The Nolan essentials

Mike Nolan says there are three essential elements to building a champion in the NFL – and the 49ers will stick to all three now that he's their head coach.

Nolan has been around the NFL long enough to know what works and what doesn't at the highest level of professional football. That's one of the many reasons the 49ers made him their head coach this week. He has seen the good, the bad, the ugly – and the dysfunctional - in his previous 18 years as an NFL assistant.

That gives him a clear vision of what it takes to build a champion – the kind of vision he brings to the 49ers.

"The NFL has been a large part of my life," Nolan said Wednesday, and that much is pretty obvious. Nolan was running around 49ers practices as a nine-year-old ballboy back in 1968 when his father, Dick Nolan, began his eight-year stint as the 49ers coach. Mike has been around the game ever since.

But that's not the part Nolan was talking about Wednesday. He was talking about the time he has spent with the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants, the New York Jets, the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins – particularly the Redskins (more on that later).

During his stints with those teams he has worked with many brilliant football minds, including Bill Parcells, George Young, Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick and Dan Reeves - just to name a few. There are a lot of Super Bowls to go around in that crowd.

Nolan has seen the right way to do it. And he has seen the wrong way to do it.

No need to ask which model he's bringing to San Francisco.

"This experience," Nolan said of nearly two decades in pro football, which began in 1987, "has led me to recognize three essentials when building a champion: personnel, structure and chemistry."

Nolan let those three words hang in the air for a split second, which was uncharacteristic of his rapid-fire release during a lengthy introductory news conference. It was obvious he does not take these three elements lightly.

"On a rare occasion," he continued, "any one of the three can win you a championship. But in order to be consistent winners, you must recognize the importance of all three."

And it quickly became obvious Nolan recognizes the three better than anybody else at the skyscraping Mark Hopkins Hotel on Wednesday – perhaps anybody in the entire city Wednesday. And that's no exaggeration.

Nolan went on to carefully identify each element for those quite not in the know. Owners John and Denise York sat by proudly, as if they were showing off a newborn baby which, in several ways, they were.

"Our ability to identify and attract the type of players, coaches and staff is the first step," Nolan said. "We must build through the draft, and supplement through free agency. The (salary) cap is a direct result of good people decisions before it is good money decisions. Good use of the cap is not only good business, but gives us the best chance to win."

Good. Nolan understands the dynamics of cap health and spending money on players wisely, a real weakness of the previous management regime.

Nolan went on. "Structure is the most important component when giving our personnel the tools necessary to think freely and perform at a high level," he said. "It is also directly related to building chemistry in the entire organization. Some structural issues are based on the personnel while others are common parenting issues. I have been a part of organizations where the structure was so micromanaged that imagination was squelched."

Nolan obviously recognizes how important developing structure is within a San Francisco organization that is in deep need of just that, as far as the football side of the front office is concerned.

York is not exactly a football person, though he is trying to learn. It will be part of Nolan's job in the upcoming months to help guide York and other decision-makers within the organization toward good football people whom Nolan can work with to give the 49ers the infrastructure they need to be successful.

Nolan also knows what kind of structure doesn't work. He saw it in Washington, where he worked under meddling owner Daniel Snyder. The Redskins still haven't been back to the playoffs since the day Nolan left their organization after the 1999 season.

Showing some class, Nolan did not specify the Redskins when he said, "One club was so poorly structured that chaos was the only way to describe it."

But for Nolan, seeing the wrong way to build a team helped magnify the right way.

"In a well-structured environment, the atmosphere will encourage work ethic, as well as camaraderie," he said. "Chemistry is built on trust and trust is built on being accountable to one another. Part of being an effective head (coach) in the NFL is on building relationships. We must respect each other's opinions as well as communicate on all issues. The people that bring us together are different with every champion. Our ability to stick to these three essentials – personnel, structure and chemistry – is vital to us being champions."

Sadly, the 49ers had huge deficiencies in all three areas by the time the 2004 season ended. Nolan already has identified that.

And, if his words and approach are any indication, he knows how to get it fixed.

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