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The Oxymoron - By Bryan Hersh Jan 14 2008

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

In 49ers history there have been a few events that have changed the course of team history. “The Catch” is an obvious one that comes to mind. “The Steve Young Trade” and “The 1986 Draft” are two others. Thanks to recent hiring of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator for the team, we have yet another event: “The Oxymoron”. An event that will likely change to the course of the franchise forever, and at the same time, is as full of contradiction as ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘virtual reality’. For there is no other way of explaining the addition of Martz to the 49ers then as a contradiction.

I have to admit, that before the signing of Martz I was really disappointed with the 49ers offseason actions thus far. The promotion of Scott Mcloughan, who was deserving, was hardly earth shattering and I remain unconvinced that anything at all had changed as a result of the promotion. Sure the team said that coach Mike Nolan no longer had his finger on the trigger, but even if true, that was hardly satisfying. Truth is, I had a very hard time understanding how Nolan could be hired back to coach the club in 2008. Despite all the reasons that I was rollin’ from the start of his tenure, and the good that did come out of his time in San Francisco, I had myself convinced that he was not the answer to return the 49ers to glory.

As it turns out, Nolan will get one more chance to hit the home run, and this time he is swinging for the fences. I don’t know if that will be enough to save his career, but I admire a man who fights to the bitter end. I also am thoroughly impressed by his persuasive powers, and would hope that his ‘force’ can be used equally well on game day. But I digress. What I really wanted was a new head coach. Someone from the Bill Walsh coaching tree, and someone from as high up on that tree as you could get. I wanted the West Coast Offense in its truest form to return to San Francisco, and at the very least if this could not be done from a head coach, then I wanted it to hold true for the offensive coordinator.

Of course, I am not naēve. I recognize that the 49ers offensive weapons do not exactly fit the West Cost Offense image, but given the brutal production of the past year, I was and perhaps am still ready to start from the very beginnings. All of this though, is for naught. As Mike Martz comes to the team, completing every contradiction I can imagine in what I figured would be the best path for the 49ers to travel. And so I wonder… is it possible that this other path can be successful? Is it possible that the West Coast Offense, perhaps the most storied offense, the most respected offense, the most adaptable and arguably the most unstoppable offense in the history of football, is no longer the way to build an offense. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know, that I am not rollin’ just yet, and I can’t imagine tooting Nolan’s horn until I see a big time difference, and big time results on the field. Change has certainly taken place. Whether that change will better the football team remains to be seen.

The hiring of Martz does change my opinion on the offseason thus far. The 49ers did make a big splash, did make a key move, did do something that was totally different from what I was expecting. And while I can preach for the need of new owners or a new coach, I am somewhat intrigued by what is to come. Despite this, the lack of a true understanding of football operations throughout most of the 49ers front office continues to scare me, and continues to make me wonder just how far off the beaten path this team is, and whether The Oxymoron will simply prove to be another one of Nolan’s poor decisions, that could only be rectified with his departure.

So long as I am considering whether the front office operations are up to par, I continue to wonder whether the Martz hiring was a sign that Nolan was flexing his will on the team to show that the power remains in his chair. The 49ers front office, including Mcloughan did not believe Martz to be a serious candidate for the position. And yet, now he’s hired and in command of the 49ers offense. Did Nolan hire Martz because he was the best candidate for the job? Or did he hire Martz to show that he still is the judge, jury and executioner on the team. It appears that the latter is true regardless of the intent of the hire, which further demonstrates my belief that there has been no power shift in the 49ers organization since the end of the season. Further, if the offense proves successful, will that be due to operating in isolation? Will the team be run almost separately by two would be coordinators, each looking to affix themselves atop the 49ers totem poll? Would Nolan have anticipated that? If Nolan is no longer the man with his finger on the trigger, then it is not that far fetched that a bad start to next season could bring Martz to the top of the coaching structure in San Francisco. If Nolan thought he had to flex his power to show his control in the past, he will be up for a bigger challenge now as he tries to keep a team that is built on entirely different wave lengths operating under one umbrella. That is a task that even the best managers can struggle with. Nolan now has an opportunity to prove he has what it takes to be a head coach in the NFL. The strength of that umbrella will be a good indicator of the likeliness of Nolan to remain in control (both figuratively and literally) of the team.

Analyzing The Oxymoron

Ego vs Ego
Between Nolan and Martz the 49ers now own two of the largest ego’s in the league outside of Terrell Owens. This has the potential to seriously rupture the team, with players taking sides, or with coaches feeling battered as ‘the other side’ does what they think is best with little care for anything else. This can get very, very, messy. Though the two have worked together before, that was a long time ago. Long enough that neither’s ego had fully formed.

Risk Adverse vs Risk Seeker
Nolan is an extremely risk adverse coach. He doesn’t like to take chances with the football. Martz is the exact opposite. He wants to take the chance, and dare to be great. Both approaches have their advantages but obviously clash at their very foundations. If Nolan truly has the final say on offensive play calls, then this relationship will not last for long. There is no way Martz runs a 5 yard out on third and 20. It’s just not going to happen.

Ultra-Conservative vs Super-Active
In everything Nolan does, he is ultra conservative. From the suits he wears at home games, to the offense he advocates. His play calling is only not conservative when fan pressure pushes him to go for it -and that is often done in the wrong situations. Martz is super-active and will demand long hours and hard work from his players. His brain is always re-creating the offense, and he’s not scared about taking chance. Again the two are in complete contradiction.

Ball Control vs Quick Strike
Given the two coaches risk profiles, it’s not surprising that Nolan likes to control the ball and the clock. Martz simply wants to score points. That means going for broke, and big chunks of yards. Again, there is no way one system can exist within the other - no matter how much Martz praised the running game, and running back Frank Gore is his first interview as a 49er. The only way these two coaches will have a meetings of minds is if they can put ego aside - and given the size of their egos the likelihood of this happening is quite minimal.

Long term consistency vs looking for a HC job
A further inconsistency with Martz is that he is not looking to remain an offensive coordinator for very long. He has made it clear he wants to be a head coach again. While this does not contradict the aspirations of Nolan, it is very contradictory to what the 49ers need right now... consistency. Martz is the 6th offensive coordinator in as many years for the team, and there is no way any success can be expected with that type of change over. The 49ers need a man who is willing to hold on to the job, foster a successor, and move on when it is best for the team. Martz is not that man. He will not foster a coaching tree - he never has, and his ego will push him to take a head coaching job as soon as it comes his way.

Offense vs Defense
At the very bottom of the barrel, the two coaches are of different up bringings. Nolan a defensive, and Martz an artist of the offense. At the very core, this is why they have such different views on the game of football. Is it the offense or defense that wins championships? The truth is neither can subsist alone, and that because these two coaches are so different, and such experts in their opposing sides of the field. There is a great opportunity for each to better themselves. That opportunity though can only be found if all the contradictions can be pushed aside.

And yet, sure as jumbo shrimp and virtual reality make sense, so does the hiring of Martz. Everyone of the contradictions that Martz brings to the club is a good thing. Staying the course, and keeping to the existing path is exactly the last thing the 49ers needed to do. The team has fallen so far off the deep end, they needed a drastic change. Martz is that change.

The Need For Change

If you listen to Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner speak or even John Kitna for that matter you’ll hear deep admiration of Martz and his offensive mastery. The players talk about working hard, really hard, but seeing the dividends.; of the way that Martz moulds quarterbacks, and of how players talent is maximized. Martz’s offense will, as Faulk put, “blow your mind”. 49ers fans need that type of offense, but so does Mike Nolan, who prefers play calling as boring as boiled chicken.

Martz is a revolution for the 49ers not an evolution. He takes the team down a very different path than it is on, and down a path they have not strayed before. At first glance that could mean trouble for some offensive players, who don’t fit the mould of what Martz typically assembles on his teams; but, when you listen to Martz speak about players like Frank Gore, you realize - his sole objective is to improve whatever cards he is dealt with, and to help those players reach their potential. For Gore, that can be exciting, but for players like Alex Smith or Vernon Davis who still seem very far off from reaching their potential, Martz could be their saviour. Of course, Martz could also be the executioner. In allowing Martz input on the offensive make up, Nolan can insulate himself from being the reason players are cut that he drafted. That of course, could include Alex Smith if Martz is unable to help him reach his potential. For it is one thing for a player not succeed under a Nolan offense, but if Martz can’t get that player to reach their potential, than the excuse can no longer be with the coaching staff.

Martz will bring a new attitude to the 49ers offense. Players and coaches better be ready. They will have to shape up or ship out because of how demanding Martz is. If players are not prepared to really dedicate themselves to getting better Martz will look elsewhere just as he has in the past. That too is something the 49ers need, as Nolan has shown a tendency to be gun shy when it comes to replacing non-producing talent.

Perhaps an even more intriguing aspect of having Martz on the 49ers is what he and Nolan can do for each other. It is clear the two are as different from each other as chocolate is to vanilla - but both are masters of their respective sides of the field. If the two can regularly bounce plays off of each other, to see how a defense or offense would react under different circumstances, they may make each better on their own side of the field.

Very clearly, Martz is change. Whether or not he is the change the 49ers needed is yet to be determined. Still, the 49ers are now on a very different path than they have been in years. In my books, that is a good thing. I was looking for wholesale change, and this is pretty close to that. I do wonder whether this is just another bad Nolan decision, but somehow, in a weird way, I think this will work out. It is not what I wanted out of the change, which was a strong West Coast Offense / Bill Walsh coach returning to the team, but if I can’t have that, and evidently I can’t, then Martz may just be the next best option.

The pro’s do appear to outweigh the con’s with this move. Though Martz may not be the best fit for the team, he brings an offensive skill set that is very different, and in many respects greater than most in the NFL. He’s erratic at times, sure, but he also brings instant credibility to the offense, and will scare opposing defensive coordinators providing the players can step up and operate in the system. Martz is as different from the present state 49ers as one could have imagined, and that by itself is a good thing.

Left with The Oxymoron, maybe it’s enough to get rollin’ with Nolan again, maybe it’s not. But at the very least the 49ers offense should be the antithesis of what they were this past season, and that does bring some excitement back to the team.

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