GM or not GM?

The 49ers will begin in earnest this week the process of finding a replacement in the organization for deposed general manager Terry Donahue, but do they really know exactly what they're looking for in the position, and will the new guy even be a GM?

It depends on whom you ask.

But one thing's for sure: Just as new coach Mike Nolan has moved quickly to assemble his staff of assistant coaches, the Niners are moving forward to find an operational chief who will be responsible for at least some typical GM duties. Nolan and team officials continued to huddle over the weekend to determine exactly what they want the role to specify, and the interview process to find their guy could begin this coming week.

"At some point during the duration of this coming week, Monday through Friday, we'll probably initiate some conversations at that time," Nolan said. "Right now there is not a specific day, but sometime during this week we will initiate that."

What Nolan and the 49ers are doing at the moment – along with the multitude of other tasks Nolan is dealing with – is deciding what the responsibilities and job title of Donahue's replacement will be.

"We have to identify what that's going to be," 49ers owner John York said. "We have (candidates) identified and people to help us make that decision."

But York made it clear that, whoever the 49ers hire in the position, he will not have the organizational power of a typical GM.

"The way this is going to work is that Mike Nolan is the head coach and is going to report directly to me," York said. "But he has the football say in all the decisions. We're going to go out and we're going to find the best football operations person that we can."

York reiterated that Nolan will be heavily involved in selecting that person. What has been more important to York and Nolan this weekend, both men said, is that Nolan continue to identify personnel he wants for his staff and go after those individuals. On Sunday, the 49ers hired new receivers coach Jerry Sullivan away from the Miami Dolphins and new secondary coach A.J. Christoff away from Stanford University, where he was defensive coordinator.

"Once (Nolan) has put that together, that will help us identify what we want in the best football operations person out there," York said. "We'll bring that person in, and Mike will set the tone by being able to provide the 49er player profile and the key 49er player needs. What we want to do is to have a situation where Mike is intimately involved in the personnel decisions and we have the right personnel person there that knows what to bring Mike."

Sort of sounds like the 49ers really are looking for a glorified player personnel director rather than a GM. Bill Rees – a Donahue hire – currently holds the title of director of player personnel with the Niners, but he is not expected to last long with the organization.

While Nolan will play a big role in identifying and acquiring players, he can't do it all. The Niners also need somebody in their organizational structure to deal with player contracts, trade possibilities and other duties typically handled by a GM. They can't just expect that others in the organization can absorb those duties.

But when asked who will have the final say on personnel decisions in the organizational structure that he envisions, York said, "I think the final say will be a 49ers say. If we create the right atmosphere where there is a trust that everybody is moving forward to get the best 49er player, we will wind up with people who argue about who that player is. But what happens when you have a level of trust, you can come in and argue your point. When you come in and argue your point, you don't' have to win, you just have to be listened to.

"And if we really and truly are trying to get the 49ers best player, it doesn't have to be Mike's guy, it doesn't have to be the head of football operations guy. It may be a scout. But they're going to argue. But when they decide, it's going to be a decision that everybody can commit to with the goal of winning, and to win the Super Bowl. And everybody will be held accountable for those decisions."

At the moment, Nolan is making the decisions and calling the shots – and the organization will go at his pace to find its next GM… Make that, it's "football operations guy."

"Again, personnel is No. 1, first and foremost, not just players, but coaches and staff alike," Nolan said. "And that's how we'll do it. The structural things, when we get all that put together, then we'll start to implement our structure within the building and within the scheme and with everybody else."


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