Mike Nolan will keep his job as the coach of the San Francisco 49ers but will relinquish final say over personnel decisions, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
After two days of deliberation, 49ers owners John and Denise DeBartolo York decided Tuesday to retain Nolan, who has two years left on the five-year contract he signed before the 2005 season. His 16-32 record over three seasons, including a 5-11 mark in '07, put his job in jeopardy, and he will likely make changes to his coaching staff.
Nolan, who has also been the 49ers' de facto general manager since joining the franchise, agreed to give up front-office control as a condition of his return. The franchise will hire a general manager to assume those duties, and the leading contender is believed to be current vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan.
It was Nolan who hired McCloughan in February of '05, largely because he believed the former Seattle Seahawks scouting director would function well in a structure in which the head coach had final authority. Now it is likely their roles will be reversed.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Nolan met separately Tuesday with several key assistants, including offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, who is likely to be fired after one season in charge of the 49ers' offense. The Niners ranked last in the NFL in eight offensive categories, including points, yards and third-down efficiency. Former St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz is reportedly in line to succeed Hostler if, as expected, he is fired as the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator. Another possibility is current Dolphins coach Cam Cameron, if Cameron is fired after one season with Miami.
Quarterback Alex Smith, with whom Nolan clashed on several occasions this past season, is likely to return to the team after missing the final seven games with a separated right shoulder. It is believed that Nolan's willingness to iron out his issues with Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the '05 draft, was contingent upon his retention by the Yorks.
After injuring his shoulder in a Sept. 30 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, Smith missed two games, then attempted to play through shoulder pain and numbness in his throwing hand upon his return. Following a 24-0 defeat to the Seahawks on Nov. 12 in which he played miserably, the quarterback complained publicly of shoulder pain. Nolan contradicted him, saying Smith's health was fine.
Three weeks ago, Smith told the San Jose Mercury News that Nolan had tried to "undermine" his reputation in the locker room. Smith told the newspaper that Nolan had made it clear to 49ers players that the quarterback was using injuries as an excuse for his on-field struggles.
The 49ers, according to a team source, never seriously considered replacing Nolan with assistant head coach/defense Mike Singletary, a reported candidate for the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens coaching openings.
After the 49ers finished 7-9 in 2006, they were viewed as a potential playoff team by many people inside and outside of the organization. But after a 2-0 start, the 49ers went on an eight-game losing streak that killed their postseason chances. Public sniping between Nolan and Smith, who had tried to play through his injury, further increased the possibility that Nolan would be fired.
The loss of his personnel power will not be insignificant to Nolan, who in past years has made it a point of reminding players and other 49ers employees that he holds that authority, to the point where it had become a running joke within the locker room.
The 49ers are likely to announce the changes in a news conference Wednesday at the team's facility.
Aaron Salkin, the Niners' public relations director, said he had no comment on Nolan's status.
- Mike Nolan