That was the worst firing in professional football I’ve seen in the last three weeks.
I wrote this originally for my newspaper, The Union.
When Mike Nolan walked the plank, I couldn’t help but think the Bay Area’s sports franchises were being defumigated following Lane Kiffin’s exodus stage left. Here we have a franchise, just like any other, that has put a premium on winning, and the best they can come up with is firing the coach, the offensive line coach and promoting their underlings in the middle of the season.
I think it’s fair to say, it’s illogical to believe that somebody below Nolan could inspire the very same people they directly presided over — let alone be better than what they’ve currently achieved. At 2-5 in the lowly NFC West and seven weeks into the season, it boggles the mind what good could come from changing the horse midstream.
And that brings me to a very important point, was he really doing so bad they had to drop him in the middle of the season? I think not.
These actions, as perpetrated by Scot McLoughlan and the York family, are reminiscent of the faulty planning in the wake of Steve Mariucci’s firing. The good coach, the one that was a winner for San Francisco, was sacked because he was too conservative for a team that was offensively deficient. In the wake of his firing, they installed an idiot a the top spot, Dennis Erickson, because they went into the coaching hunt without a plan. It was an irrational witch hunt for blame that ended in an unqualified hire.
The 49ers haven’t recovered since.
There is a distinct flavor of irrationality in Nolan’s maligned firing as well. Nolan is taking blame for a timid offense that was supposed to explode under Martz (anything is better than last year’s offense) and a faltering defense. But while each faults are egregious wrongs in their own right, they do not pass the litmus test for mid-season firing. Nor do they, in any respect, offer a forward thinking move for a franchise tanking any hopes to make the playoffs before the halfway mark. This year’s other examples of mid-season firings, the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders, are perfect examples of teams that never had a chance. Argue if you want, but the 49ers still had a chance to turn it around.
Kiss that positive note goodbye.
This decision by McLoughlan and Jed York, who is apparently now the face of the cowardly owners, is the sort of management usually relegated to the East Bay under the reigns of Weird Al. Surely the 49ers aren’t taking cues from mister power nut himself. Furthermore, there is no precedent that mid-season changes end positively.
In 1978, the 49ers did the same thing with coach Pete McCulley. He was fired after starting 1-8 that season. His successor, Fred O’Conner, was fired after finishing the season 1-6. There’s no telling the 49ers would repeat that disastrous history, which precluded Bill Walsh’s rise to power, but it is representative of the dangers of making injudicious changes.
In the defense of McLoughlan though, he at least had the sensibility to go with Mike Singletary over Mike Martz. (How many Mike’s does it take to screw in a … ah forget it.) With Singletary, you get a powerful and respected voice in the locker room. His methodology, as has been noted in many media channels, is accountability. That’s necessary going forward. While Martz is a profound offensive mind, he needs to be reeled in. Hopefully, with strong leadership, he can focus on the basics to spark the team’s offense. And with a renewed sense of accountability, and maybe a little shock, the defense will step their game up.
But really, it all screams futile. There’s no way a physical change will guarantee the next nine games this season will be worth watching, nor does it guarantee the problems of this franchise magically disappear.
All this does is provide a scape goat for a lack of franchise planning. Nolan just happens to be the sacrificial lamb.