Click photo to enlarge
San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan watches as his team goes down to its eighth straight defeat, this time to the St. Louis Rams, in an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007 in San Francisco. The Rams won, 13-9. (D. Ross Cameron/The Oakland Tribune)
ON ONE SIDE of the fence, you have those who think 49ers coach Mike Nolan is the second coming of bumbling Barry Switzer and want him fired. Now!

On the other side, you have those who believe Nolan is a decent coach who took over an NFL disaster area and deserves another year to fix the mess he inherited.

And me? I'm on the fence, waiting to be convinced that this decision truly, truly matters one way or the other for the 49ers.

You see, even if Nolan goes, John York, the man at the top of the 49ers' corporate pyramid, the organization's decider, will remain.

If you could guarantee me that York would hire someone better than Nolan, then I'd say make the move, by all means.

But what are the odds of that happening? The good doctor's NFL decision-making record doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Keeping Nolan, maintaining stability and getting him more help -- say, a strong general manager and an experienced offensive coordinator -- might be wiser than letting York take another stab at making a major, franchise-changing decision.

Remember, it was York who fired coach Steve Mariucci after the 2002 season. Mariucci's crimes were winning the NFC West, beating the New York Giants in a wild-card playoff game and finishing 11-7. Oh yeah, he also asked for more power in the organization, which made York furious until a few years later he decided a powerful coach was OK.


Advertisement

It was York who took former GM Terry Donahue's advice and hired Dennis Erickson to replace Mariucci. Yeah, that worked out well.

It was York who was in charge when the 49ers' once great franchise crumbled to the ground and became an NFL laughingstock.

And it was York, with advice from his inner circle of family and team executives -- son Jed and director of football operations Paraag Marathe, to name two -- who hired Nolan after a long and tedious search.

If York fires Nolan, who knows who he will come up with as a replacement? Switzer is available.

What we've learned under York's watch with the 49ers is that he should remove himself from all major personnel decisions.

If Nolan gets axed, then maybe York can take a nice, long European vacation and hire former owner Eddie DeBartolo and ex-team president Carmen Policy to lead the coaching search.

Maybe he should give Jed, a team executive, a crack at making the coaching call. He couldn't do any worse than his father. Some have said he reminds them of a young DeBartolo. That's a good thing.

One thing seems sure. Nolan is in limbo. His scheduled 2 p.m. season-ending news conference Monday was moved to 4 p.m. then canceled. Nolan apparently was trying to convince John and Jed to give him another season.

Few NFL coaches survive back-to-back-to-back losing seasons. Even Nolan's late father, Dick, was fired in 1975 by the 49ers after three straight losing seasons. And Dick Nolan had led the 49ers to three straight NFC West titles from 1970-72. Mike Nolan is 16-32 with zero playoff appearances.

Then again, Mike Nolan talked York into hiring him in the first place. So maybe he can talk his way out of a pink slip.

Nolan has done some good work in his three seasons. He built a solid foundation on defense. He drafted Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley, among others. He helped improve the atmosphere in a toxic locker room.

And yes, he has been the victim of some bad luck. He lost Smith -- basically for the season -- in Week 4 to a separated throwing shoulder.

But Nolan compounded his problems and helped put his job in jeopardy by destroying his relationship with Smith.

Not so subtly, Nolan publicly questioned Smith's toughness when he delayed his comeback by a week.

Then, when it was obvious to almost everyone that Smith's shoulder was severely damaged and needed more rest or surgery, Nolan let Smith play down after down after down in excruciating pain against the New Orleans Saints.

Smith, who ultimately underwent surgery, was clearly trying to prove his toughness in the wake of Nolan's jabs.

Smart coaches don't throw their starting quarterback under the bus, especially when that quarterback was the draft's No. 1 overall pick and your team's highest-paid player.

Nolan should have known better.

Nolan hasn't helped himself with some of his decisions on game days, either. At times he seems lost on the sidelines, making baffling and often timid decisions.

Or had you forgotten the 49ers' loss last year to the Rams in St. Louis? With his team leading 14-13, Nolan opted for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-an-inches deep in Rams territory late in the game.

The Rams then drove for the game-winning touchdown, slicing apart a passive 49ers defense that bent and ultimately broke.

Has Nolan committed offenses that should get him fired? The unfireable John York will make that call and any subsequent decisions in the wake of an axing.

That's why change, in this case, isn't guaranteed to be good.

Contact Eric Gilmore at egilmore@bayareanewsgroup.com.