Mike Nolan is a dead man walking, but firing the coach isn’t enough to fix the 49ers. Owner John York also needs to get significant help for the front office.
Of those currently making key football decisions, York should keep only personnel chief Scot McCloughan, who has done a good job of assembling talent.
Otherwise, the 49ers are short in the front office. Val Heneghan, an NFL veteran, is chiefly a salary-cap expert. York is giving his son Jed a chance to gain experience, working on various projects, but Jed is too young and inexperienced to make football decisions.
The 49ers desperatelyneed somebody with contacts in the NFL, a man who can pick up the phone and get answers from anybody in the league. The perfect man would be Carmen Policy, who knows everybody and has a warm relationship with everybody in the NFL, except Al Davis, who is off in his own little world.
York might be reluctant to bring Policy back, but the situation is growing more and more desperate. Fans are deserting the team in droves. Though the game was an official sellout two days ago, that was only because the 49ers bought up tickets, as they’ve been doing for some time. The stadium was probably not much more than half-full, and it hasn’t been so easy to drive in to the parking lots since Joe Thomas was the general manager.
All this comes at a time when York is trying to get a stadium built, and the Santa Clara plans are falling apart. Policy is working for the city of San Francisco on a proposed stadium in the Hunters Point area, and he could transfer his expertise to the 49ers. He knows how to get a stadium built. If he had stayed with the 49ers in the ’90s, they’d be playing in a new stadium today — and San Francisco would be hosting Super Bowls.
If York is still not willing to bring Policy back and give him the proper authority, he needs to look for a good general manager in the NFL. When he hired Nolan, he gave him the authority to be both general manager and coach, but Nolan has failed miserably in the dual role.
Though I’m sure York doesn’t want to pay off Nolan for the final two years of his contract, no coach survives a season like this, starting off with playoff hopes and degenerating into a team that is the worst in the NFC and, possibly, in the whole NFL. Having watched both teams, I’d say the Niners are worse than the Raiders.
Nolan has clearly lost his team, probably because of his habit of transferring responsibility for the team’s failure to his players or assistant coaches. His dad, Dick, was a standup guy who was respected by his players, but Mike is not. When quarterback Alex Smith got tired of being the scapegoat and said publicly last week that he’d been playing hurt while his coach claimed he was healthy, that was the death knell.
Now, the ball is in John York’s court. If he is ever to escape his public image of a buffoon — and the onerous comparisons to his hated brother-in-law, Eddie DeBartolo — he has to make the right decisions after this season comes to a merciful close.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.