Nolan will whip 49ers into shape

One thing is certain: There won't be any pussyfooting around with the 49ers now that Mike Nolan is in charge as the team's new head coach.

Just as 49ers linebacker Derek Smith, who played for Nolan when both were with the Washington Redskins from 1997-1999.

"He's a guy that brings a lot of energy and accountability to this team, which it really needs," Smith said Monday.

Let there be no doubt about that. The 49ers had very little accountability in 2004 during the final season of the short and bitter Dennis Erickson era.

Erickson had joined the 49ers in 2003 expecting to coach a veteran team that ostensibly was close to reaching the Super Bowl. He was not prepared to guide the team he was presented with last season – a rebuilding unit with a gutted roster full of young players in need of focus and direction.

That's not the only reason the 49ers nosedived to a 2-14 record this past season – matching the worst record in franchise history – but it certainly was one of the foremost factors in the fall.

Enter the 45-year-old Nolan, fresh and full energy, and certainly not a guy who will put up with the kind of things that Erickson, 57, and his staff of older assistants seemed to sluff off last year.

"I think he will do a really good job of pushing everybody to get the most of everybody and demanding a lot from everyone," Smith said. "I think he demands a lot from himself. He is a real hard worker and he is going to demand of everyone else what he demands of himself. And when someone demands of himself and they follow through with it, then you can respect that and look up to that and try to grab on to it."

When owner John York made the decision to oust both Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue, York certainly could see – like a lot of other observers – that Erickson had lost the team, that not many of the players still were grabbing onto to his low-key leadership skills – despite what anybody was saying publicly.

Erickson no longer was the right man to coach the team, and that was obvious. Losing pervaded through the San Francisco locker room, and nobody jumped down anybody's throat to let them no that was unacceptable.

It led to a questionable work ethic and some unprofessional behavior by younger players who didn't know any better.

"It was something that was there," 49ers safety Tony Parrish, a seven-year veteran, said Monday. "There were some individuals that we would have liked to have seen more effort out of. And it's something that definitely has to change."

Hello, Mike Nolan.

Maximum effort will now be a requirement at all 49ers practices.

"He's a real high-energy guy and he's going to hold everybody accountable," Smith said. "He is such an intense guy."

As an example, Smith pointed to the 1998 season, when the Redskins lost their first seven games despite adding several big-name, big-money veterans in the offseason.

"We started off 0-7, and on the defensive side of things had some different players, some older players, who maybe in practice didn't want to give effort or things like that," Smith said. "If you loafed at practice, (Nolan) would call you out for your loaf in front of the whole defense. You didn't want to be loafing in practice because you didn't want him to call you out. He took it upon himself defensively to get his section going as much as he could, and we started seeing some positive results."

After that 0-7 start, the Redskins won six of their next eight games. The next year – Nolan's last with the team – Washington won the NFC East and reached the second round of the NFC playoffs. The Redskins haven't been back to the playoffs since.

"Through all of the chaos and uncertainty, he stayed focused," Smith said. "And instead of throwing in the towel, he found a way to find something positive for everyone to work for and make everyone accountable to everyone else."

Which is now one of the first things Nolan must do with the 49ers.

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