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.