How Niners decision-making has changed

Mike Nolan was hired in 2005 as coach. But he was more than a coach, he was also the decider. Today, we answer two questions about the 49ers’ decision-making process.

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Question: Looking at the current roster and at the potential starters, I see a lot of great, young talent ready to blossom, many of them guys that were drafted during the Nolan years. So who was more responsible for picking these mid-to-late round gems?  Nolan or McCloughan? (John W.)


Answer: The drafts have been Scot McCloughan’s area of expertise since Nolan hired him to be the organization’s lead talent evaluator in 49ers. While Nolan had final say on every pick made from the 2005, ’06, ’07 drafts, McCloughan generally – if not, always – got the player he wanted.


McCloughan is on record as saying he arrived at the conclusion in December that quarterback Alex Smith would be the top-ranked player on his board – regardless of whether his board was located in Seattle or San Francisco or, probably, anywhere else.


McCloughan was also very high on Frank Gore, having scouted him and seen him up close since his freshman year at Miami. Many believed McCloughan “reached” to take Gore in the third round of that first draft.


Clearly, Nolan would’ve had a bigger influence on draft picks in the early rounds when there were fewer players that might fall into those slots. Even then, Jed York tells the story of witnessing McCloughan demand the 49ers pick linebacker Patrick Willis against some opposition.


McCloughan and the scouts did most of the prep work. McCloughan generally presented Nolan with some options and opinions. Nolan was not passive, though. Nolan met individually with Tarell Brown, a so-called “character risk” before the 2007 draft. Nolan concluded Brown was not a bad kid, just somebody who had made bad decisions. They ended up taking him in the fifth round.


I’ve been led to believe that while Nolan had the final say in personnel matters, he generally signed off on McCloughan’s recommendations on draft day.


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Question: Just after Nolan announced JTO as the starting QB last year, I posted on your blog (I’m sure you remember it…jk) that, based upon this decision, I don’t think we have to the right people making the decisions for our football team. I think that turned out to be quite true, exemplified by JTO, last-second plays, Martz, Nolan’s defensive schemes, etc.
My question is this: Do you believe that we now have better decision makers in charge of this team? (DinPortland)


Answer: Mike Singletary’s job is to coach. As of yet, he has not attempted to use his power to shape the roster. (There are rumblings around the league that Singletary would be very open to signing Michael Vick, but McCloughan put his foot down on that one.)


Singletary saw up close how quickly things turned for Nolan. Singletary is still new to coaching. I’m not sure the last time there has been a head coach in the NFL with as little coaching experience – at any level — as Singletary.


But Singletary seems to be self-aware. He probably knows his limitations when it comes to player evaluation, so he is in no hurry to stick out his neck with bold personnel moves.


In fact, Singletary seems to be a friend of the personnel department. Surely, McCloughan likes the moves of getting Chilo Rachal and Dashon Goldson into the starting lineup and carving out more opportunities for Manny Lawson to rush the passer.


Singletary’s biggest offseason moves have been on his coaching staff. He fired Martz (another popular move among the front office). Singletary had an idea of what he wanted from an offensive coordinator, and he struggled to fill the vacancy.


A league source said Singletary offered the job – or at least intimated a job offer was forthcoming – to three candidates before they removed themselves from consideration. He hired Jimmy Raye, whose offensive philosophy seems to be exactly what Singletary was seeking.


Singletary’s other main staff hires have been newphew Vance Singletary (inside linebackers), former teammate Al Harris (pass rush specialist) and QBs coach Mike Johnson.


Here’s the thing with the decision to start J.T. O’Sullivan: Martz’s offense is so unique that O’Sullivan – with his skill set and prior knowledge of the offense — was so clearly the ONLY choice to open the regular season as the starter. Therefore, the problem was deeper than just the decision to start JTO.


I believe now the decision-making is more sound because the players are matched better with an offensive system that seems to fit the personnel. We’ll see if Raye is successful calling a game, because it’s been so long since he has been asked to carry out that duty. Defensively, Greg Manusky’s stripping down of the playbook and simplifying of the scheme was successful in the final eight games and the players seem to appreciate the consistency. (Of course, players almost always initially speak favorably of coaching changes.)


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