SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After five straight losing seasons,
the San Francisco 49ers still believe everything is going according
to coach Mike Nolan's plan.
Nolan will return to the 49ers next season despite going 16-32
in his first three years with the club. Scot McCloughan, their top
personnel executive, was formally announced as general manager
Wednesday, getting a contract extension and a raise.
And other than those new business cards for McCloughan, 49ers
owner John York apparently made no significant changes to his
beleaguered franchise's power structure after the longest streak of
losing football in team history.
Nolan, who previously had the final say on all football
decisions, and McCloughan will continue to make joint decisions on
every issue for the 49ers (5-11), even though McCloughan now has
"the trigger," as Nolan put it.
"I will remain the one voice in this organization, and the
face," Nolan said. "I don't believe it will change at all. The
important thing is that we will maintain the relationship. We'll
still communicate on all issues. ... I'm not disappointed at all. I
was in favor of it. I've been in favor of it for a long time."
Nolan made one inevitable move by firing rookie offensive
coordinator Jim Hostler, whose unit finished last in the NFL with
219 points. Nolan is on the lookout for a veteran NFL man to become
San Francisco's sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons.
But Hostler's ouster appears to be the only significant
alteration to the 49ers' direction after a season that began with
playoff hopes -- and fell apart with an eight-game losing streak and
an embarrassing public disagreement between the head coach and
quarterback Alex Smith, the former No. 1 draft pick.
Nolan thinks he can mend his relationship with Smith, who said
Nolan undermined him in the locker room after he complained about
the severity of his separated shoulder, which kept him out for most
of 10 games.
"If there was some way to improve the lack of communication, as
Alex called it, I would have," Nolan said. "We were two people
exchanging conversations, but not hooking up well."
San Francisco lost 20-7 at Cleveland last Sunday to complete an
embarrassing run of losing for a franchise with five Super Bowl
trophies. The 49ers haven't finished better than 7-9 in three
seasons under Nolan and McCloughan.
"It was a big part [of the decision] that Mike Nolan would be
around, because I totally believe in what he started here, what we
started here," McCloughan said. "We're all in this together, and
we want to make the best decisions together."
Their third season in San Francisco easily was the most
disappointing, with 10 losses in 11 games erasing Nolan's bold
hopes for a playoff run. The season also was personally taxing on
Nolan, whose father, former 49ers coach Dick Nolan, died one day
before a game at Seattle.
Nolan, who didn't get a contract extension, has two years left
on a five-year, $8 million deal. The sharpest-dressed coach in
franchise history also is the first to return after three straight
Two days after abruptly canceling his season-ending news
conference for a series of intense meetings with York, Nolan gave
no indication his future ever was even in doubt with the 49ers.
York, the much-criticized owner who has presided over the 49ers'
fall from power, answered only one question from reporters before
"Mike had recognition and solutions to these problems that were
completely acceptable to us, and we moved forward from there,"
According to Nolan and McCloughan, those problems are nothing
they can't fix together.
McCloughan, a 36-year-old former minor league baseball player,
was hired by Nolan to run the 49ers' personnel operations three
years ago. Considered a rising star executive with ties to
respected former Packers GM Ron Wolf, McCloughan is eager to
continue the work he's already done in restocking the
talent-starved roster left by Terry Donahue.
Nolan and McCloughan have made significant strides in rebuilding
San Francisco's decimated roster and installing a decent defense.
But the franchise that reinvented offensive football in the 1980s
has been mostly incompetent with the ball in Nolan's tenure.
Nolan was left in a jam when coordinator Norv Turner departed
for San Diego last February. Former quarterbacks coach Hostler was
hastily installed, but the desperate hire didn't work: San
Francisco finished last in the league in total yards (3,797), yards
passing (2,320), offensive touchdowns (23), first downs (218),
sacks allowed (55) and third-down conversions (31.4 percent).
Nolan didn't announce any additional departures from the
offensive coaching staff, saying those jobs will be reviewed by the
new offensive coordinator. Frank Cignetti, who replaced Hostler as
quarterbacks coach, reportedly is a candidate to become the
University of Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
The 49ers also said rookie cornerback Tarell Brown injured two
ligaments in his right knee in the season finale at Cleveland, but
might not require surgery.