Sometimes, things get so bad that the only course of action is to blow it up and start again. In fact, that should be the title of the 49ers' 2008 NFL Yearbook: Time To Blow It Up and Start Again: The story of the 49ers and Mike Nolan.
I can’t take any joy in winning. Not when it could mean bringing Nolan back for another year.
I want him thrown out of the business!
It’s a hell of a thing to root against your own team, and I’m not talking about rooting for Barry Zito to pitch the anti-perfect season either. The 49ers are unbearable to watch.
I don’t enjoy watching football anymore.
Mike Nolan is the cause of that.
The fall of the 49ers began in the late '90s. By 1999, owner Eddie DeBartolo handed over his interest in the team to his sister and her husband, who turned arguably the most well-run and successful franchise of the past 20 years into the biggest laughing stock in the league just five years later.
On the field, the team was able to hold on under the stewardship of Steve Mariucci. When Steve Young was forced to retire during the '99 season, the team tanked and went 4-12 and then 6-10 (their worst records since 1982) before rebounding with consecutive playoff seasons.
The Yorks rewarded Mooch by giving him the axe after losing in the divisional playoffs after the '02 season, and he was replaced by Dennis Erickson, who steered the team right back into the basement, compiling a 9-23 record along the way.
After hitting rock bottom in 2004, with a record of 2-14, the franchise cleaned house, firing Erickson and GM Terry Donahue.
York brought in a new regime headed by former Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Hell followed with him.
His tenure started off badly. He immediately split the team and sent a clear “My way or the highway” message by benching what seemed like the entire defense. Players who couldn’t conform (Jamie Winborn) were shipped off to other teams for pennies on the dollar.
The offense was historically bad.
Cody Pickett started two games. You don’t know Cody Pickett?
In his first game, Pickett went 12-21 for 102 yards and an INT. He followed that up with a historic 1-13 for 28 yards and one INT performance that landed him on a trivia card.
I haven’t checked, but I doubt he ever played again.
To give you an idea of how futile the rest of the quarterbacks were, the team went over 200 yards twice, for the entire season.
They passed for less then 100 yards five times.
The lone bright spot was the Reggie Bush lottery. With the worst team in the league, (maybe history) the once-proud franchise secured the No.1 pick for the second straight year and drafted the most dynamic runner to come into the NFL since Gale Sayers.
(Oh, wait, they “salvaged the season” by winning the last two games and blowing the first pick...what’s that you say? Reggie Bush kinda sucks? Oh well.)
For some reason, we, as a fanbase, headed into the 2006 season optimistic. There wasn’t any real reason other than that fans are traditionally duped at the beginning of every season.
The team went 7-9 and, at the time, appeared to be making progress. Nolan’s success as coach crested in Week 11 when a 20-14 victory over the Seahawks brought the team’s record to 5-5.
Five and five.
Three years and that’s the high-water mark.
In Week 12, the Niners were up one on the Rams in the fourth quarter. They managed to put together a seven-and-a-half-minute drive that brought them to the Rams' seven with four minutes left.
On 4th-and-inches, Nolan decided to kick. The Niners went up by four, and the Rams got the ball back with plenty of time and drove for the winning touchdown.
Now, I know hindsight is 20-20, and it’s easy to second guess, and blahblahblah...but, to wit: The team ranked 32nd in points scored against and 26th in yards against.
Why was the defense so horrible? Might it have something to do with Nolan shipping out all the defensive players left over from the '05 team that wouldn’t buy into this mess? (Among them, Julian Peterson and Andre Carter, or as I liked to refer to them, the talented ones.)
4th-and-inches was a make-or-break point in the season, and really, Nolan’s career. At that point, they were trailing Seattle by a game with one more game between them. A first down gives them three more shots at the end zone and a chance to run the clock and go up by eight. If ever there was a point for a bad team to grab victory by the throat and let it define their season, it was here.
The next week, the Saints slapped them around. The week after that, Green Bay had a turn. At 5-8, the season was over.
There were some positives, however, and there was a reason for optimism headed into 2007. Frank Gore was a beast. Alex Smith didn't look like a bust. The acquisition of Nate Clements and Patrick Willis meant the defense actually had NFL-caliber players, and most of all we figured, after two years, that Mike Nolan would figure out how not to coach with two hands around his throat.
What followed was an abomination, but before we go on, take a look at how inept the team has been on both sides of the ball:
Notice how the offense is somehow worse then the historic '05 team, and how the defense has slightly improved.
(Under a DEFENSIVE coach who gets to pick his own players.)
2007 was a season that boasted the worst 2-0 team of all time and the worst offense in the history of professional sports. They had a coach who threw his golden boy draft-pick under the bus, then refused to take any responsibility for the fact that the plane that was the '07 Niners crashed into the goddamn mountain.
They were a five-win team that could have easily gone 0-16. The Cardinals handed them two games, Scott Linehan handed them their second victory in Week Two, and Nolan somehow rallied the team up for their annual “win two of the last three” for two cheap victories against the Bengals and Bucs.
(Let the record show, that despite his 16-32 career mark, Nolan's teams are 6-3 during Weeks 15-17. On Linehan/Nolan, I have to commend them. The 49er/Rams rivalry has always been lopsided, even though the all-time record is pretty close.
The Niners dominated throughout the '80s and into the late '90s, until the Rams took over for the next few years, ending with the hiring of Linehan after the '05 season. Now both teams are so incompetent you can’t rely on either to be a substantial favorite. It’s finally a real rivalry. Nolan matching wits with Linehan is like monkeys playing checkers.)
So the curtains are coming up on the fourth act of the travesty that is Mike Nolan, head coach.
Can he save his job?
If the defense can continue its moderate improvement (unlikely, as there’s still no pass rush and they let their best run-stuffing defensive lineman go), and if the offensive line can make significant improvements over last year’s squad (again, unlikely, as most of the players brought in will be backups).
Or, if Frank Gore can return to his '06 form (with that O-line, that QB, that supporting cast, and that Martz? That’s laughable man!), or if Alex Smith isn’t a colossal bust (hey, if anybody can help us see that our QB has value, even though he’s being pounded into the turf and the team is getting destroyed every week, it’s Mike Martz).
Maybe if Vernon Davis can learn to run a route (does running his mouth count?), or finally, if Mike Martz can use the fact that he coaches like he’s playing Madden to compensate for the fact that Mike Nolan doesn’t have testicles...they’ve got a chance.
That’s too much to ask for, right?