Has Mike Nolan Lost His Mind?
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 29, 2005

THE SHOCKING attempt by the 49ers to trade linebacker Jamie Winborn, coupled with Mike Nolan’s rant about “trust” following the loss to the Dallas Cowboys, tells me that Nolan is losing his grip.

The “explanation” that Winborn is expendable because the Niners have largely abandoned the 3-4 defense doesn’t wash. The further “explanation” that Corey Smith has surpassed Winborn is mind-boggling. Smith wasn’t even active for the first two 49er games, yet he was put in ahead of Winborn in the fourth quarter last Sunday when the Cowboys were in an obvious passing situation. Smith hit Cowboy quarterback Drew Bledsoe twice but Bledsoe got the pass off.

This is Smith’s fourth year in the NFL. He started with Tampa Bay and played 11 games, none as a starter, before being released last December and signed as a free agent by the Niners, playing in one game in December. In the 51 games played by his teams, he’s been inactive for 38. Do you see anything in that resume to suggest he’ll be a significnt player for the 49ers?

In contrast, Winborn is a playmaker, and you can never have too many of those. That’s especially true of the 49ers right now, as they’ve lost defensive backs Mike Rumph and Ahmed Plummer to injuries, Winborn was also important to clubhouse chemistry, a funny, gregarious man who was very popular with his teammates.

This has nothing to do with the “trust” issue. I taped a segment on Tuesday for the “49ers Playbook”, which will be shown just before Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, and Winborn and I talked about this issue. On- and off-air he said the same thing: that players were buying into Nolan’s system. Certainly, he was, despite the fact that he played so little against the Cowboys.

The only change that Nolan made after his Sunday diatribe was a position change with Rumph that was dictated by the injury to Plummer. As I wrote on Monday, when a coach makes such dramatic ommentrs and then doesn’t back them up, he loses credibility with his team.

Some disturbing trends are beginning to show:

--Nolan makes decisions sometimes on what seems to be almost a whim. This decision is one. Sidelining fullback Fred Beasley is another. When the 49ers picked up Chris Hetherington, Nolan noted that their offense was very much fullback/tight end oriented. Beasley is a Pro Bowl player, Hetherington is a guy who has filled out the roster – and who had been released by the Raiders. Yet, he’s playing and Beasley is sitting.

--Decisions are often driven by panic. The 3-4 defense was largely scrapped because the Philadelphia Eagles rushed for 140 yards in 30 carries against the 49ers. But, there was a total team breakdown in that game, offensively and defensively, so it’s hard to say the system was at fault. There are advantages and disadvantages to a system, but the 3-4 seemed a good fit for the Niners because of their linebackers, including Winborn. Now, a good player has been scrapped because Nolan panicked.

--Player evaluations are suspect. Just before the start of the season, the 49ers picked up tight end Trent Smith on waivers. Winborn told me that the first time the players saw Smith in practice, they were overwhelmed by his ability, with his combination of size and speed. “It’s almost impossible for a linebacker to cover him,” Jamie said – and it would be linebackers who would usually be assigned to cover him. Yet, Smith has yet to see a pass thrown to him in a game.

Before he makes another impassioned speech about what’s wrong with his team, I think Nolan has to take a long look in the mirror.

WITH PLANS for a new stadium locked in neutral, 49er fans have understandably worried that the team would be moved to Los Angeles, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina may end that concern.

NFL executives have thought for some time that the best way to fill the pro football vacuum in the Los Angeles basin would be to move the Saints there. Now, with the Superdome wrecked, the NFL will work even harder to make that happen.

NORV TURNER’S job is probably on the line in the Raiders-Cowboys game at the Coliseum Sunday.

No, I don’t think Turner will be fired immediately if the Raiders lose, because there’s nobody on the staff who could take over for him. But he surely will be fired at the end of the season if the Raiders are 0-4 after Sunday.

This was supposed to be Al Davis’s wet dream of a team, with Randy Moss bringing back the “vertical offense” in a big way, and Lamont Jordan supplementing him with his running. But in their first three losses, the Raiders have scored only 57 points total, never exceeding 20 points in one game.

As so often has been true of Davis’s teams in the last 20 years, the team looks better on the drawing board than on the field. Somebody has to take the blame, and with the Raiders, the blame never starts at the top.

KEN MACHA may be re-signed as early as the end of this week, which I hope will end the ill-founded speculation in the national media.

Working for Billy Beane isn’t easy, because Beane is more involved with the daily operation than any other general manager in baseball. Art Howe couldn’t take that pressure, but Macha can. He makes decisions that he thinks are right, without worrying about what Beane will say.

Meanwhile, Macha also knows that Beane and his baseball people will bring in a constant supply of good players, especially pitchers, which makes a manager look good. For Macha, who probably won’t manage past 60 (he’s 55 now) that’s more important than living in his home town but having to manage a bad team. Lou Piniella found out about that with Tampa Bay. Macha can spend his retirement years back in Pittsburgh.

BOBBY CROSBY may become the leader the A’s need in the next couple of years.

Crosby has the fire a leader needs, and he also has the ability. He came back early from his latest injury, playing despite considerable pain, because he thought the team needed him.

Meanwhile, with the Angels having clinched the pennant with their win the night before, Eric Chavez homered in last night’s game to get to 100 RBIs for the season. Too little, too late.


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