Something smells

Mike Nolan began picking up the pieces Monday after his team's humiliating 52-17 loss to the Washington Redskins, noting that, "In everything that goes on in this building, I believe it smells good in the building," - which must be a fresher scent than the odiferous stench the 49ers left on the gridiron at FedExField after Sunday's lopsided loss.

Here's Nolan's takes on a variety of subjects from his Monday afternoon news conference:

On where the team is after Sunday's debacle in Washington: "We certainly aren't where we wanted to be after six games, but as we all know, we're judged after 16. That's what is most important. I was with the '94 (New York) Giants where we went 3-7 and finished 9-7. Another time I recall on to give us hope is when we started 0-7 with the (Washington) Redskins in '98, and went 7-9. Things can turn around. Those are just two personal experiences, but there are several others around the league. Hope is still there in the things we want to do. Yesterday's performance was without a doubt unacceptable by the players and coaches alike. As a whole, we cannot tolerate that type of performance. That's not what we're looking for. We must have a greater sense of purpose in the things we're doing, both in practice as well as in the games, particularly in the games. As we prepare, that's an important thing that we must do. We need to raise our level of expectations, and I think that's an important thing. Coming off a 2-14 season last year, we want to make sure we don't slip into a groove, for lack of a better term, that is acceptable of that. We want to make sure that we continue to compete and do the things that it takes. At an early point in the season right now, we want to make sure, not because there have been signs, but just because that's something you have to address so it doesn't occur with your football team."

On taking a step back against the Redskins: "We certainly took a step back, but we have to rectify that as well. I think our purpose for the things we are trying to do is in the right direction, as far as improving our personnel, improving our structure and everything about it, as well as our chemistry. I believe, as far as the goals we set forth, we continued to lose a little bit of ground on that, but we are not changing our target because it is too early to do that. We set a target when we started and we'll stay with that target. That's my plan. In everything that goes on in this building, I believe it smells good in the building. Our players would tell you the same thing, and that's important because when I do evaluate the personnel that we've got on this football team, and the structure in the building and the chemistry that comes about, I use the term ‘that smell in the building' as one that gives me the greatest indication of the direction of where the franchise is going. It doesn't change or rectify the things that happened yesterday in the ballgame in the way we performed. I believe it's difficult right now for everyone in what we're going through, but I do also believe that in the end it will make us stronger. We are not the first team to go through difficult times, and we certainly won't be the last. As it happens with the best of teams, without naming all of those teams, some of the greatest teams started out slow. I'm looking for these things that we're going through right now to make us stronger. You never wish those things upon yourself, and you certainly don't want to go through them time and again, but this is our first time. We're just starting. If there is a time to go through the difficult times, now is the time to build it. The majority of these same players will be on this football team. A lot of these guys I'll refer to as champions when we do turn it around. After yesterday, it was headed in the wrong direction. I expect it to get headed back in the right direction today."

On what exactly he's talking about when he talks about, 'the smell of this building': "Obviously, the players will be a little bit down today. We haven't met because they're looking for direction, but up to this point, we were 1-4 before this game. I think anyone traveling through the building would say that the players are upbeat, they're very positive, they say positive things about the direction we're going and they're not saying it because they've been told to. I think they truly believe it's going in the right direction. I think they have a lot of confidence in their coaches. Mike Singletary and Jerry Sullivan are two great examples of coaches whose players continue to get better. A huge thing that players believe in is when they feel they're getting better individually; it makes them feel good about the direction the team is going. When I talk about smell, that's one thing. I'm also talking about the things that have been changing upstairs. Since coming here last year, there have been several changes. Those things are all going in the right direction. In order to be a model franchise, you have to do those things right as well. It's easy to try to get one side of the building right, but in the end, it's tough to have a championship organization if half the building is not right. That's why when I say the building, I include the whole building. I believe that the majority of things are going in the right direction."

On whether the San Francisco defense - which is supposed to be the strength of the team - giving up 52 points is because of the way it played or because of the way the Washington offense played: "Up to this point, it's a case of both. I wouldn't fault the offense for the defense's misfortunes. We played poorly on defense without a question. There have been changes on the roster so it's hard for me to compare last year's defense and this one. It's like apples to oranges to some degree. I agree, coming into this, that the defense should be the strength and we should be playing better than we are on that side of the ball. We should be performing better than that."

On how those teams he mentioned earlier turned things around: "As we met earlier today as a staff, I was continually trying to reflect on those experiences, and they were entirely different. The biggest difference would be that in one of those cases, I felt that we were not a very hard-working team. We had some talented people, but we weren't really that hard-working. We didn't finish things. When we began to do that, we had a bye week, and when we came back we started to finish a lot of the things we did. We put a real priority on turnovers and a lot of things that weren't going on in practice that I thought were leading to the losses. We don't have that kind of football team. We've got a very hard-working football team that is dedicated. We've got a much younger team than those teams, a much less experienced team than both of those teams. It's an entirely different set of problems. What we have here is that it's just a matter of going through a lot of learning that was different from that group altogether. There's not a shortness of work ethic and not a shortness of commitment. There is a shortness of experience."

On what makes him think this team is going in the right direction: "I think Alex (Smith) did a better job than he did in the first week. In the turnovers, he did a much better job in that area. I believe that character has a lot to do with where you're headed. I've been on talented football teams with not much character, and they weren't headed to the right place. We made the playoffs, but we weren't headed in the right direction. I believe that when you have a character football team, you're headed in the right direction. When you get there is determined by the talent and experience that you get with that character. At some point, it happens, and when you have that you get there and you're strong. Any time you're going to lead young men, they don't want to hear that you're going to be competitive. They want to hear that you're going to win. I want to hear I'm going to win. Who wants to be competitive? That means that you just get to be there. That's important, not only to me, but also to our coaches and players. They know that is what's being expected of them. Whatever you shoot for, you have a chance to attain, but seldom do you actually exceed what you're expectations are. That really doesn't happen all that often."

On whether the talent on this team is better than the talent on last year's team: "That talent level is better, but less experienced. There's a huge difference. Experience is a huge factor. I believe that you can get there quicker. I believe in what we're building on, and what we have here is what you're looking for. We certainly have to add to this group, because the players that are already here are looking for more of those guys to come in that look like what they want it to look like. I may be wrong in saying that, in comparing talent level, but on the other hand, I think the biggest difference is that we have an inexperienced group. I certainly am looking to add the same type of guys as we go forward."

On whether he likes what he's seeing in this year's draft class: "When you draft defensive players and have a defensive draft, you will typically see all those players on the field. If you draft at one, two and three on defense, if it's a defensive back, a lineman or linebacker, a lot of times you'll see those guys play early. If you look around the league, those guys are on the field right away and they play in some capacity. When you do it on offense, particularly like we did, taking a quarterback and offensive linemen, those are two of the more difficult positions to get on the field. Now, if you take a running back, you can get them on the field pretty quickly, like you see with all the running backs that went high. When I look at the draft, we drafted guys high position-wise that take a little longer to get on the field. Is that always the case? No, but the majority of times it is. The offensive line is a more difficult position to get on, and as we all know, the quarterback is the most difficult position. Obviously, you already see Alex Smith and Frank Gore on the field, but (Adam) Snyder and (David) Baas are two players that, as we go forward, you'll see play. They already have played here and there, not because they're going to take somebody else out right now, but I believe they do need to play to spell the players in front of them and keep them healthy."

On whether the team's problems on defense are due to the defense itself of because the offense can't move the ball: "I think up to this point it's been a case of both. The other day, I certainly wouldn't fault the offense for the defense's misfortunes by any stretch. We played poorly on defense without a doubt, without a question. If you look at the roster from last year there's been changes, so it's hard for me to compare some of that stuff because it's apples to oranges to some degree. Coming into it, I would agree with you, that should have been the strength and we should have been playing better than we are on that side of the ball. Whether it's last year's players that should be this year's strength of the team or not, that's unacceptable."

On whether he would say that his biggest challenge the rest of the season is keeping the smell in the building: "Where we are at, 1-5, that is an issue that you face. It's one that you have to address and play close attention to. I believe it would be more difficult if this was in the third or fourth year in this regime, because by then everyone is saying, ‘Let's just go with a fresh start.' One of the reasons that it smells good in the building is because guys do have a real confidence in the direction it's going throughout the building. It's the little things that the players feel in the weight room, upstairs or just the attention that they get throughout the building that makes them believe that this is a safe place for them. We just have to get it right on the field. When you're strong, you get the building right. Otherwise it's all quick fixes. As I said all along I'm not about quick fixes, but I'm certainly not about 1-5 either."

On what he did to lift the team's spirits at halftime on Sunday: "The second half was statistically much better, but who is to say that wasn't just Washington coming out in the second half wanting to get to the end of the game? You can look at this game two different ways. You can look at it as a failure or you can look at it as leading to successes down the field. We certainly learned how not to do something, which is a success. That's what you have to look at. There are some things that we don't need to do again. A 52-17 score is a complete failure, but the things that it took getting there are the little successes that we need to understand. When I went in at halftime, those were the things on my mind. When you stand before any group of men and you're trying to lead them, they certainly don't want to hear about how bad things are. They want to hear how about how you're going to make it better. I don't dismiss losses and negative things because I think they identify what gets you out of them. If there is any exhaustion to the job, that is where it comes from. I actually find it energizing to go in front of a group and be positive."

On whether he finds out the most about his team when the 49ers are losing: "Without a doubt it's during adversity that you find out the most. You find out things about people when you're winning too, but you find out much more when you're losing. The game of football and adversity is no different than the game of life. Even a lot of corporations will come to the football team and ask how we know so much about your players, because they can't find that out about their nine-to-five people. It's normally the adversity that tells you the most about a player."

On what he saw different in Alex Smith in Sunday's game than he saw in previous games: "He didn't throw as many turnovers. He did drop the ball, but in comparison I thought that he played better. How much better? That's a good question. I know that the game did slow down for him a little bit, which is good. In two or three years, that is a good thing for a quarterback. Several of our defensive players have said that. (Safety) Mike Adams, (cornerback) Shawntae Spencer and (cornerback) Bruce Thornton have all said that the game has slowed down some. That's a good sign, but in one week it didn't slow down to where it needs to be."

On whether this is what he expected out of Alex Smith: "You expect difficulty, but you certainly don't hope for this. It's one of those things where you say if you truly expected this then why did you do it. It's one of those things that if he (Alex) doesn't go through it now, I know he would go through it later. Alex has some playmaking ability in him that to this point hasn't come out very much. When it does come out that is what I'm looking for."


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