San Francisco 49ers: Was Firing Mike Martz the Right Move?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJanuary 20, 2009

For those who don't follow the NFL as closely as us die-hard fans, Mike Martz has been both a famous and infamous coach. The former 49ers offensive coordinator has experienced great success, catastrophic failure, and almost everything in between over the last decade as a well-known offensively minded NFL coach.

Most astutely known for his high-flying passing attack, Martz has run some dynamic offenses including being the mastermind behind the "greatest show on turf" which was the name given to the St. Louis Rams offense of 1999-2001. He won a Superbowl with the Rams as an offensive coordinator and took them to another as head coach. He then stumbled a bit before being fired, and taking a coordinator job with the Detroit Lions.

However Mike Martz' offensive system did not fit the personnel of the Lions as Detroit did not have an offensive line capable of pass protecting for as many passing plays as Martz was known to call for. After a few seasons of Lions quarterback Jon Kitna throwing for over 4,000 yards but leading the league in sacks, Detroit was so god-awful that they fired Martz after the 2007 season.

Coincidentally the 49ers had an opening at offensive coordinator (just as they have in each of the last five seasons). Imagine that, just when the 49ers needed an offensive mind to run their team, Mike Martz becomes available.  

Many faithful were hoping the 49ers organization would pass on the pass-happy coach. Fans thought that their team (much like the Lions) did not have the personnel for a Mike Martz offense. However, the front-office must have heard what they wanted to hear in the interview process as they hired Mike Martz as offensive coordinator for the 2008 season.

49er fans were anxious to see how the situation would unfold. After selecting one of his former back-up quarterbacks in Detroit to start for in San Francisco, Mike Martz and the new-look team started out the season 2-1. Despite not having a well-known receiving corps or a highly touted offensive line, the 49ers were playing well.

However, reality soon set in and the 49ers lost six straight games that led to the firing of their head coach Mike Nolan.

Not only was Nolan fired, but Martz' boy (quarterback J. T. O' Sullivan) was benched by interim head coach Mike Singletary. Singletary also kicked 49ers' brash tight-end Vernon Davis off the field in his first game as coach. While making his presence known, the interim coach made sure Martz knew that Singletary's 49ers were going to be about running the football.

Martz obliged.

After Nolan's firing, the 49ers' went 5-4 under Singletary, the first 49ers coach to finish the season above .500 since Steve Mariucci back in 2002. Not only did the Niners finish over .500 under Singletary, they went 5-2 in their last seven games.

The combination of Singletary's "in-your-face, hard-nosed, game is won in the trenches" style with Mike Martz' intricate offensive scheme was working to a tee down the stretch.

The Niners were winning games even without their best player, running-back Frank Gore completely healthy. The offensive line was gelling.  Beside from the right-tackle position, the four remaining offensive lineman of the starting group look to be 49ers for a long time.

Joe Staley, David Baas, Eric Heitman, and Chilo Rachal make up a core of an offensive line that if kept together could arguably become one of the better offensive-lines in the league over the next few seasons.

Now, the 49ers went 5-2 over their last seven games, so why did they fire Martz? Yes, his style does not coincide with that of Singletary, but much like a loving marriage, Martz and Singletary brought the best out of one another.

Opposites attract, right?

I'm writing this because in today's San Jose Mercury News there was an article mentioning that the leading candidate to replace Martz (another former Rams head coach, Scott Linehan) turned down the job for personal reasons.

The rejection (if you will) leaves San Francisco with some remaining candidates that I have never even heard of, including former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinksi and Indianapolis Colts receivers coach Clyde Christiansen.

I know what you're thinking: Who?

Exactly my thoughts as well. The former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator? Not exactly someone who has had much recent success. Other than a 10-6 record two seasons ago, the Browns haven't had much of an offense. And a receivers coach from the Colts? As a fan I would prefer someone with a bigger profile than that.

This is why I question the firing of Mike Martz. Who do the Niners replace him with?

There are only a few candidates out there that can fill the hole that Martz has left. The only two that make sense are former Bronco head coach Mike Shannahan and recently fired Jon Gruden. But both of them are long-time, successful head coaches and it is hard to see them settling for a coordinator job at this point in their careers.

So what is left for the 49ers? Shaun Hill, Frank Gore, and the rest of the San Francisco offense is yet again going to need to learn a new system.

But will it be a system from a proven coach? Or will it be that of a first-time offensive coordinator?

Either way, wouldn't it been better for the 49ers offense to be able to play in the same system for two seasons in a row? It is something they have not been able to do in seven seasons!

This team has talent, they just need some continuity. 

I just don't understand why the 49ers front-office felt like firing Martz was the right move.  In my opinion, it was the wrong move.


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