Don't Bring Back Jerry Rice
Some fans think bringing Rice back would be a good public relations move by the 49ers, but think about that for a moment. Do you really believe anybodyís going to buy season tickets just because Rice is back in a 49ers uniform?
Rice has been a great player, generally considered the best receiver in NFL history, and he has the records to prove it. Heís no longer that receiver. He still has good moves and good hands, but he has lost his speed, so heís just a possession-type receiver now, without the ability to separate from defensive backs that made him so good.
Scot McCloughan, now the chief personnel man for the 49ers, saw Rice up close with the Seattle Seahawks last season, including the playoff game in which not one pass was thrown his way. Heís not blinded by emotion because heís had no previous ties to the 49ers, and heís told Nolan that Rice canít help.
Forget all that talk about Rice mentoring the young receivers, too. That was never really Jerryís style, unless a young receiver came to him specifically. None of the young 49er receivers now would do that, because theyíre judging Rice on what heís doing now, not on his previous accomplishments.
Rice wants to play another season, but I doubt heíll get the opportunity because there are so many younger receivers around the league with similar skills to what he has now, but with a possible upside.
When Rice recognizes the inevitable, the 49ers will bring him to training camp and sign him to a one-day contract, as they did years ago with Roger Craig, so he can retire as a 49er. Then, theyíll hold a ceremony for him during the season, probably at halftime of a game, and retire his number.
Then, we can all remember Rice as the great player he was, and a big contributor to three Super Bowl victories. Believe me, thatís better than watching him now, as even the most sentimental fans should realize.
THAT WILL also allow Nolan to continue with his goal of building his own tradition with the 49ers, breaking from the past, except for the sensible decision to use a version of the Bill Walsh offense. In that, heís like his dad, Dick, who brought an entirely new philosophy to the 49ers when he became head coach Ė and eventually produced three straight playoff teams.
Mike Nolan wants to build with young players who have an upside, and Rice would just take playing time from them, for no purpose. Thereís an immense rebuilding job ahead, and itís important to get the right players in place, not just for this year but the years to come. You can look for several young players, rookies through those with 2-3 years of experience, to be important factors this season.
So far, Iím impressed with what heís done. Heís taken a very professional approach to the job, heís hired good assistants (a real problem last year with Dennis Erickson, whose loyalty to long-time assistants helped to undermine him) and heís brought a fresh approach to the team.
It helps, of course, that heís been around NFL teams since he was a youngster. As Jim Mora Jr. showed in his first season as head coach at Atlanta last year, that enables a coach to hit the ground running, instead of having to figure everything out for himself at the start.
Nolan cautioned at mini-camp last week that the spirited approach by the players was typical of what happens when a new coach comes in Ė because players want to make a good first impression Ė but it was nonetheless pleasing to see the difference from last seasonís lacklustre practices.
Itís not unlike what I witnessed the first time I saw a Jeff Tedford practice and marveled at the fast pace, after the disorganized practices when Tom Holmoe had been the Cal coach. The contrast isnít so marked with the 49ers because Erickson had been a successful coach, though he was woefully miscast with the Niners, but there is certainly more energy than there was last year.
INEVITABLY, THOUGH, the comparison for Nolan will be with Walsh, and there are some good signs there, as well.
The first time I saw a Walsh team practice, when he started with Stanford in 1977, I was struck by how organized his practices were, and that pattern continued when he came to the 49ers. There was never a wasted moment in a Walsh practice, and from what Iíve observed so far, thatís true of a Nolan practice, too.
Like Walsh, Nolan has inherited a 2-14 team, but sometimes, a franchise has to hit bottom to get a chance to come back strongly. Walsh would never have gotten his opportunity if the 49ers hadnít crashed under the Joe Thomas regime, and last seasonís disaster convinced owner John York he had to start fresh with both his coach and personnel people.
Nolan brings new people and a fresh approach to the 49ers, which is good. He wants to look forward, not to the past, however glorious it was. Jerry Rice was a very great player for the 49ers championship teams, but he has no place on this one.
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