th coordinator, and then had to compete with J.T. O'Sullivan for the starting position. Smith hadn't recovered completely from the 2007 injury, thus, the "Greatest Show on Grass" became a donkey show with O'Sullivan at QB, and Martz’s offense became a poor fit with a team that didn’t have the talent to execute it to it’s fullest, especially with the dearth of talent at the QB position. The end result was a mid-season Nolan firing, and another hire of his being promoted to interim Head Coach in Mike Singletary who did a solid job to earn it for the next few seasons, and fired Mike Martz shortly afterward.
"The next time we come under fire, run in a straight line. You'll live longer".
Soldier to reporter - Generation Kill
Ok, now many of you are probably wondering by now "What does all that have to do with this upcoming offseason?" Above is a brief synopsis from my point of view of how I see the turmoil of those first 2 years of the transition from the Nolan\John York era to the new era of Jed York, Scot McCloughan, and Mike Singletary. I didn’t reflect on the 2009 season due to it being discussed a lot here. But I feel in order to properly address this new era, we have to at least have some perspective on how these three key people in the current 49er front office structure and coaching will affect the 49ers going forward in the future, while looking back at the previous structure and it's problems. The 49ers may now have a solid structure of checks and balances instead of one person having total control. But there are still a lot of questions out there as far was where the team is, and guess what? It's still about offense. Defensively, they are on the cusp of being a real good defense, yet they still have issues there as well. Here are a few basic questions about both sides of the ball that I feel need to be addressed:
1- Who is going to emerge as the quarterback of the future?
2- If they don't have a quarterback of the future on the team now, when will they find one, and where?
3- How can they protect that quarterback of the future?
4- Do the 49ers have enough weapons in place for a deeper playoff run with a mid to top tier QB?
One thing that is still a hangover from the Nolan era is the lack of identity on offense. Well, if you leave out Frank Gore and Vernon Davis. One thing that was talked about a lot this past season was the talent level on offense, and whether they have true weapons at the skill positions. Michael Crabtree had a great rookie season despite it being truncated, and Josh Morgan has been solid. Jason Hill is a player who showed promise last season, but has almost completely fell off of the radar this season, and we still don’t know where Brandon Jones will fit in. Arnaz Battle is older and slower and should not be back next season (unless Singletary values Battle like Phil Jackson values Derek Fisher), and the running game still has question marks all over it outside of Gore.
The area that is critical going into 2010 and beyond is the position at quarterback. Even though Alex Smith has shown improvement, he still has fundamental issues at the position that need some serious work. Jimmy Raye's offense to me looked more like a mish-mash of an offense that looked more like a work in progress than a balanced offense. Sure, we can look back at the statistics to identify situational effectiveness, but one of the issues with the mish-mash is due to who they have at QB. Of course, you have to protect the QB in order to have him be more effective, and Singletary already made a key move in hiring Mike Solari to coach the offensive line. McCloughan has spent 2 early round picks to address the offensive line, passed on Michael Oher for Crabtree this past draft, and will probably address the O-line this next draft. Basically, the two areas that need greater improvement to function in any offense are both at QB and the O-line going into 2010. It’s McCloughan's critical area to address going into his 3rd season as GM, much like it was Nolan's critical area in his own 3rd season. The one thing they both have in common is Alex Smith, and the difference between Nolan and McCloughan will come down to the quarterback position, and how they addressed it. The other difference is McCloughan by all accounts should know a thing or two about offense, being a Holmgren disciple.
I’m going to channel James Carville to send a message to Scot McCloughan: It’s the Offense, stupid. For discussion going forward, I'd like to hear your ideas of what you would like the offense to look like, where you think the areas McCloughan and Co. should focus on, and just how close this offense is with better QB play to possibly become a Top Ten offense.
This one's pretty simple. Who will emerge as the pass rushing beast, and how will they improve the secondary?
Having Greg Manusky for 3 consecutive seasons has been a blessing for the 49ers. Again, yet another Nolan hire that he got right. He has also been a blessing for Singletary, and that blessing is mutual being that as long as the defense channels Singletary's personality, that defense is gonna play hard and tough. But they need a stud pass rusher that has speed and power, along with some serious moves. Now I don't want to get into a mock draft discussion here (there is plenty of that on this site), but one mock draft that I read on another board that wasn't a 49er board had drafted defense for the first 3 picks. Of course, the poster may not have realized the other 49er needs that are more important, but the idea of a real badass defense under Singletary got me chubbed a bit. My other question for discussion is where do you see the defense, where it can improve, and just for kicks, how would you build the ultimate defense with the current players mixed in with draft picks and free agents, despite the offense?
This offseason to me comes down to one thing: if the Front Office on down all run in a straight line together, they just might live longer. All they really have to do is remember how Nolan ran in circles, only to have shot himself on the foot.
WIN THE WEST!! - Mike Nolan, 2005
Next upcoming article: Singletary Football, and how this could shape the next few years if the Front Office understands it.