49ers Woes, Condolezza Rice, Jeff Tedford, Kevin Riley
It should be obvious even to John York that some serious changes must be contemplated after the season. Among them:
--Bringing in an experienced NFL man to be the president of the organization. Mike Holgren would be a perfect fit, if he’s willing. He’s said that he promised his wife he’d take a year off, but she might not hold him to that if he took a less demanding and time-consuming job than coaching.
Some have advocated getting rid of just-promoted general manager Scot McCloughan or demoting him to his previous status as player personnel head. I don’t agree with that, but I think he needs help. He’s not getting it now.
The new man could also be the face of the franchise. It was pathetic when the Yorks sent out their son, Jeb, to make the dual announcements of the firing of Mike Nolan and the promoting of Mike Singletary at last week’s news conference. Jeb is a bright young man but at 27, he’s not ready to be the club’s spokesman. He was clearly uncomfortable in that role.
--Deciding on the head coach. Singletary is getting an audition now and it may be that he will show that his style of leadership will translate into being a successful head coach. It’s not the wins and losses that will determine that but how the team plays for him. If he is able to get the players to buy into his team-first philosophy, if he can get them to play as a team and reach their potential, he should be able to shed the “interim” label.
If he can’t, there is another logical candidate: Brian Billick. Before the season, Billick had a choice of networks for whom he could work games and chose Fox, because he wanted to learn the NFC, reasoning that there would be more coaching openings in that conference. His ties with the 49ers and Bill Walsh, with whom he wrote a book on football that is the coach’s Bible, are well known.
--Deciding whether to keep Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Forget all that talk about Martz being the head coach. That was never the Niners plan. Now, they have to decide if he’s the right OC. If they do, they’d better bring in the receivers who can fit his system. Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle are not those guys.
--Deciding whether to draft another quarterback. I haven’t given up on J. T. O’Sullivan, though my media colleagues have. I think he can benefit from some time on the bench, so he can understand that he shouldn’t be forcing the ball so much, trying to make plays but instead throwing interceptions.
Shaun Hill is not the answer. Once teams start game-planning to stop him, they’ll realize they can stop him by shutting down the short routes. NFL defensive coordinators are very good at letting teams and players do what they don’t do well and stopping them from doing what they do well. They’ll dare Hill to throw long – and pick off his deep throws if he takes the dare.
I don’t rule out the possibility that Alex Smith will make it in the NFL, but he has so many bad memories here, I can’t see him doing that with the Niners. So, it’s basically sticking with O’Sullivan or drafting another quarterback with what will once again be a high pick.
--Looking at their assistant coaches. Is the defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, the right choice? The results haven’t been there. The lack of a pass rush is a special weakness. The offensive line has been disappointing, and I think the biggest problem has been coaching.
So, the 49ers have their work cut out for them. Given their track record under the Yorks, if you bet that they can do it, better get very long odds.
CONDOLEEZA RUMOR: One of the many rumors floating around about the 49ers is that Condoleeza Rice is a candidate to be the club president. She certainly is interested in football, as I learned when she was provost at Stanford in the early ‘90s.
The Stanford athletic department was very aware that Condi, as she was known then, had to vet the important decisions. When Bill Walsh retired after his second stint as head football coach, I heard from several sources that she had told athletic director Ted Leland that she wanted him to hire a black coach. At a news conference, she was quoted saying she had told the athletic department she wanted them to look at minority candidates. When Tyrone Willingham was named coach, I wrote that she had had a hand in that, referencing her statement at the news conference.
She called me and denied that she had said that, and she e-mailed The Chronicle to demand a retraction. I looked for it and couldn’t find it, remembering it as something that had appeared in The Chronicle. My son eventually located it in a piece by Dwight Chapin in the Sunday Examiner, but by that time, The Chronicle had run a retraction. I called Ms. Rice and told her. She apologized – but she did not contact the paper.
Subsequently, we had three one-on-one conversations which were friendly and informative. She is a formidable woman, personable and very intelligent. I can’t believe she would take a job working for the Yorks. But then, she has been working for W.
TEDFORD ON RILEY: Kevin Riley did not have great statistics in Saturday’s win over UCLA, but Cal coach Jeff Tedford, aware that Riley was often under pressure, praised his play at yesterday’s media lunch.
“Kevin made good decisions,” he said. “UCLA had four turnovers and we had none, which was huge. There were times when he had to take a sack, but he made sure he hung on to the ball. One of his real attributes is his ability to take the ball down and run, and he did that a couple of times. He made nice throws into tight coverage that were either knocked down or dropped by receivers. And that throw he made on the flea-flicker was a great throw.”
Perhaps the most significant Riley stat is this: In 154 passes, he has thrown only two interceptions. He didn’t throw any against the Bruins, despite the intense pressure he felt.
Tedford said that Riley is the starter “right now”, but indicated that the situation with Riley and Nate Longshore is still fluid. “I’m not a fan of the two-quarterback system,” he said, “but it is what it is. With Kyle Boller, with Aaron Rodgers, I never had to think week-to-week who the starter would be, but now I do.”
My guess, though, is that Riley could put this fluctuation to rest with a solid – and winning – effort against Oregon on Saturday.
KIFFIN IN SEATTLE? With Willingham gone after this season, fired Raiders coach Lane Kiffin has emerged as a candidate. He’d be a good choice. He did a good job under very adverse circumstances in Oakland – the Kiffin critics might note that the Raiders have been blown out in two of the three games they’ve played since he left – but I think he’s better suited to college coaching.
The job is no longer a coach’s dream, though. Once the Huskies could get any top player they wanted in the northwest. Now, that player is much more likely to go to Oregon, which has had some very good teams under Mike Bellotti while the Huskies have careened from one coaching disaster to another, Rick Neuheisel to Keith Gilbertson to Willingham.
But, there’s still a lot of potential there. The program still has great support from both alumni and casual fans, as you can tell just by seeing all the purple when you walk around downtown Seattle. It won’t happen overnight, but the right coach can bring the Huskies back.
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