Mailbag: Coaches as GM killers?

Kevin from San Diego writes: Question on Mike Holmgren. You've heard the "Coach Killer" references about players that seem to go through coaches during their careers, i.e. Mike Vick in Atlanta. Would you consider Holmgren a "GM Killer?" Here's my take. Holmgren, during his tenure in Seattle, has gone through Bob Whitsitt, Bob Ferguson, Tim Ruskell and you could even say Holmgren the GM. Is it fair to put that label on coaches that go through general managers like he has during his time with the Seahawks?

Mike Sando: It takes a good coach to outlast multiple general managers and team presidents. Holmgren is definitely a good coach. That has allowed him to outlast some of those guys (although Ruskell remained in Seattle after Holmgren departed).

Like every coach, Holmgren wants things done his way. Unlike every coach, Holmgren has the "juice" (one of his terms) to get things done his way. He felt as though the Seattle job turned out different than advertised in that Whitsitt had more power than he had anticipated. I remember a Holmgren confidant telling me years ago that Whitsitt reminded Holmgren early on that Whitsitt, not Holmgren, was the one in charge. I've spoken with Whitsitt enough over the years to know his side of the story is different. He saw himself as supportive to Holmgren and rooting for Holmgren the whole time.

The bottom line is the same. Holmgren wants a direct line to ownership and full control over personnel. That is one thing the Browns can apparently offer him, and the main appeal of that job from Holmgren's perspective. Seattle would still be Holmgren's top choice, but the ownership situation there is different. As much as Holmgren likes Paul Allen, no one has a direct line to the Seahawks' owner.

Justin from Phoenix writes: Mike, I appreciate what the Cardinals have done under Ken Whisenhunt on one hand, but on the other it is so frustrating that they have mental breakdowns like in the Niner game. Is there anything you have seen or can pinpoint as to why the Cardinals are not more consistent?

Mike Sando: I do not know the answer to that question. They have at times relied a little heavily on the pass, and that can lead to inconsistent results against certain teams. That would be one potential factor. If you look at their bad defeats, turnovers will be the root of the problem most of the time. Turnovers can result from lack of focus, which can result from immaturity. Turnovers can also result from a bad matchup. I just do not know for sure. I also do not know whether the Cardinals are unusually inconsistent. The 49ers won by 35 one week and lost by 35 the next. The Seahawks won by 41 one week and lost by 24 the next. It's the nature of the game sometimes.

Jose writes via Facebook: Ram fans everywhere rejoice! Let's hope that we get at least a serviceable replacement for Richie Incognito that will not cost yards every game and that either Alex Barron takes a lesson from this or that he is released. The Rams stink, but I like that they are not standing pat and letting the organization get dragged down by players with character issues.

Mike Sando: Barron is in the final season of his contract and almost certainly will not be back. I was watching Rams-Titans again Friday night (hey, it's my job) and noticing how many offensive breakdowns traced directly to Barron getting beat in one-on-one matchups. There is no question in my mind the Rams messed up by playing Jason Smith on the right side for so long. They would not have been worse this season with Smith at left tackle and Adam Goldberg at right tackle.

The way things turned out, Barron played the left side all season, for no good reason. He was not good over there and Smith did not get a chance to develop at left tackle. You're right, though. At least Incognito won't be costing the team 15 yards when they cannot afford such setbacks.

Jon from New York writes: These days it seems that you need an elite quarterback to be a serious contender in the NFL. Does Alex Smith have the potential to become that kind of QB in the future, or do you think he is more likely to doom the 49ers to years of being average (or even above average)? I worry about him becoming just good enough to keep the 49ers in the NFC West and Wild Card hunt (and therefore keep his job), but not being able to take the 49ers to the next level.

Mike Sando: John Clayton and I were just having this conversation (regarding the need for elite quarterbacks in general, not the 49ers' situation in particular). It's just so clear that this is an offensive league. John asked me to quickly name which team has the best defense in the league. It's not clear cut. But when you look at the teams with great records, you're generally looking at teams with great or near-great or at least Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks.

The 49ers do not have the luxury of holding out for a great quarterback. They need to find out how good Smith can become. Perhaps he can develop into a quarterback good enough to make a playoff appearance. That would mark an improvement.