It was Albert Einstein who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So why do the 49ers keep making the same decisions over and over again and expect to win?
In 2005 they found in Mike Nolan a defensive coach with no offensive acumen whatsoever and no head coaching experience to speak of and not only chose him to lead their team but also gave him full control over the personnel by hiring him to be the general manager as well.
Nolan, who knows about as much about quarterbacking as he does about Neo-Babylonian Mesopotamia, had the first pick of the draft in his back pocket and famously chose Alex Smith of Utah over Cal’s Aaron Rodgers to be his franchise quarterback.
In a completely unrelated story he went 18-37 in three-and-a-half seasons as coach before being relieved of his duties midway through the 2008 campaign.
Seeing the folly of his parents’ ways, Team President Jed York replaced Nolan with… another defensive coach with no offensive acumen whatsoever and no head coaching experience to speak of and not only chose him to lead their team but also gave him full control of the personnel.
Sure, Mike Singletary had some advantages over Nolan. For one, his players respect him because of his Hall-of-Fame playing career. He’s charismatic. He looks and carries himself like a leader of men. He doesn’t insist on wearing a suit on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, he’s even less X’s and O’s savvy than Nolan was and wasn’t even a coordinator at any level before being promoted from his linebackers coach position to the head whistle.
Given Singletary’s inexperience, one would expect his ownership to surround him with a strong offensive coordinator, a veteran franchise QB and a respected, well-connected general manager.
Making prescient decisions like that however, just doesn’t seem to be the 49er way.
You ask yourself, what kind of team would hire a totally green, defense-only coach and then not give him the kind of offensive support he needs to not be in over his head?
The answer is the same kind that would hire the totally green, defense-only coach in the first place, of course.
However, Singletary isn’t solely to blame for this mess.
The offense’s biggest problem for years, aside from having poor pass blockers, was that they had zero speed to stretch defenses and keep the safeties honest.
Josh Morgan has decent hands and he works hard, but ideally he’d be a possession receiver to bring in on third downs to move the chains, not a starter.
Michael Crabtree had some success right away last season despite missing all of training camp and the first five games with a contract dispute, but while he’s a fluid route runner, he’s not gonna run past anybody.
Again Nolan ignored a Cal guy in his own backyard, Eagles speedster DeSean Jackson, to draft instead guard Chilo Rachal who’s an open gate.
That was in 2008. This past offseason their solution was to acquire Ted Ginn from the Miami Dolphins, despite Ginn’s well established reputation as a soft player with bad hands.
Not surprisingly he got hurt on the first lick he took in the first game at Seattle and he’s missed the past three games.
Meanwhile, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, two wideouts the team could’ve drafted with the second of their two first round picks, are already paying dividends for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, respectively.
The New York Jets got Santonio Holmes from Pittsburgh for a fifth-rounder, while the Baltimore Ravens got Anquan Boldin from Arizona for a third round and an exchange of fifths.
You think either of them would be helpful?
Of course having all the Pro Bowl receivers in the world won’t do any good if your quarterback is inaccurate, far too willing to go to his checkdown receivers and panicky in the face of a pass rush.
Smith has started 44 games and the team keeps waiting for the light to flick on for him, as though he will ever turn into someone else.
He’s got the physical tools to be a starting quarterback, but his brain is fried. We’ll never know if it was Nolan who fried it or Smith would’ve failed no matter what situation he was drafted into.
Smith is a guy who either doesn’t trust his weapons, doesn’t know what they are, or has been mentally drilled into thinking he doesn’t have them in the first place.
He could be one of the best running quarterbacks in the league, but he chooses not to run and his superiors don’t ask him to.
He could throw 25-yard darts down the seam as well as anyone, but he doesn’t trust himself –or perhaps his twice operated on shoulder– to fling it downfield a la Brett Favre.
Smith, a guy who scored 40 on the Wonderlic, seems to short-circuit at the worst times, and he gets particularly inaccurate when blitzed.
He’s perfectly willing to throw short, safe passes all game long and he’s been coddled by coaches and conservative offensive coordinators who want him to throw short, safe passes. It’s a marriage made in hell.
The one time he had an offensive coordinator in Mike Martz who would’ve demanded that he look downfield and play with some reckless abandon, Smith missed the whole year rehabbing his shoulder.
Opposing defenses are perfectly happy to blitz Smith and crowd his receivers. They know he won’t try to burn them deep and that eventually he’ll make a mistake trying to fit footballs into narrow windows on 3rd-and-long.
It seems to be the mandate of the 49ers offense to want those 15-play, 80 yard drives, because the offense just doesn’t look to gain big chunks of yardage at a time.
Those type of drives are extremely rare in the NFL because any one mistake, whether it’s a false start, or a hold, a drop or a sack, puts a team into a down-and-distance situation that’s unattainable. The 49ers aren’t built to convert 3rd-and-13s and Smith isn’t programmed to throw past the sticks in those situations.
Even the defense has shown that it’s incapable of learning from past mistakes.
Last season corner Dre’ Bly intercepted Atlanta’s Matt Ryan late during a Falcons blowout and started his high-stepping celebration far too early. He carried the ball like a loaf of bread and Atlanta’s Roddy White stripped him of the ball and made him look like a fool.
In Sunday’s game it was another veteran corner, Nate Clements, who picked off Ryan, and it looked for all the world to be the kind of clutch, game-saving play that would get an 0-3 team off the schnide.
Unfortunately instead of going down or out of bounds, Clements carried the ball much the same way Bly did and he too was stripped by White, giving the Falcons a second chance to execute a game-winning field goal march.
Ryan wouldn’t waste the second life.
The Niners defenders have a maddening trait of playing well a whole game only to give it up in the end. They allowed two minute drives to beat them at Minnesota and Seattle last season and have already been victimized by them against New Orleans and the Falcons this year.
So let’s see, you’ve got clueless ownership, overmatched coaching, slow receivers, conservative play-calling, a scared quarterback and a boneheaded defense that chokes in the clutch.
This 0-4 outfit is supposed to pull themselves out of their tailspin and make the playoffs?
It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure how that’s gonna work out.