Niners fans left wondering ‘what if’

It had to be painful for 49ers fans on Sunday, thinking of the two that got away.

The least obvious is offensive coordinator Mike Martz. I supported Mike Singletary’s elevation to head coach, though he knew nothing about offensive football, because Martz was there. But the first move Singletary made was to fire Martz.

Oops! In sports as in business, strong men hire strong assistants, as Bill Walsh did with the Niners, because they know that strong subordinates will help them succeed. Weak men hire weak assistants who don’t challenge them, and that’s what causes them to fail.

Singletary couldn’t get a good replacement for Martz because top candidates didn’t want to work with him. So he had to settle for the last man standing, Jimmy Raye.

Now, Martz is in Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler is having a career year, and the Bears are 9-3, leading the NFC North.

It would have been nice to see what Alex Smith could have done with Martz as the coordinator. Instead, he had to work under Raye and now Mike Johnson, both of them burdened by having to fit their play calling into Singletary’s Stone Age vision of the offense an NFL team should run.

And the 49ers are 4-8. Sigh.

The other one who got away is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. When Rodgers came out in 2005, several writers, including me, wrote that the Niners should take him with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Rodgers had played in a pro-type offense at Cal and looked ready to play in the NFL.

Mike Nolan thought he knew better, so he took Smith, who had only two years of collegiate experience, playing in a spread offense, after just one year of high school ball — which he spent mostly handing off to Reggie Bush.

Even those who liked Smith knew he would be a project because he had zero experience working in a pro offense. He came to a team with a porous offensive line and weak receivers. He never had a chance.

We can only speculate on how Rodgers would have done. Certainly, he would have struggled, too, because he wouldn’t have had a strong supporting cast. But having known Rodgers at Cal, I knew that he had the kind of confidence a quarterback needs to win in the NFL.

He fell to the 24th overall pick on draft day, which was a blow, but eventually, that helped him because he landed with a good team, the Packers. He watched Brett Favre for three years, then took over.

Now, he is in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. Though he has little in the way of a supporting running game, he has the Packers in contention for the top prize.

Against the Niners, he showed the whole package. San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky tried everything — zone coverage, all-out blitzes, a combination — but nothing worked. Rodgers completed short passes for first downs and hit on a couple of bombs for touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are auditioning still another Smith at quarterback — this one Troy — but he’s shown little since his explosive game against the Rams.

And 49ers fans can only dream of what might have been.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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