Nolan Betting His Job on Martz

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Nolan Betting His Job on Martz

Mike Martz will last a year, maybe two, as the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator. The question is: How will this end?

The worst-case scenario is, of course, is that the 49ers experience their sixth consecutive losing season and miss the playoffs. Mike Nolan gets fired and with him, the entire staff, Martz included.

The best thing the 49ers can hope for is that Martz turns around a terrible offense and rescues the fast-sinking career of quarterback Alex Smith. He leaves after a year or two to get another NFL coaching job, with the 49ers' thanks.

Without question, Martz is one of the NFL's preeminent offensive minds. He was the creator of the "Greatest Show on Turf" offense of the St. Louis Rams. He can scheme, as well as make effective use of his players' particular talents and abilities.

In his seven years with the Rams (the first as offensive coordinator), Martz built a unit that had few rivals in its day. The Rams finished in the top ten in total offense in six of those years and never worse than No. 5 in passing. St. Louis led the league in total and scoring offense for three consecutive seasons (1999-2001) and made the Super Bowl twice.

And Martz made stars out of quarterbacks seemingly with pedestrian skills. Kurt Warner, a former Arena League player, was transformed into a two-time MVP. Marc Bulger, a little-known sixth-round draft pick, became a two-time Pro Bowler. Even Jon Kitna, who had mostly an undistinguished career, surpassed 4,000 passing yards in each of the last two seasons under Martz in Detroit.

While there is no questioning of his credentials as an offensive coordinator, Martz has flaws that makes him a ticking time bomb. Not the most diplomatic kind, he's been known to alienate, from players, fellow coaches, management to the media. He was an easy scapegoat when the Lions, 6-2 at the season's midway point, collapsed to a 7-9 finish.

His stubbornness and even arrogance sometimes gets the best of him. Case in point: In the 2001 Super Bowl, his heavily favored Rams lost to New England partly because of his refusal to adapt to the Patriots' defense by running the ball more. And last season, he virtually abandoned the running game—to the chagrin of the Lions' management—that hastened his ouster.

Even with the league's bottom-ranked offense, Martz should be able to make enough hay with either Smith or Shaun Hill at quarterback. He will also have a healthy Frank Gore, which makes the offense more potent and versatile. His ability as a play-caller alone should be worth a few more points and additional yardage per game.

The question is: Will that translate to more wins for the 49ers, thus saving Mike Nolan's job?

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