Nolan Goes, Smith Stays; College Playoffs, Baseball Trades
As Iíve already written twice in The Examiner, most recently this week, Mike Nolan must go. His pattern throughout his nearly three years with the 49ers has been to shift blame for problems. This year, the first victim was his offensive coordinator, Jim Hostler, who was thrown to the wolves early.
But assistant coaches are always expendable. Thatís not true for the quarterback Ė but Nolan has treated Alex Smith shabbily. Smith tried to rush back to play sooner than he should after suffering a shoulder separation in the fourth game of the season. It was obvious that his injury was affecting his passing in subsequent games, but Nolan kept insisting he was ďfine,Ē falling back on the justification that the 49ers medical staff had cleared Smith.
Well, anybody who has been around an NFL team for a nano-second knows that a teamís medical staff is not trying to find ways to keep players out of games.
Itís not so bad as when I first started covering pro football in 1967. Then, teams would send players out with serious injuries: at least two Raiders, cornerback Kent McCloughan and defensive tackle Dan Birdwell, had promising careers cut short because they played on injured knees.
At that time, players were regarded as replaceable pawns; if one went down, another could be plugged into his place. Itís gotten much better since, not because coaches and general managers have become more sympathetic but because defensive tackle Charlie Krueger successfully sued the 49ers because he was forced to play when he was injured in the Ď60s.
But even at the height of excesses, coaches didnít treat quarterbacks so cavalierly. Theyíre just too important to the success of the team. Nolanís treatment of Smith is truly the act of a desperate man, clinging to power and trying to shift the blame for the teamís wretched performance this year. In effect, heís saying, ďHow can I be blamed if my quarterback isnít doing his job?Ē
Smith also was desperate when he first told the media that his shoulder wasnít right, forcing Nolan to sit him down. He was even more desperate when he lashed out at Nolan in an interview with San Jose Mercury News beat writer Dennis Georgatos, saying Nolan was trying to spin the story so Smith would be blamed.
The day after that story appeared, both Smith and Nolan made public comments that their relationship is still fine. Damage control, of course, and no more believable than when a press secretary denies that the President had anything to do with the latest scandal in the White House.
Nolanís behavior has also created collateral damage in the locker room. In the NFL, players often play hurt; running back Frank Gore has had a sprained ankle for much of the year. With Nolan continually insisting that Smithís shoulder was fine, players have talked off-the-record about Smith not having the heart to play. This, of course, is the same quarterback who took every snap in the 2006 season and who tried to rush back into action after his serious injury this season. He doesnít deserve that reputation.
The Nolan-Smith relationship is clearly broken beyond repair. In that situation, it is almost always the coach who has to go, and in this case, itís a no-brainer, because Nolan has nothing else on his 49er coaching resume to suggest he should stay.
Some have wondered if Smith should also go. That wouldnít make any sense because the 49ers donít have a replacement. Trent Dilfer was mediocre in his prime, and heís fallen off from that. Shaun Hill got some people excited, including writers who should know better, when he played well in the second half Sunday, but the Vikings were playing very soft with a 27-point lead, giving him room to complete short passes underneath. Hill will quickly become an after-thought when he has to play against a defense prepared to stop him.
Maybe the 49ers could trade for Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback they should have drafted originally. Rodgers is stuck behind Brett Favre, who seems determined to approach George Blandaís longevity record, but he showed his ability when he stepped in for the injured Favre against Dallas. But even if the Packers were willing to give up Rodgers, they wouldnít take Smith, so the Niners would have to pay hefty salaries to both quarterbacks. Not likely.
They certainly wonít be able to draft an NFL-ready quarterback because they traded their No. 1 pick this year to New England to move up to draft offensive tackle Joe Staley. (I'm not going to second-guess them on this, as some writers have. At the time, it seemed a very smart move because none of us anticipated this disastrous season. Staley will be a good player for many years.)
And, in a league where everybody is looking for a quarterback, they arenít going to find a hidden gem anywhere.
So, theyíre going to have to jettison Nolan and bring in a new coach who will also bring in good assistants, with particular emphasis on a good offensive line coach. Theyíre going to have to work with Smith and give him some help, specifically some receivers who can get open and hang on to the ball. Arnaz Battle is the only reliable receiver on this team and he doesnít have the speed to go deep.
Nolan? Heíll sink back into the obscurity of being an assistant coach, which is all he ever should have been.
FANS REVOLT: As an expression of how unhappy 49er season ticket holders are, John Davis has organized a group of his fellow 49er fans to pay for an aerial advertisement at Saturday nightís game against the Cincinnati Bengals. ďFire NolanĒ will be displayed on a large digital screen, as a plane flies over the stadium between 5:45 and 6 p.m. ďMany of the people in our group have been 49er fans for over a decade,Ē Davis wrote in an e-mail.
WHOíS NO. 1? Probably the most amusing aspect of the hysteria by those in the media who advocate a college football playoff has been the assumption that the playoffs would really determine the true No. 1 team. Youíd think theyíd know better after all the upsets this season, from the first weekend to the last. Playing for the right to meet in the national championship game, No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia both lost, the Mountaineers to a Pitt team which had previously won only four games.
Why should we assume that it would be any different in a playoff? Thatís the way it is in college sports, where you have very young players whose emotions run the gamut. As anybody who follows the NCAA basketball playoffs knows, upsets are rampant in that tournament. Its unpredictability is a big factor in its popularity, especially for those participating in office pools, where knowledge of the game is almost a detriment.
In the NFL, itís easy to set up the playoffs, because the top teams are relatively equal and play comparable schedules, so the league season determine everything. The teams with the best records are rewarded with bye weeks and home games. A team may sneak into the playoffs with an 8-8 or 9-7 record but it doesnít last long. The best teams survive, and the eventual champion earns its title.
That canít be done in the college game. Teams do not play interlocking schedules and the strength of their conference can greatly affect their standings. For instance, I believe the Big Ten is very overrated but computers and sportswriters voting in the polls still think the conference is strong, so Ohio State is No. 1 despite not having beaten a team in the top 20.
So, how do you reward a team for a good season? Possibly by scheduling them at home Ė but then, you might run into a snowstorm with a December game in Columbus. And, youíd probably be basing the seeding for the tournament on poll rankings which can be skewed.
Anyway, a playoff system isnít coming any time soon. The Pac-10 and Big Ten want no part of it, having already yielded too much by giving up their traditional Rose Bowl rivalry to join the BCS system. Thatís fine with me. Aside from Calís collapse, Iíve enjoyed this college football season more than any I can remember Ė and now, Iím enjoying watching the playoff adherents continue to hit their heads against the wall of resistance. A tip to them: It feels a lot better when you stop.
INTERNET INFLUENCE: As one who writes on a website and also gets considerable information from it, Iím not one to criticize the Internet, but it has had a bad influence on the mainstream media.
There are many websites which produce valuable information. Iíve mentioned some in the past: 49ers Paradise, which runs stories on the 49ers from every conceivable outlet (and where I often look for 49er stories), AthleticsNation, which does the same for the Oakland Aís and also includes fans comments, and For the Love of the Game by my friend, Aís broadcaster Marty Lurie, who gets comments from media people and adds his own, as an adjunct to his broadcasting.
But there are many bloggers who provide only opinions, not legitimate information, and who often are no closer to the games than their television screens. They throw out all kinds of rumors and speculation, usually without merit. Unfortunately, many in the media pick up on those and treat them as if they were real, not manufactured.
More and more, too many in the mainstream media rely on rumors and speculation instead of facts. The reports coming out of the baseball winter meetings last week were ridiculous. Outside of the big trade by the Detroit Tigers, virtually nothing of consequence occurred, but there were a ton of stories based on nothing more than speculation or quotes from anonymous sources. None of the proposed trades occurred.
Of course, writers and broadcasters are not acting on their own. They have to produce stories every day because editors and producers demand them.
My advice: Donít believe everything you read. Unless itís on this website, of course.
OH, THOSE NINERS! Reader John Zurfits sent me an update of an oldie-bue-goodie: A man leaves two 49ers tickets on the seat of his car while he goes shopping. When he returns, he finds his car has been broken into, and there are now four 49ers tickets on the seat.
Better to laugh than cry!
LOOKING FOR A CHRISTMAS GIFT? You can get tickets for big NFL matchups like the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins on Dec. 30 on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. Tickets are also available for college bowl games, and the Warriors and all NBA games. In the entertainment world, hot tickets for the legendary group Bruce Springsteen, the Hannah Montana tour and the E Street Band are available, along with those for Van Halen, Kelly Clarkson and Jimmy Buffet. Tickets for Broadway shows like Wicked, Jersey Boys and The Color Purple are also available. Just click on either the Bay Area or national link and everything will come up.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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