Scot McCloughan’s apparent dismissal as general manager of the 49ers is shocking, and the timing couldn’t be worse, with the 49ers having two first-round choices in the upcoming draft.
It’s a 180-degree change from last spring when team president Jed York was effusive in his praise of McCloughan during a one-on-one meeting. York told me he was in the draft room when McCloughan talked then-coach Mike Nolan into drafting Patrick Willis, saying Willis would be a Pro Bowler from the day he stepped on the field.
But McCloughan’s dismissal apparently had nothing to do with his football decisions, but unspecified “personal issues” aside from the team.
Since Nolan was stripped of much of his authority after the 2008 season, McCloughan had been in total charge of the draft.
Previously, Nolan and McCloughan both met with the media before the draft. Last year, McCloughan was the only one to meet with a small group of media, including me. Though some reporters wrote about McCloughan and coach Mike Singletary working together, it was obvious at that meeting that the draft was McCloughan’s baby.
McCloughan has his critics, but I’m not one of them. He’s made mistakes, as everybody does, and his biggest was probably defensive end Kentwan Balmer, who has been a bust. But talking Nolan into drafting Willis more than makes up for that.
When Nolan was with the Niners, it was more difficult to see who made the final decision on draft day. My sense is that Nolan usually made the call on the first round but deferred to McCloughan and the scouting staff on later rounds.
There is no question McCloughan has pushed for linemen, especially on the offensive side. He maneuvered to get Joe Staley and, though he was injured for most of last season, Staley looks like a player who can be the starting left tackle — the most critical spot on the line — for many years. McCloughan made it clear at last spring’s media meeting that drafting offensive linemen was a priority because they’re expensive to acquire as free agents. The two he tried to bring in that way didn’t work out. Jonas Jennings was often injured and Marvel Smith retired before even playing for the 49ers.
Drafting guard Chilo Rachal was a controversial pick, but he’s developing nicely.
Last year, McCloughan made a no-brainer choice on the first round when Al Davis gifted him with Michael Crabtree, who looks as if he’ll be a premier wide receiver for years. He also took running back Glen Coffee, a solid backup for Frank Gore, and quarterback Nate Davis, who has the physical tools to be a star.
He reworked Alex Smith’s contract, and Smith regained the starting role from Shaun Hill early in the season. This year, McCloughan has signed David Carr as a backup and traded off Hill, both good moves.
The 49ers are in position to make a move up if they can get more offensive line help in what appears to be a very deep draft.
But now, they have to interview free-agent prospects and make draft decisions with the in-house people who will replace McCloughan. Good luck with that.