Why Mike Nolan Failed in San Francisco

Rory BrownSenior Writer IOctober 21, 2008

Mike Nolan isn't to blame for all of the '49ers' woes of the past three-plus seasons.

He inherited a sinking ship, and there are plenty of players, coaches, scouts, and front office decision makers, past and present, that also deserve blame for San Francisco's struggles.

But for a team that desperately needed wins, Nolan never seemed desperate to win games.

With 7:30 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Giants, the '49ers were down by 10 points, with the ball, facing fourth and five near midfield. Rather than keeping the offense on the field to try to net five yards and get in position for a score, Nolan sent in the punting unit. The punt gave the Giants the ball, and the ability to run off enough time to make a two-score San Francisco comeback very, very unlikely.

Fittingly, that was the last major in-game decision Nolan made as the '49ers' head coach.

Whether it was decision to punt on Sunday against the Giants, ordering field goals on fourth and goal in preseason games, or giving the ball back to opposing teams in the waning minutes of close games, Nolan was never willing to turn over the reins to his offense and put the game in the players' hands.

Instead, he often handicapped the team by pulling the offense off the field.

If there's one game that defines the Mike Nolan era in San Francisco, it was a Week 12 game against the St. Louis Rams in 2006.

The 'Niners were riding a three-game winning streak, Alex Smith was showing promise as a young quarterback, Frank Gore was in the midst of his breakout season, and the team was one win away from upping its record to 6-5 and challenging for the NFC West lead.

San Francisco, up 14-13, had driven down the field, and faced fourth and one with about two minutes left.

The momentum was on the 49ers' side, the St. Louis defense was exhausted, but Nolan ordered his offense off the field and kicked the field goal. The Rams got the ball back, drove down the field with ease, scored a touchdown, and won.

Whoever takes over as the San Francisco coach for the long haul, whether it's Mike Singletary or someone else, needs to have faith in the players to make plays.

San Francisco fans are tired of seeing games punted or kicked away. The Niners need to use the clock to their advantage when they're ahead, and keep it in mind when they're behind.

The fans are desperate for wins, so let's see a coach that desperately wants victories, too.