In three full seasons as 49ers head coach, Mike Nolan has managed to win only a season's full of games (16). Nolan, 16-32 as the 49ers' coach (a winning percentage of .333) has yet to lose his job, but he won't be back next year.
Nolan has made some egregious mistakes. This includes his first move, selecting QB Alex Smith out of Utah with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. The 49ers team that Nolan inherited had gone 2-14 the previous season, and had a number of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.
Alex Smith came from a Mountain West conference not known to produce NFL quarterbacks. Smith also benefited from an Urban Meyer system that primarily ran out of the shotgun with multiple wide receiver targets.
Another mistake was the choice not to take Aaron Rodgers, the local boy out of California. Rodgers' system under Cal head coach Jed Tedford was closer to the pro system teams run in the NFL. Clearly, any quarterback managing the 49ers' offense in 2005 would have struggled, but drafting the least NFL-ready QB to run that team was a critical error in judgment. The 49ers ended up finishing 4-12.
Now we come to 2006; enter Norv Turner. Smith turns around from his '05 year of one TD and 11 INTs to throw 16 TDs. The 49ers finished 7-9. The majority of the 49ers' turnaround in '06 could have been attributed to Turner, who turned Frank Gore into a Pro Bowl running back.
Now while Turner is looking good running the offense, Mike Nolan looked absolutely terrible in the eyes of 49ers fans during one play call during the '06 game in St. Louis. While marching in St. Louis territory with a one-point lead and under five minutes left to play, the 49ers were stuffed on 3rd-and-1. However, running back Michael Robinson got 95 percent of the one yard he needed for the first down, leaving the 49ers with literally a 4th-and-inch.
Any smart football mind would think to themselves, go for it! A quarterback sneak would easily get the first down. All he would need to do is take the snap and fall forward. Yet Mike Nolan kicks the field goal to force the Rams to score a touchdown. The Rams scored a touchdown.
The 49ers' field goal left the Rams with over four minutes to score, and they scored. Whether or not the 49ers would have gotten into the end zone on that drive is irrelevant. A first down on 4th-and-inch would have taken at least two more minutes off the clock and then a field goal forcing the Rams to score a touchdown would have been effective.
In 2007, Norv Turner catches a 45-minute flight down to San Diego. What is Mike Nolan going to do? He hires Jeff Hostler, the current 49ers quarterbacks coach, with no coordinator experience, to run the Norv Turner offense. Nolan wanted to keep the same system intact for Smith, but numerous other options were available, including their O-line and wide receivers coaches, who both had more experience in the NFL.
After a 2-0 start, quite inevitably, things fell apart for San Francisco. They got beat up by the Steelers and Seahawks in weeks three and four. Smith's season, for all intents and purposes, was lost when he went down against Seattle. The 49ers ended up finishing 5-11 when their third string quarterback, Shaun Hill, won a couple games late in the season when Trent Dilfer went down.
Flash forward to the 2008 season. Enter Mike Martz and J.T. O' Sullivan. Week one, the 49ers offense showed some promise in a loss to the Cardinals. Week two, Mike Martz's offense came to life against the Seahawks, coming up with a big come from behind win, in OT, at Seattle. And last week, O' Sullivan found a groove as both he and Martz showed up their former team in a 31-13 pounding of the Lions.
However, flash forward to Sunday's game against the Saints. Mike Nolan's defense brought only four guys on over 80 percent of their defensive snaps, giving Drew Brees all day to throw the football. Nolan did the same thing in week two against Seattle, allowing the injury-depleted Seahawks to put up big passing plays.
And Sunday, with Colston and Shockey out of the lineup, a logical conclusion would be for the 49ers' defense to bring the house, and bring it often, on Drew Brees. But it never happened.
Finally, what was with that challenge by Mike Nolan? There was no angle on the play to see if it was incomplete in the first place, and second of all, it was 2nd-and-4. Even if he wins the challenge, it would be 2nd-and-10. Why waste your challenge on six yards? Nolan needs to explain that call.
Now to get back to the question posed in the headline of this article; the answer is yes. Let us look at this from a logistical standpoint. If the 49ers miss the playoffs and stink, Nolan will obviously be fired. If the offense does really well and they miss the playoffs, Nolan is fired and Martz becomes head coach, because the front office would not dare have a fifth offensive coordinator in five years.
If the 49ers make the playoffs, and perhaps win a game or two, Martz is going to look like an absolute genius. Once again, the 49ers would not dare let Martz get away, and he will be a head coach next year, because multiple teams are going to be looking for a head coach.
I see no way Mike Nolan is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2009. Hopefully he will pack his bags sooner than that.