Ex-Niners GM McCloughan seeing picks pay off

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

When the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers come to Seattle's CenturyLink Field to face the Seahawks on Saturday afternoon, former general manager Scot McCloughan will be watching from afar, taking pride in the formidable team he helped build.

That doesn't mean McCloughan, a senior personnel executive for the Seahawks since June of 2010, is in any way ambivalent about the outcome.

"They come to our place Christmas Eve," McCloughan says laughing of the 11-3 Niners, "and we're going to beat the hell out of 'em."

It's a game with potential playoff implications for both teams – San Francisco is trying to hold off New Orleans for a first-round bye, while Seattle (7-7) has won five of its last six games to remain mathematically alive in the wild-card race – and McCloughan won't attend.

[ Related: Playoff picture, scenarios ]

If he doesn't want to be a distraction, it's understandable. Fired abruptly by the 49ers in March of 2010, McCloughan still keeps in touch with many of his former players and derives genuine pleasure from their success.

Even as McCloughan looks ahead to the future – several league sources, one a prominent general manager for another team, say he's a viable candidate for the Oakland Raiders' vacant GM job and that he could be in play for potential openings with the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers – he hasn't let go of his past.

On the first Sunday of December, McCloughan spent the afternoon at Champions sports bar in the downtown Indianapolis Marriott while on a scouting trip. He asked the bartender to tune a small television near his table to the 49ers-Rams game and watched until the second quarter, when San Francisco halfback Frank Gore gained two yards on a seemingly nondescript carry.

[ Video: Locks of the Week ]

The game stopped. Gore, 28, had surpassed Hall of Famer Joe Perry to become the leading rusher in franchise history. McCloughan became so emotional that he left and went back upstairs to his room.

"I got up and walked away," McCloughan recalls. "Just to know that he did it, it was so cool. And that's all I wanted to see. The guy deserved it. He blew out both knees and both shoulders, and the son of a gun still goes to work. He represents everything I tried to build."

On a broader level, the Niners' best season in at least nine years has reflected positively on more than first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. It's now abundantly clear that McCloughan, who served as the team's vice president of football operations from 2005-08 before holding the GM title for his final two years with the organization, stockpiled a great deal of talent during his tenure.

While former San Francisco coaches Mike Nolan (who essentially hired McCloughan) and Mike Singletary (hired after a reasonably successful interim stint following Nolan's dismissal in '08) were unable to mold that talent into winning teams, Harbaugh has utilized it to the fullest.

This is not to diminish the contributions of current Niners GM Trent Baalke, who was McCloughan's top personnel assistant before ascending to his current job at the end of the 2010 season. However, McCloughan ran the team's drafts from 2005 to '09, and it's hard not to look at the Niners' current roster and see his fingerprints.

In 2005, McCloughan and Nolan took quarterback Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall selection, a move that has been roundly ridiculed until this season, when the much-maligned quarterback flourished in Harbaugh's offense. (Yes, the Niners could have taken Aaron Rodgers, though in fairness a whole lot of other teams passed on him, too.)

Gore, a third-round pick in '05, has been one of the better backs in football during his seven-year career. Starting guard Adam Snyder was also drafted in the third round that year.

Tight ends Vernon Davis, a Pro Bowl participant two seasons ago, and Delanie Walker, who has emerged as a major weapon in Harbaugh's offense, went in the first and sixth rounds, respectively, of the '06 draft. Parys Haralson, a starter at outside linebacker, was a fifth-round pick that year.

The '07 draft was a bonanza, with a crop that included five current starters: star inside linebacker Patrick Willis (first round), left tackle Joe Staley (first), defensive tackle Ray McDonald (third), free safety Dashon Goldson (fourth) and cornerback Tarell Brown (fifth).

McCloughan didn't do as well the following two seasons. In '08 he drafted a pair of current backups (guard Chilo Rachal and safety Reggie Smith) and promising wideout Josh Morgan, who's currently on injured reserve. The prize of the '09 class was first-rounder Michael Crabtree, and backup nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois went in the seventh round.

The Niners weren't overly active in free agency during McCloughan's tenure. As a disciple of former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, McCloughan believes strongly in building through the draft. However, it should be noted that defensive end Justin Smith – the veteran Harbaugh described as "our most valuable player" following Monday night's 20-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers – was lured away from the Cincinnati Bengals following the '07 season with a six-year, $45-million deal.

Until this season Smith was regarded as a solid player who was probably a bit overpaid. McCloughan, however, never saw it that way, reasoning that Smith was the type of hard-working, no-nonsense leader he sought as an organizational tone-setter on the field and in the locker room.

[ Related: Mr. and Mr. Smith causing headaches for QBs ]

McCloughan declined to discuss the specifics of his time with the 49ers, nor did he have any desire to comment on his messy departure or the rumors regarding his personal life that accompanied it.

He had no comment on the prospect of working with the Raiders, a team for whom his father, Kent, has been a scout for more than three decades. McCloughan's brother, Dave, also works in Oakland's personnel department, and league sources say Wolf is assisting the franchise in its GM search.

"I'm very happy right now," said McCloughan, who is still based out of Northern California. "If an opportunity ever presents itself, I feel very good about what I can do. I know I can build a team that wins games."

On Saturday, he'll be watching a winning team he helped assemble with great affection – while rooting for the Niners to lose, naturally.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Raiders will keep my preseason predictions of grandeur alive (barely) by beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. … Ford Field will celebrate the Lions' first playoff berth since 1999 as Detroit outscores the Chargers. … Michael Vick and Tony Romo will both have huge games, and an electrifying performance by DeSean Jackson will make the difference for the Eagles in a thrilling victory at Cowboys Stadium.

And remember, you can find all of my picks here – and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at ridewithsilver.com. And be sure to watch the lovely Danyelle Sargent roll her eyes as Eddie George, Jason Cole and I give our Locks of the Week.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

The best place to be for the holidays – home. Of course, I'll be watching lots and lots of football this weekend. I'm not joking; this is my job

LIES, LIES, LIES

1) Peyton Manning will be amenable to delaying some or all of the $28 million bonus payment he's due March 8, thus allowing the Colts more time to assess their quarterback situation.

2) Blaine Gabbert is "super tough" and "courageous in the pocket."

3) Pat Robertson, who charged that the Tim Tebow skit on the most recent "Saturday Night Live" was the product of "anti-Christian bigotry that is just disgusting," would never utter an offensive, insensitive statement about a large group of people.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Michelle Obama, the most impressive First Lady of my lifetime. And while I think she should be most admired for her brain and heart – and contrary to the disrespectful, borderline racist blathering of Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner – I appreciate all of her.

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

View photo

.
LeSean McCoy rushed for 185 yards and 2 TDs in the earlier meeting vs. Dallas.
(Getty Images)

Cal women's hoops coach Lindsay Gottlieb got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and my buddy Malibu didn't even make the postseason. You think that means I can escape my unfortunate lot in life as a fantasy advisor? Uh, not this week: My 12-year-old son is battling his former youth hoops coach for their Yahoo! league's championship, and not only am I heavily invested in the outcome, but I also conscripted the services of Y! Sports guru Brad Evans for the cause. I laid out the situation for Evans: I helped my son on draft day (persuading him to draft LeSean McCoy sixth overall and Jimmy Graham, period) and throughout the season (waiver claims included Torrey Smith, Victor Cruz and DeMarco Murray, later traded for Darren McFadden – oops), and his team, Can't Wait! (damn, now I owe Bart Scott money again earned the No. 1 playoff seed and rolled to a semifinal victory. However, standing between him and the championship is Greg Will Lose, which beat him twice during the regular season. Despite injuries to Matt Forte and Andre Johnson, Greg Will Lose is a formidable foe, with a lineup that includes Matthew Stafford, LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Mathews, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith (the good one), Plaxico Burress and Jason Witten. Can't Wait counters with Tom Brady, McCoy (that Brady/Shady combo has been very, very good to us), Graham and Sebastian Janikowski – and the rest of the lineup TBD.

[ Related: Packers replace Cowboys as 'America's Team' ]

I asked Evans his thoughts on second running back (he picked Reggie Bush over Felix Jones and Shonn Greene), defense/special teams (he gave the narrow edge to Bengals vs. Cardinals over Broncos at Bills) and wide receiver. My son can start three of the following five wideouts: Julio Jones, Victor Cruz, Torrey Smith, Santonio Holmes and DeSean Jackson. Evans' take: "Julio, Cruz and DeSean. Gut feeling: Vick goes berserk in Dallas. 'Boys have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to passers over the past five weeks. Mike Jenkins is very iffy to suit up this week." He proceeded to allay my son's concerns over Cruz possibly getting stranded on Revis Island ("My gut says Nicks will sip out of a coconut") and Jackson, should the Giants defeat the Jets earlier Saturday and thus eliminate the Eagles from the playoffs before kickoff, suffering an appreciable decrease in motivation and effort ("Astute observation … but I fully expect the Giants' collapse to continue in spectacular fashion"). So I think we're good to go, and now it's up to me to try to will a victory – which explains the last "ATM" prediction above. And if my son wins, I'm going to insist that he take over this section next year. Given his free-throw shooting skills, I'm confident Gottlieb would approve.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

While free-throw shooting may be a poor subject for Gottlieb at the moment – the Bears made just 20 of 38 in a 77-75 defeat to No. 12 Ohio State at Haas Pavilion last Saturday – she has a deep, impressive team that could be very, very scary by season's end. I had a blast watching the Bears battle the Buckeyes in person and witnessing the smooth brilliance of Ohio State guard Samantha Prahalis, the record-setting, 24-point, 24-rebound performance by Cal sophomore Gennifer Brandon and a Bears comeback that nearly forced overtime, with three potential game-tying shots in the final seconds falling short. Gottlieb, a Brown grad, had a more enjoyable experience the next time out – on Tuesday Cal crushed Dartmouth, 80-39, to improve to 9-3 heading into Pac-12 play.

On the men's side, Mike Montgomery's Bears (10-2) go for their fifth consecutive victory Friday when they face 21st-ranked UNLV at Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas. And next Wednesday, Cal concludes its football season – and hopefully brings misery to the existence of Texas coach Mack Brown – against the Longhorns in the Holiday Bowl. Among the seniors concluding their Cal careers are tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Marvin Jones, two young men who have represented the university with integrity.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

lennon happy xmas video

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

In the wake of the Chiefs' stunning, 19-14 victory over the previously undefeated Packers last Sunday, interim coach Romeo Crennel is getting a lot of love. Among those in the K.C. locker room campaigning for "RAC" to get a crack at the permanent job is standout pass rusher Tamba Hali. Will Crennel, who worked as an assistant with the Patriots when current Chiefs GM Scott Pioli was that franchise's top personnel executive, land the gig? If so, will Pioli be more loyal to him than Browns GM Phil Savage was when Crennel was Cleveland's head coach? Let's call on Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits to help Crennel enunciate his passion, to the tune of "Romeo and Juliet."

A pumped-up Romeo gives the Chiefs some winning tips
Laying everybody low with a Gladiator clip
Turns the film off, makes a few good quips
Says something like, "You and me, guys, how about it?"

Pioli says, "Hey, it's Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack!"
He's outside of the office, he's singing, "Orton's my quarterback.
Back when Todd Haley was here I know you weren't havin' that …
Anyway, what you gonna do about it?"

Pioli, the dice was loaded from the start
And I bet when I exploded into your heart
That you regret, you regret it took so long
When you gonna realize it was just that the job was wrong, Pioli?

Come up in Foxborough, workin' for Belichick
Got dirty, got mean, yes, I think you know what makes me tick
And I coached big games for Bill and opened up your eyes
How can you look at me as if I was just another one of your guys?

When you can fall for Josh McDaniels,
You can fall for Kirk Ferentz,
You can fall for young assistants
And retreads that make no sense
I'll promise you everything, I'll promise you thick and thin, yeah!
Now you just say, "Oh Romeo? Yeah, you know I won some Super Bowls with him."

Pioli, when we won rings, you used to cry.
You said, "I love all my Belichick guys, I'll love you 'til I die."
There's a time for us, and it's time to be strong
When you gonna realize it was just that the coach was wrong, Pioli?

I can't do the talk, like the talk on TV
And I can't wear a tight shirt, or a medium hoodie
I can't grow ratty beards, but I'll do anything for you
I sure can coach 'em up, what more I gotta prove?
And all I do is win, Scott, like the Chiefs of Marty
All I did was beat the Pack … and Mike McCarthy
Now all the players want me, want this job to be mine
Pioli, I'd take the fall for you any time!

Pioli, when we won rings, you used to cry.
You said, "I love all my Belichick guys, I'll love you 'til I die."
There's a time for us, and it's time to be strong
When you gonna realize it was just that the coach was wrong, Pioli?

And a love-struck Romeo sings The Chief a serenade
Laying everybody low with a buffed-up résumé
He turns off the projector, steps out of the shade
He says something like, "You and me babe, how about it?"

You and me Scott, how about it?

Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski learned from hyper-competitive father
Podcast: Five biggest soccer stories of 2011
Tennis star Novak Djokovic has sights set on Hollywood
Fantasy Football video: Week 16 pickups