Mike Nolan's Demotion: The Worst of Both Worlds

Bryan GoldbergSenior Writer IJanuary 2, 2008

If you're a die-hard Niner fan, then you probably spent much of New Year's Day checking your favorite news sources in order to get the latest rumors about Mike Nolan and his unpredictable fate.

As of Monday, it seemed like a very straightforward scenario: either the Niners kept him, or they fired him. After the team's dismal season, the Yorks were either going to do something very smart — fire the guy — or something very foolish — express renewed confidence in the man who dons Reebok suits.

And yet they surprised everybody by finding the stupidest possible outcome of them all.

They made the mind-numbing decision to strip Mike Nolan of personnel oversight, an area in which he has thrived since coming to San Francisco, only to retain him as an underachieving field commander.

Yes, nightmares do come true.

To say that Nolan has succeeded at assembling a team might actually be an understatement. One need only begin by looking at his role in the 2007 Draft, one that should become the work of legend across the league.

A typical GM would be very satisfied if his top two draft picks emerged as solid starters by the end of their rookie campaigns. That is, in my opinion, the benchmark of a quality draft.

Better yet is when those top two draft picks turn out to be valuable starters from day one, edging out established teammates by the end of training camp.

Better still, is when those top two draft picks emerge as the best two players on the entire team — one of them leading the defense, the other one acting as an offensive rock.

And that's just what happened with Patrick Willis and Joe Staley.

Patrick Willis was unquestionably the best rookie in the NFL on defense. The only question is whether he should be Defensive Player of the Year — period. Aside from his relative youth, a great case could be made for the man. Regardless of whether he wins it or not, there is no question that Patrick Willis will be a game-changing Linebacker, and Nolan deserves credit for the selection.

The move to pick up Staley — aside from the admittedly poor decision to trade a future first rounder — also paid dividends. No position is more cherished than a dependable Left Tackle, and Staley will be just that after starting each game this year on the right side. Losing this year's 7th overall selection is painful, but any coach would easily jettison that pick in favor of a Joe Staley.

Many of Nolan's other moves also deserve praise — in fact, it's fair to say that virtually every position on the squad is a major improvement over the 2004 team.

His selection of Alex Smith was the consensus in a bad draft, and was more than offset by the brilliant spotting of Frank Gore in the 3rd round.

Manny Lawson's freak injury this year has merely delayed what will surely be a fine career, and one that Mike Nolan helped make possible with a bright trade in 2006.

Indeed, Mike Nolan has a lot of problems, but assembling a team is surely not one of them. The man looks good in a suit, which is precisely what he should be wearing day-to-day, behind a desk in a mahogany-trimmed office.

But Mike Nolan the coach?

The bottom line speaks for itself...

The play calling was piss poor.

The team looked undisciplined and made big mistakes at the wrong times.

Trent Dilfer should never have seen a snap.  

Passion was lacking from day one.

And worst of all? The players demonstrated just enough talent to let us know exactly how much they were underperforming.

Mike Nolan is simply not a field commander. His battle cries fall on deaf ears, and he lacks whatever spark is necessary to make a group of highly-talented individuals perform at the next level.

It's unfortunate that Mike Nolan will be coaching the 49ers next year — and it's too bad that our only consolation, his thoughtful personnel moves, won't be there at all.