49ERS, GIANTS MOVES, STEROIDS REPORT
Parcells wants back in the NFL, but not as a coach. Just as well. His “my way or the highway” coaching style is hard to sustain with the more independent players who have surfaced in the free agency era. Mike Nolan has tried it with the Niners, and we’ve seen how well that worked.
But Parcells obviously knows football. Don’t forget that Bill Belichick, now coach of the still undefeated New England Patriots, was an assistant for him. He has multiple ties within the NFL and could move swiftly to hire a good coach and get more football people into the front offic.
But the 49ers most likely won’t move fast enough. I’ve been hoping, for instance, that they’d fire Nolan before the end of the season and give Mike Singletary a chance to show what he could do. Singletary is an inspirational leader as a coach, as he was as a player, and has done a great job with the linebackers, especially rookie sensation Patrick Willis. There’s no guarantee that he’ll be that successful as a head coach, so it would have been nice to have a tryout period for him. But that would have required some creative thinking from John York, which is why it didn’t happen.
That’s also why the 49ers probably won’t get Parcells. The Falcons will move quickly while the 49ers continue to spin their wheels. Their only move has been to sign up Andy Dolich to head up their stadium project, a tacit admission that the dynamic duo of Jed York and Lisa Lang haven’t been getting the job done.
Dolich is a marvelous marketing man and a delightful person. When he aligned himself with a group trying to buy the A’s, I was all for that, but the effort fell through because of a lack of financing. He’s got another problem like that with the 49ers stadium project. They’re still $51 million short on what they want from Santa Clara. To get that money, a proposal will have to be put on the ballot. Anybody out there want to bet me that it will pass? I’ll give you good odds.
Even if they miraculously came up with money from Santa Clara, the stadium project still would need a massive input of money from Denise DeBartolo York, and nobody who knows her thinks that will happen. The stadium plan is dead in the water. It will never be built in Santa Clara.
The team is also dead in the water. The 49ers desperately need football people in the front office, to support the only one they have now, Scot McCloughan. They need to fire Nolan and bring in a proven coach. Bill Cowher is out there, if he’s interested in returning to the NFL. My guess is that he is. I’ve known a lot of coaches and very few have been willing to walk away from the job. Look at Joe Gibbs, back with the Washington Redskins.
New head coaches usually bring in their own staff, so there probably wouldn’t be much holdover from Nolan’s staff. I’m sure Singletary could stay if he wanted.
The new coach would probably have a quarterback controversy on his hands, because of the way Shaun Hill has played with both Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer on the injured list.
Hill has looked very good in the six quarters he’s played, as the 49ers have gone to a version of Bill Walsh’s old offense (probably because Ted Tollner is involved), having Hill throw slant passes underneath the coverage. He's shown poise, as when he fumbled the ball in an early sequence last Sunday but recovered and completed a pass. He’s been very accurate on the passes he’s been asked to throw, none of them deep patterns.
But, there are still questions. The Vikings, against whom he made his debut, are last in the NFL in pass defense, and they were playing soft because they had the game won at halftime. Only five NFL teams have given up more points than the Bengals, his second opponent, and the Bengals have won only one road game all year.
There is also history, because many quarterbacks have sparkled briefly and then flamed out. One was Steve Spurrier, who had been drafted No. 1 by the 49ers to be groomed as John Brodie’s eventual replacement. When Brodie was injured in 1972, Spurrier stepped in and played very well for a time, including a five-touchdown game against the Chicago Bears. But opposing defenses discovered he had a weak arm and couldn’t throw the out pass to the sidelines, so they shortened their defenses nd squeezed Spurrier. He played through the 1975 season but threw for only nine touchdowns in his last three seasons. He’s become a very successful college coach since and, oddly enough, his quarterbacks have often been much like he was as a player: smart, resourceful, weak-armed.
This Sunday, Hill will face his first tough defense, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That game will go a long way to showing what kind of quarterback he can be over the long term.
ATHLETES AND THE MEDIA: I got another reminder of how differently players and the media view the games when I was in a room listening to Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis discuss the much-hyped verbal battle between Alex Smith and Mike Nolan; after Smith accused Nolan of not supporting him, both men issued statements trying to paper over the rift.
“Man, I didn’t even know anything about this until Alex talked to us in the locker room,” said Walker. “Reporters are coming up to me and asking if I sided with the coach or the quarterback. Are they crazy? No way I’m going to take sides in that.”
Davis and Walker also agreed on one thing: They love Shaun Hill. No surprise there. In the offense the 49ers are now running with Hill, as was true in Bill Walsh’s offense, too, tight ends play a very important role. Earlier in the season, the 49er game plans hardly seemed to include Davis.
STEROIDS REPORT: My reaction to the Mitchell report: Ho-hum. I’d imagine the reaction of major league baseball players was mostly muffled laughter, because they know that steroids use is much more widespread than this report would indicate.
The report was based on what Mitchell could learn from information from labs producing steroids, and from hearsay from those who claimed to be in the know. Much of the information would not have been admissible in court.
To my mind, the hysteria surrounding steroids use has been mostly media-generated. For a brief period, in between the time the Chronicle editors decided I didn’t know how to write a column and the time I started with the Examiner, I wrote five times a week on this website. I soon discovered that, though there were some people who were passionately against steroids, when I wrote on that subject, those columns got the least amount of hits – usually by a considerable amount – than anything else I wrote that week.
That didn’t surprise me. It corresponded to the reaction I’d gotten earlier with my Chronicle columns, and what I’d observed from talking to people and walking around the Giants park. Though some writers criticize Giants fans for supporting Barry Bonds, the fact is that the Giants were also a huge draw on the road when Bonds played. As he neared the career home run record, he got huge applause at Wrigley Field for a mammoth home run into the teeth of the wind, and also at San Diego, where he tied the record.
Meanwhile, though, there are still fans and writers who fulminate against the use of steroids. As I wrote in an earlier column, I think much of this comes from the fact that this group of (largely) men want to hold on to their youthful dreams, when they imagined baseball to be pure.
It never was, of course, and it never will be. It amazes me when writers talk of a cloud over the game or of this being the worst era in baseball history. Really? I've lived through times when players and managers killed themselves with alcohol abuse, then another when they did the same with the “recreational drugs” like cocaine. So, now we’re supposed to believe that’s its worse with players using performance-enhancing drugs?
Fortunately, I think most fans are too smart for this. They know that baseball is in the entertainment business and they want to be entertained. Attendance has gone up during this period, and it will continue to climb. That’s the easiest prediction to make, but it’s almost as easy to predict that there will be no substantive change. At the end of the day, when the smoke clears and Congressmen are through with their dog-and-pony shows, everybody in the game will realize that the game is just fine.
NOTABLE EXCEPTION: If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Jon Carroll’s Tuesday column on steroids in the Datebook section of the Chronicle. It’s a breath of fresh air in a newspaper which otherwise seems dedicated to the notion that steroids use in baseball is the greatest threat to our country.
GIANTS MOVES: The Giants are a classic team caught in the middle, not nearly good enough to contend for a playoff spot but not positioned well for the future, either. The fact that they’re looking at Tony Clark is a good example. Clark is a good player but, at 35, he should be a platoon player (as he was in Phoenix last year), so he’s clearly not a dominant player. And, he’d probably be signed to a one-year contract, so he wouldn’t be part of the team’s future.
On the other hand, if they sign pitcher Kris Benson, the team Christmas party will be much livelier, with Anna Benson in her Santa Claus suit.
CONGRATULATIONS: Punters Andy Lee and Shane Lechler richly deserve their designation to the Pro Bowl, but both of them have benefited from having an awful lot of practice, with the mostly wretched offenses their teams have managed.
TV TIME: I’ll be a guest on “49ers Playbook” on Sunday, airing before the 49ers game with Tampa Bay, on Channel 2.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS: I’m taking off Christmas week. I’ll write Friday for the Examiner, probably on Cal football. My next column after my brief vacation will be in the Jan. 1 Examiner, and my next website column will be Jan. 2. I wish you the best for this holiday season and the year ahead.
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