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Mailbag: Holmgren and the 49ers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ikee from Philadelphia writes: Ok Mike, I asked you a question before asking if Nolan was fired do you think Alex Smith might come back to San Francisco for a pay cut or if he still had a chance to be the No. 1 QB.

Well, Nolan is gone earlier than expected.
I would still like to know if Smith may be back next year, but I also would like your thoughts on the future of the franchise. Do you think Mike Singletary will remain the head coach and what about Mike Holmgren? Everyone knows he wants to join the 49ers in some way in the future. Could that be as a head coach or a GM and if so how soon?

Mike Sando: Mike Holmgren told his family he would take the 2009 season off. I expect Holmgren to honor that promise. He'll have other opportunities, perhaps even in San Francisco. But unless his family urges him to dive back in right away, Holmgren will probably sit out next season. I have wondered, however, if his thinking could change based on what happens this season. If the Seahawks finish with a horrible record, would it make Holmgren need the year off even more, or would he be itching to bounce back sooner?

Whatever timeline Holmgren follows, I'm sure he will do his homework about an organization before taking a job, for reasons explained in this 2005 Holmgren profile I wrote from the NFL meetings in Hawaii. In short, Holmgren clashed with then-Seahawks president Bob Whitsitt. As Holmgren put it then:

"I really came to Seattle thinking it was something else. I'm not throwing anybody under the bus, but I thought it was going to be something, and it wasn't that, and then you kind of live with it. Then at some point you say, 'Man, what was I told when I first came here? This is not even close.' But you know what? Having said that, I don't regret my decision at all."

You can count on Holmgren taking precautions to ward off a repeat in his next job. He'll get things in writing to make sure the organization is set up the way he wants it set up.

As for Mike Singletary, I think he'll have to grow into the role in a hurry and win games to keep the job. Nolan was learning how to be a head coach while being a head coach. He wasn't very presidential in his dealings with people. The head coach should be able to handle people more effectively. And by people, I mean people beyond the players. Holmgren does that very well. Singletary must prove he can do that better than Nolan. He has to win games and this is not going to be a consistent team with a first-year starting quarterback.

It's too early to make a call on Alex Smith's future with the 49ers past this season. Having Nolan leave doesn't hurt the odds, that's for sure. But we still do not know who will be coaching the team in 2009. That's the key.


Scott from Boise writes: Mr. Sando, I have been hearing some rumors about the possibility of Mike Holmgren maybe taking a job with the niners next season. Do you think this has any substance to it? I think its a bit of a stretch myself but at the same time would love to see him there in any capacity. Also, If the niners get low enough (top 10) in the draft what do you think about the current crop of QB's as far as looking for a franchise QB and do you think it would be a good idea to look at drafting another QB this draft for the niners?
Mike Sando: It's a case of connecting the dots. Holmgren is stepping down this season. Holmgren coached with the 49ers. Holmgren is from San Francisco. The 49ers might need a new head coach and/or front-office person. Beyond that, it's all speculation right now. Current GM Scot McCloughan does think very highly of Holmgren. The two worked together in Seattle. That's another dot you can connect, but that's all it is.


Salbo from parts unknown writes: I wouldn't say that Shaun Hill "failed" to win the job in the preseason. He was set up to fail by Martz, who clearly wanted O'Sullivan to be the QB. [O'Sullivan] played for Martz the year before, so he had the advantage because he knew the playbook.

Hill played very well at the end of the season last year, throwing 5 TD and 1 INT. The 49ers even signed him to a 3-yr extension in the offseason. He didn't play well in the preseason because he never played with the 1st unit, coming into games to mop up in the 4th quarter with players who didn't make the team. He got royally screwed this year by Martz. O'Sullivan is clearly not the answer. Hill deserves to play.

Mike Sando: What you said balances what I said. Hill did have opportunities early in camp.


Greenejm from Cocoa, Fla., writes: What are the chances of Bill Cowher coming into S.F. as the head coach for the 2009 season?
Mike Sando: Bill Cowher will be able to pick his spot if and when he returns to the game. I'm not sure the 49ers can make a better offer than other franchises.


Lweathers from Los Banos, Calif., writes: Why won't they bench o'sullivan and put in the second string. If we would just give the ball to frank gore a little more we might have a chance on keeping the ball out of the other players' hands.
Mike Sando: We'll have to see how the 49ers' approach changes with a new head coach. Mike Nolan said O'Sullivan would remain the starter. That declaration means little right now.


Dennis from parts unknown writes: How can Alex Smith have lost the job in pre-season when he never got to play with the starting line-up? He never had a chance to prove he could learn the system. My guess is Martz convinced Nolan that the team would learn the system faster with a quarterback who already knew it, and he could cover for O'Sullivan's obvious technical deficiencies.
Nolan already had issues with Smith and probably wasn't hard to convince. These are professionals; you would have to have missed Smith's entire sophomore year under Norv Turner to believe that they thought O'Sullivan would be a better option; I guess these professionals missed him holding the ball too long, at his waist, couldn't see his slow release or his staring down a single receiver on each play? If he has to pass more than forty yards, its a total crapshoot. Smith may never have been an all-pro but the pathetic 49ers organization never gave him a chance to succeed.

Mike Sando: I agree that Alex Smith was never given the chance we would have expected a No. 1 overall choice to receive. The decision makes more sense in retrospect given the fragile nature of Smith's shoulder. Smith landed on injured reserve without even taking a hit. That injury situation makes it harder to envision Smith leading the offense at this point in the season.


Randy from Seattle writes: Mike, I was reading an earlier post where you wrote the way Seattle is playing "right now" we'd be lucky to finsh 4-12. I appreciate your honesty. I'm a die hard Hawks fan, h
owever, I'm also a realist. I look at the remaining schedule and I can honestly say I don't know if the Hawks can win another game this season (the way they're currently playing). Not the way I wanted to see Holmgren go out.
Looking toward the future. I see a possible top 10 draft pick. What is your opinion of Ruskell's ability to make sound decisions when drafting? Does he over-emphasize character? Were Tatupu, Hill and Mebane just lucky picks that happened to work out? Spencer is a borderline bust (way to pay attention to the snap count).

The jury is still out on Jennings, Wilson and Atkins. Also, do you have a ballpark on Seattle's 09 cap projection? I think Wistrom comes off the books and I read that the Hawks took the full hit this year for Alexander rather than spreading it out over two seasons. Thanks for your time and all of the work you put in to the blog!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Randy. It is hard to envision Seattle winning another game based on the way the offense is performing. Projecting four victories might take into account Matt Hasselbeck's expected return in the next couple weeks. Even then, the season appears lost.

Tim Ruskell has proven he does a pretty good job drafting defensive players. John Carlson is looking like a very good pick for offense. His other offensive picks since taking the job: Doug Nienhuis, Tony Jackson, Ray Willis, David Greene, Chris Spencer, Ben Obomanu, David Kirtman, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Jordan Kent, Courtney Taylor, Mansfield Wrotto, Justin Forsett and Owen Schmitt. Spencer and Sims (since injured) would be the only starters beyond Carlson, and neither has played well this season.

Picking later in the draft is going to lengthen the odds, in theory, but that's not a great list.


Philingatar from parts unknown writes: back in the late 70's the 49ers reached out to Stanford and grabbed their upcoming successful coach and started a dynasty from it. Maybe it is time to repeat history and take a look at Harbaugh as the next wave of the future niners.
Mike Sando: It's getting harder for coaches to earn the respect of players. The next coach needs to command that respect.


Jason from San Francisco writes: Hey Sando, what do you think of the 49ers offering the job to Mike Singletary? He is clearly a great motivator and knows linebacking, but does he have the other traits necessary to be a good, young head coach moving forward (a la Mike Tomlin)?
Mike Sando: Tomlin had been a coordinator. Singletary is less proven from an organizational standpoint. He does strike me as having things together. He just seems so focused. You could say he looks the part. As a 49ers fan, you should have some optimism here. There's nothing to lose by giving Singletary a chance. It's a great opportunity to get a first-hand look at a guy without committing two or three seasons to him.