Tag:Mike Nolan
Posted on: November 5, 2008 3:36 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2008 8:02 pm

Mike Martz vs Cam Cameron...What Could've Been...

I write this regarding the frustrations I have with the 49ers offense this year. I look back in hindsight of all the decisions that Mike Nolan made for this once proud franchise and realize mistake after mistake, that this was a big one...a mistake that ultimately cost Nolan his job. In 3+ years with the 49ers, Nolan had a plan. That plan was to build a strong defense with a ball control offense. Over the course of the last 3 years, Nolan's failures led him to make stopgap decisions in key areas...decisions that got worse as time went on. Some of Nolan's most notable mistakes include the following...

1) Drafting of Alex Smith - Not completely Smith's fault as he had to work with a different coordinator every year. But Smith didn't show any resiliency like some other first round choices in the same position, i.e. Jason Campbell.

2) Promoting unknown Jeff Hostler to offensive coordinator after Norv Turner left. Bad, bad call. Nolan should've hired someone with experience because Nolan himself has little offensive knowledge.

3) Too many offensive coordinators - As mentioned above. There was never any stability on offense.

4) Defensive rankings never better than 25th.

5) Slow to develop talent - this is less notable from the outside. But why does it take almost 3 years before 2nd, 3rd and 4th round picks start to play? There are almost no immediate contributions from picks outside of the 1st round.

Now to the biggest mistake that finished Nolan's career as the head coach of the 49ers. Nolan's decision to hire Mike Martz.

This was definitely a head scratching move. While Martz has quite a resume developing one of the most lethal offenses that the NFL has ever seen (1999-2001 Rams), he was clearly a poor fit for the 49ers. I must admit, I was a bit naive about Martz. I thought Frank Gore would be the only thing to make the Martz offense work. But I was also worried because the Niners didn't have the QB and WR's to fit this system. Also, it's a whole NEW system to learn for the team. I was irritated because I felt Nolan hired Martz in haste. Nolan knew his time was short and thought he could overlook the personnel shortcomings on offense by hiring a big name coach. I'm OK with the big name part, but it has to be the right guy...like Norv Turner. Martz's offensive requires a precision, mistake free and most of all, decisive QB. It also requires speedy WR's who run precise routes. And finally, solid pass protection. You also need a stud RB with good hands. Frank Gore fits the bill, but the other pieces of the puzzle never fit. Nolan and Martz tried to band-aid the deficiencies with J.T. O'Sullivan at QB and Isaac Bruce at WR. Bruce played well enough, but doesn't have enough help. We all know where O'Sullivan is at right now. Martz's system is pass first and pass some more. This philosophy placed Nolan's defenses in terrible situations, especially when combined with Nolan's conservative approach on defense. Now Turner's system is much more simplified. Grind it out with a power running game with conservative passing. In short, run first, then pass. The combination of Turner's offense and Nolan's defense in its first year together was good enough for a 7-9 record.

So why Cam Cameron? Cameron was the offensive coordinator for the Chargers between 2002-2006. What is the signifigance? Norv Turner was the OC the previous year. So Cameron took over the offense in San Diego and left Norv Turner's offense principles intact. The stability that the system provided over the next 5 years produced LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees (before the Saints). Besides philosophical similarities (the Niners are also familiar with Turner's system), there were also personnel similarities between the 2003 Chargers and 2008 49ers. The Chargers had Brees and we have Alex Smith. Brees would be entering his 3rd season and Smith would be in his 4th. LT would be entering his 3rd season and Gore would be entering his 4th. The Chargers would also have an athletic TE prospect in Antonio Gates. Who, at the time, was a virtual unknown with a lot of upside. The Niners would have Vernon Davis entering his 3rd year, a highly athletic prospect drafted 6th overall. It's also important to note that the Chargers were not working with any notable WR's at the time. David Boston was the biggest name but not the biggest producer. San Diego did not produce a 1,000 yard WR that year. So there are a lot of similarities between the 49ers entering this season and that 2003 Chargers team. The 2003 Chargers offense ranked 14th in total offense. So the canvas that Cameron would've had to work with this year would have been eerily similar, and possibly, the results as well. Currently, the 49ers are ranked 24th in offense under Martz's system. Martz did some good things early, but lack of adjustment and mistakes by his handpicked QB has cost this team dearly.

So, why didn't we hire Cameron? Nolan was so ecstatic by Martz's presence that he was pretty much hired on the spot. Cameron, who had just been let go by the Dolphins, was scheduled to interview with the 49ers two days later. That interview was cancelled when Martz was hired. Nolan, being on a short leash, viewed Martz as the saviour to the offense, team and Nolan's job. This was another great miscalculation by Nolan, and now Nolan is gone.

So how is Cameron doing? The Ravens picked up Cameron, Nolan's old team. The Ravens are ranked 19th in total offense and are doing it with a rookie QB (Joe Flacco) and a pair of rookie RBs (LeRon McClain/Ray Rice). The style of offense fits the defense. This could've been Nolan's plan, but now it belongs to the Raven's. The Raven's are 5-3 with their new head coach. The Raven's must be thankful that Cameron fell into their lap. On the other hand, the Niners are 2-6, and Nolan is out of the job...and soon Martz will be too.

Cam Cameron...what could've been. But hindsight is 20/20.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 12, 2008 11:35 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2008 3:40 pm

In Defense Of Bad Defense...Mike Nolan.

There's no defending it. When the defense is bad...it's bad.

I'm tired of seeing the 49ers lose due to poor defensive play. Chalk it up to bad gameplanning, in-game playcalling  or poor execution. It doesn't matter. If you allow an opponent to score 30+ points, you're probably going to lose. The 49ers are suckers. We based Mike Nolan's success on his stint with the Baltimore Ravens. Nolan's defenses were 22nd, 3rd & 6th from 2002 to 2004, respectively. That's a pretty good resume...until you realize that this was an defensive system designed by Marvin Lewis. You have to credit Lewis with molding a defense that was dominant enough to help the Ravens win a Super Bowl after the 2000 season. Nolan was handed the keys and kept it a smooth running machine for the next 3 years. We cannot credit Nolan with building this defense.

Let's take a further look at Nolan's past...

New York Giants - 1993-1996 - 5th, 11th, 17th, 14th.

Washington Redskins - 1997-1999 - 16th, 24th, 30th.

In 1993, Nolan took over much of the personnel from Bill Parcells. Let's look at the dropoff after Nolan's first year with the Giants. His defenses never cracked the top 10. When Nolan was in Washington, his defenses got progressively worse.

In 3 years with the 49ers, Nolans defensive rankings are as follows...

2005 - 32nd, 2006 - 26th, 2007 - 25th.

In it's 4th year, Nolan's defense should've made significant improvement. He's had say in the majority of the personnel decisions. He's been able to bring in the free agents he wants (Nate Clements, Justin Smith). Nolan has infuence in the draft (Patrick Willis). This defense should be in the top 15! Instead, it is in the bottom half of the league. At the rate of current improvement, we'll crack top 15 in 2011. Here are the roster "improvements" on defense over the last 3 years.

1st rounders

2008, pick 29 - DT, Kentwan Balmer

2007, pick 11 - ILB, Patrick Willis

 2006, pick 22 - OLB, Manny Lawson

 Free agents...

Nate Clements, CB - 2001 - 1st round (21st pick) by the Buffalo Bills

Walt Harris, CB - 1996 - 1st round (13th pick) by the Chicago Bears

Justin Smith, DE - 2001 - 1st round (4th pick) by the Cincinnati Bengals

Takeo Spikes, LB - 1998 - 1st round (13th pick) by the Cincinnati Bengals

Players that were not 1st round picks but are starters drafted 2nd or 3rd round.

Ray McDonald, DE - 2007 - 3rd round (34th pick) by the San Francisco 49ers

Michael Lewis, S - 2002 - 2nd round (26th pick) by the Philadelphia Eagles

Mark Roman, S - 2000 - 2nd round (3rd pick) by the Cincinnati Bengals

This list makes up 9 of the 11 starters on defense at the beginning of the season.

Is the talent level that bad? Can we call it underachieving? In recent weeks, I have been blaming the 49ers failures on poor gameplanning and in-game playcalling. I was under the impression that the 49ers were set to run a 3-4 defense. You know, similar to the "Blitz"burg Steelers. I guess I'M the sucker because I haven't seen much of the complex blitzing schemes that are prevalent in a 3-4 defense. The defense looks like a 4-3 most of the time with only 4 down linemen rushing the QB.

I read an article earlier this week by San Jose Mercury News columnist Ann Killion. In that article mentioned Nolan's stint with the Redskins and their owner Daniel Snyder.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, the story goes, placed a carton of vanilla ice cream in Nolan's office, where it was allowed to melt into a sticky mess. The mean-spirited prank underscored the owner's criticism of his defensive coordinator's read-and-react philosophy, which Snyder had termed "vanilla."

That story was considered just another in the Snyder-as-meddling-owner file. But it's worth remembering now. Because Nolan's philosophy and his defense's inability to make the big stop and get off the field — all of that is bringing back the images of vanilla ice cream.

Maybe there's more truth to this than most people realize. After all, the reason that Nolan had so much success with the Ravens is that he had top notch personnel on the defensive line. A solid front four can apply pressure without the need for blitzing. The 49ers do not have that. It is up to a good coach to determine this and make adjustments...something I feel Nolan has failed to do.

The rest part of Killion's article reads like this...

When Nolan has been asked this week what's wrong with the defense, he has turned the issue back on his players, using words such as "errors" and "mistakes."

"In the last two weeks, we've made several errors on our own account and have hurt ourselves," Nolan said. "Some have been technique, some have been mental."

None, though, apparently have been scheme or coaching. In another comment Monday, Nolan said it didn't matter how well something was drawn up on the chalkboard, it comes down to execution.

So Nolan is basically blaming his players for poor execution. I'm not buying that for a second. Reason being is that these are the players that Nolan wanted on the team. It's up to him to make them perform.

Nolan has to be on a short leash. At this point in the season, it's pointless to say "it's early in the season". We are 2 games shy of the halfway mark. The 49ers are 2-4. The Cardinals came away with a strong win against the Cowboys. The Seahawks lost again. The Cardinals are clearly the favorite in the NFC West. The 49ers have an opportunity to compete in this division but we are squandering this opportunity on a weekly basis. If we can't perform well enough after 3 years of rebuilding to compete in our division, then it is time for a change.

The time is now Coach Nolan. I hope you can figure a way to stop the bleeding on defense. It's killing the team AND your career.


Category: NFL
Tags: 49ers, Mike Nolan
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com