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Welcome to SF Mike Nolan - By Bryan Hersh September 18 2007

THIS CONTENT IS COPYWRITED, REDISTRIBUTION OF IT (including copy/pasting it to a message board, forum or bbs) IS PROHIBITED AND COULD RESULT IN LEGAL ACTIONS - feel free to quote up to 1 paragraph providing a source link to http://www.49ersparadise.com is included

Mike Nolan may have thought he knew what it meant to be the head coach of the 49ers. He likely understood what the city’s expectations of him and the team were. After all, over the past two years Nolan has worked to rebuild the 49ers into the powerhouse that lead them to five Super Bowls. It is quite unlikely though that Nolan was prepared for what he has experienced in starting the 49ers season 2-0 this year.

Welcome to San Francisco Mike Nolan. The saying goes, “a win, is a win” but such is not the case when you are leading the 49ers, the pride and joy of San Francisco. For the past two seasons 49ers fans have give Mike Nolan a great deal of leeway in how he managed the team, what his plans were, how many games he won in a season. Progress, became the theme, and the goal, simply improvement. Three years later the coach is learning very quickly how relentless 49ers fans can be, and exactly what the expectations are for the Red and Gold.

Suddenly, progress and improvement are not enough. Winning is the only option. The goal is Super Bowl or bust – and the sooner Nolan comes to this realization the longer his tenure will be in San Francisco. Fans do not just want the 49ers to win, they want to win in a certain way, with class, and with lots of points. They want to be the elite team in the NFL in every category – and are unsatisfied with anything less. While no one is suggesting that Nolan’s job is in jeopardy, it is not uncommon in San Francisco for winning coaches, and for pro-bowl players to be shown the door for achieving anything less than perfection.

The leash Mike Nolan has had while rebuilding the team, while fighting salary cap trouble, and while undoing most of what Dennis Erickson did has been tightened. The expectations of Nolan and the 49ers are now back where they should be – and have been since the days of Bill Walsh, and despite being 2-0, Nolan is seeing the ugly side of San Francisco.

If Nolan suffered sleepless nights while trying to turn the team around, he will suffer nightmares while trying to live up to the expectations of 49ers fans. His job has just been taken to a new level, and whether he realizes it or not, he is now running on a treadmill that will only get faster until eventually he falls off. There is no stopping. No time to catch a breath.

The 49ers best start to a season since 1998 has been overshadowed by an offensive performance that leaves much to be desired. Ranked last in the NFL fans are already intolerant for the play calling, questioning the succession of Jim Hostler to replace Norv Turner at offensive coordinator, doubting personnel decisions as Ashley Lelie sits at 4th string receiver, and even questioning whether Alex Smith should continue to start in his third year with the club. Attention Mike Nolan, it is time to make your mark on the 49ers community because this is what it is like to be the coach of a winning 49ers team. There is no doubt it is a harder job than that of a losing coach in San Francisco.

Everything the 49ers have displayed in their two victories this season suggests that the fans are right to take issue with the wins. Championship teams do not rank last in the NFL on offense. Nor do they have trouble converting third downs or in the red zone. Champion teams do not call running plays to begin almost every first down opportunity, they do not leave a talented play maker on the bench at receiver, and they do not let the opposition dictate the pace of a game. Championship teams capitalize on turnovers, and do not leave points on the board. The 49ers are struggling in each of these areas and others too.

The three big questions:
Is it the offensive coordinator?
Is it the personnel?
Is it something else?

Part of the 49ers problem, despite Mike Nolan’s counter position is offensive coordinator Jim Hostler. For whatever reason he has handcuffed Alex Smith, or has failed to help Smith reach his potential Whatever the case, the plays called during the game lack creativity, and the offensive plan is highly predictable and conservative. While teams stack the box to contain Frank Gore, the 49ers offense does absolutely nothing to loosen the box, or counter it. Instead the continually run Gore into that box. With an athletic quarterback like Smith, the team should be rolling him out, they should be utilizing a play action fake, and they should be loading the offensive weapons (Vernon Davis, Arnaz Battle, Derrick Jackson, Ashley Lelie) out wide to spread the defense. The team is simply not doing anything to counter the heavy loaded box, and as such is struggling to convert third downs, to convert points, and to build an offensive rhythm.

One of two things would happen if the 49ers countered the box in the aforementioned manner. 1) Teams would loosen the box, and Gore could run wild. 2) Teams would maintain the box, and the 49ers receivers could light it up.

There are three areas of question when it comes to the 49ers personnel. 1) Taylor Jacobs vs Ashley Lelie, 2) Alex Smith 3) Vernon Davis. The first point is really simple. Two games, two starts for Jacobs, and its very clear that Lelie should be on the field. He simply could not be the worse option, and at the very least could streak down the field on every play giving the opposition fits as they try and protect against a down field threat like that. There is no question it is a mistake to keep Lelie on the bench. Secondly, Alex Smith has been unsuccessful in getting the ball to his key weapons. Whether that is due to the offensive line, due to the play calling (and resulting lack of opportunity), or his own lack of development, remains undetermined. But either way, something has got to change, and the only way the 49ers will know if they have to look for a new quarterback in the offseason is by making sure that the play calling, and offensive line give Smith every opportunity to grow into his role. Lastly, Vernon Davis is not a blocking tight end. He might be a good blocker, maybe even a great blocker, but his talents are wasted if the team is not getting the ball in his hands. Davis claims to be open, but the ball is not coming his way, and furthermore the team has yet to line him up in the backfield as well. The 49ers need to attack the middle of the field, and have the weapon in Davis to do that. This is not a question of whether he can or can’t at the moment, but a question of why he is being used so ineffectively.

Is it something else? In a nutshell, the 49ers’ biggest problems at 2-0, are mentioned above, but that does not mean that if these areas are corrected that the team will not be criticized. Penalties, turnovers, kick returns (see Williams, Brandon), and yes, even the defense (which has carried this team so far) will come under further scrutiny. Mike Nolan will soon realize that winning is harder than losing in San Francisco and that there is still a long, long way to go.

So 49ers fans, it is certainly great to be back, complaining about a winning team, and demanding perfection. Continue to expect more, continue to demand more, and the team may just respond.

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