Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan has some free time these days, and he is making the most of it with the media. Nolan was recently serving as the San Diego Chargers linebackers coach, but decided to step away. There was a brief rumor that the 49ers might consider him in their coaching search, but nothing ever came of that.
On Tuesday, Nolan made an appearance on NFL Network, and had a chance to discuss what he will be forever linked to in 49ers history: Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers.
Nolan discussed questions about Rodgers' throwing motion, but the real difference seemed to be that Rodgers was cocky and to a certain extent arrogant, while Smith was a "good kid" and a "safe choice" with the No. 1 pick. There has long been discussion about the pre-draft meetings and Nolan thinking he was getting some attitude from Rodgers. He did not fully address this, but he made it pretty clear:
"The other thing as Alex at the time was a good kid -- a very good person, a safe choice, always trying to please. On the other hand, Aaron was very cocky, very confident, arrogant. So you can say, 'Why didn't you take him to begin with?' Because that's really what your best quarterbacks look like. They aren't very pleasing. They aren't very safe."
"Basically, we thought in the long term that Alex Smith would be the better choice than Aaron," Nolan said. "It was one of those, maybe, paralysis by analysis. We had so much time to think about it.
"We put a lot of stock in changing Aaron's throwing style. We also got caught up a little bit in that Alex was so mobile. That was a good thing. But in the end, we felt Alex would be the better long-time guy. Obviously, we were wrong in that thought process."
This will remain one of the all-time "what could have been" decisions in the franchise's history. There are plenty of other hypotheticals, but 2005 was a potential turning point for the franchise. We'll never know for certain what would have happened if the 49ers had selected Aaron Rodgers. He is the better quarterback, but what would have happened if he did not get to sit behind Brett Favre, and instead was tossed into the fire like Smith?
Everything after that would have changed, albeit not necessarily in the same manner. Maybe the 49ers still go through a string of offensive coordinators, maybe not. Another big one is of course Smith's shoulder injuries. Injury is always a possibility, but who knows what would have happened in that regard.
I'd like to think Rodgers would have still turned into a potential HOF quarterback. The skillset was there. But who knows what his experience would have been like under Nolan with the 49ers.