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Too Late? - By Bryan Hersh Nov 21 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

It has been an interesting season for the 49ers, a tough season, one that has been hard to watch, and IÕd hate to imagine what it has been like to experience. This week the focus of the team seemed to shift from this season to the offseason and beyond Š but before I discuss the latest happenings Š namely Denise York addressing the media, the hiring of Ted Tollner, the communication issues between Alex Smith and Mike Nolan, and of course a certain Policy being floated around the 49ers these days Š I want to thank the 49ers Paradise Press Writers. Why? Because not only do they do a great job delivering exclusive content to the site, but also because it has been a very trying season to be writing about. It is easy to write about a team that is winning, easier still to write about a losing team on its way up Š but writing about a team that is both losing and on a continued spiral to oblivionÉ well that takes serious commitment. So thank you to Syd, D-roc, Nate, David and Alex for their dedication thus far this season.

It seems that there is always something to gripe about, but when the media began asking why the 49ers ownership was hiding Denise York knew it was time re-assure the fan base that the ownership is committed to the team, and to winning. IÕve criticized this ownership before, and since hiring Mike Nolan as coach both Dr. York and Denise Debartlo York have begun to win me over. Amazingly they have done this by stepping out of the spotlight and letting the coaches and professional football people run the team. It has been a long while since either owner spoke to the media about football operations, long enough, that when Denise says the family is committed, I actually believe her. Perhaps it was the open disgust with which she spoke of the present season, or perhaps it was just the right timing for her to speak up. Either way, I do not think it is the ownership that is the biggest problem with the team anymore Š and thatÕs says quite a bit about the state of franchise given where this team was just 3 years ago.

York affirmed her support to Head Coach Mike Nolan and Quarterback Alex Smith, and while she suggested that changes to this area of the team were unlikely next year Š she did mention that change will happen. Big change. That will likely include a General Manager who will be in charge of player selection, and who will be a step above Mike Nolan on the organizational chart. An organizational structure change seems imminent, but the bigger question seems to be ŅwhoÓ would fill that role and how will Nolan react to having his power on the team sliced in half. No matter how much the YorkÕs support Nolan, the message was very clear. Change is coming.

Mike Nolan heard DeniseÕs comments. He recognized the writing between the lines, and he made some change already. Despite sticking up for, and defending his young offensive coordinator, Nolan added Ted Tollner as an offensive assistant this week. This will be TollnerÕs second stint with the 49ers. Under the direction of Steve Mariucci he coached quarterbacks and was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator. Tollner is well versed in the Coryell Offense (as run by Norv Turner with the 49ers last season) as well as the West Coast Offense (which he ran as offensive coordinator for the 49ers). He is a very well respected coach throughout the league, but his track record is no where near the caliber of TurnerÕs. I donÕt know that Tollner will improve this team in either the short or the long run, but I do know that this was the right move for the 49ers. Why? For several reasons:
1) From a public relations stand point, it shows that the team is still trying to find answers
2) It shows that Mike Nolan recognizes a problem on offense, even if he has supported his offensive coordinator, and he had to be slapped across the back of the head a few times
3) It will help give players hope
4) Tollner should serve as a good mentor, one that offensive coordinator Jim Hostler can probably actually count on, rather than worry he will take his job. He does not seem power hungry
5) HostlerÕs familiar with the team, and the team and fans are familiar with him. Despite a rather poor recent record, much of TollnerÕs recent performance has been with his hands tied in a West Coast Offense system that is not his specialty
6) He probably knows a thing or two about utilizing players strengths, something the team has not done well at all this season
7) He could not make this team any worse, and yet no one is expecting him to really be a savior of the offense
8) There is way more talent on the offensive side of the ball than there was in his last sting with the 49ers with the exception perhaps being at quarterback where Tollner last worked with Garcia.
9) HeÕs played the quarterbacks position, and coached the position, even having coached Steve Young. With the regression in Alex SmithÕs performance and fundamentals this could prove vital to SmithÕs sustainability.
10) While Tollner hasnÕt done anything off the charts with his offenses, heÕs respected and his offenses are light years better than the 49ers current state.

Some may argue that this is change for change sake, and my response to that is, even itÕs true, IÕd still take it. This team simply canÕt get any worse, so as long as it is trying new things at this point, that is a good thing. This also may be the first positive move for the club to show progression since the start of the season. It may be too little too late, but at least it is something, something that if it works can hopefully continue to thrive next season. After all, the team will have its hands full replacing some of its defensive coaching staff undoubtedly.

To say Tollner is a worthy candidate is easy simply based on the current state of where the 49ers offense is. Beyond that though, he will have to show dramatic improvement to an anemic offense that may be without its starting quarterback for the rest of the season to be considered a fix for seasons to come. Still, one has to wonder, if Bill Walsh couldnÕt tutor Marc Trestman, how can we expect Tollner to tutor Hostler? Well, Jim, if you are reading this, the first step will be to actually listen to and trust your mentor Š something Trestman was never able to do of Walsh.

So change is coming, in fact, it may even be here in part already. But what about the greater problem of a coach who may have lost control of his team. Several players including quarterback Alex Smith have contradicted the coach in open media, have questioned his decision making along with that of his offensive coaching staff. Should a coach who continues to lose hold on to his position next season? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for this. There are plenty of fans calling for Mike Nolan to be fired, but it is not as simple as winning and losing in my eyes. If Nolan can win back the players and show progress in the remaining games of this season he should be given another chance Š but that chance should come with conditions. One of those conditions should be reduced power by way of adding a strong General Manager. Nolan needs to realize as a young coach, he bit off more than he could chew, and that perhaps in spreading himself so thin heÕs been unable to focus his attention on both the offense and the defense as a head coach should. In so doing, heÕs left the offense in his coordinatorÕs hands Š but he needs to get more involved, and get a better understanding of when and why things are not going right. The other issue with firing Nolan is finding a suitable replacement. In terms of availability at the moment, there is no long term solution that draws my attention. I think, Nolan in a smaller role can be more effective, especially with the proper support staff. Of course, before I fully support another season of rollinÕ with Nolan, I want to see progress this year, starting with winning back a locker room I predicted he would lose back in October.

With a call for a change from the ownership all the way down to the media and fans, the name Carmen Policy continues to be mentioned, and if organizational structure is indeed shaken up, Policy could and should be part of the process. Policy is a man who knows football and the 49ers, and though he has had his career blemishes (like anyone) such as hiring Dwight Clark to run football operations he would provide strong leadership at the top of the organization. Policy is currently working with Lennar Corp for the San Francisco stadium effort, and so if he was hired it is reasonable to expect he could actually deliver on the stadium promise along with everyone else.

At the end of the day, Policy knows football. He has connections to the team, with the team, to the politicians who can make a stadium happen, and throughout the NFL. He could help the 49ers with their direction, either by pointing them in the right direction, or affirming that they are traveling down the correct road. Why? Because he knows football. And beyond all that, thereÕs an added bonus. His close relationship to Jed York would make him the perfect mentor for the future owner of the team. Who knows, Policy may even be able to call in Steve Young or Joe Montana to help Alex Smith get back on the right track.

Moving forward its clear change is needed, but finding out where, who, what and when is the key. The hiring of Tollner was a good first step. Bringing Policy in sooner than later could bring some promise and worth to a dismal season.

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