'We are playing to win'

Along with discussing several other topics, Niners coach Mike Nolan made it clear during his Monday news conference that the 49ers won't be playing to lose during the last two weeks of the season so that they again can have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the first shot at Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

RE: Opening statement:

"Certainly competing does not equal a victory, but that's where we are right now. I thought the physical nature of the game and the way our players responded to it was a positive in the game. It was probably one of the most physical opponents that we have faced all year. We've faced teams that may have been a little better, but from a physical standpoint, that was a very physical football team. We responded well to that. I think that Alex's (Smith) development continues to improve. As all young players are, throughout our football team, there's inconsistency in our performance at times, but I thought this was a good example of his mobility and the things that keep plays alive. That is very important to a quarterback's play. His ability to deliver the ball and ball security were issues yesterday. We had no fumbles in the game, outside of the one on punt return. As far Alex's play goes, he did a very good job in that respect. It's awfully difficult to be a quarterback in this league, or anywhere for that matter, when the weapons and the guys you go to are down and you're going to backup players. I believe that no position is easier to tell than at the quarterback position. You rely so much on the route and the chemistry you have with that player, especially a running back, wide receiver or tight end. Anybody you're delivering the ball to. I think Alex continues to work hard through the adversity he faces in respect to that and continues to improve. I feel good about the direction he's going in. I thought the play of the young secondary was good. Going into the game, it was unexpected for Shawntae Spencer to go down, so B.J. Tucker had to go in and Derrick Johnson played quite a bit. Certainly they were playing with a backup quarterback, but he has done well thus far. (David) Garrard has a lot of potential to be a good player in this league. I thought the young secondary for us did a nice job. I was pleased with that. We are continuing to develop those players. It's a credit to our coaching staff. I believe there were six rookie starters in the ballgame for us yesterday, and it's a credit to the coaching staff and the job they've done to get these guys prepared and to play well – not well enough to win, which is unfortunate, but to play well in the game. One of the things we pointed out that inspired me a little bit was B.Y. (Bryant Young), not so much his ability to play, but his desire to play. That was very important. I think a lot of players still would have stayed out another week or two. He has continued to try to get back from the injury to his knee, and yesterday he played at times on a leg-and-a-half and not two full legs. He continues to bust his tail and work through it and be an example to our young players. One lesson that I learned long ago – it was in '93, so it wasn't that long ago – was when I went to the (N.Y.) Giants and coached Lawrence Taylor the last year he was in the league. About midseason he was out, I mean he was supposed to be out, but in the worst way he wanted to play. I thought it was a good choice to keep him out that first week. I learned that the team plays at an entirely different level when he's out, in particular the defense. I believe it's very much the same case with Bryant Young. When he is in there, that group of players plays at a higher level. He's demanding, but he's also accountable for his own job, and he holds other people accountable. That was something I learned a long time ago, so in making the decision before the game and talking to B.Y., I continued to reflect like I was looking at him as that '93 example when I made the first choice (to keep Taylor out). In the next week and the week to follow, I made darn sure he was in the lineup. That's the same thing we have with B.Y. I felt that he inspired a lot of guys to play. It's important as we go forward in these next two weeks that our team continues to strive to win and learn how to win. As I said several weeks ago, everything we're doing right now is building for the future, not just trying to only develop and identify the current players we have, but more importantly to win and develop that part of it. As a football team, that's critical. For the next couple of weeks, that will continue to be our goal, and that will not change. Winning is that ultimate goal for us and that's what we're striving for, and to do anything less than that would be robbing our players of their focus and where it should be. That will continue to be the focus of our football team."

RE: Did you ever think you would ever have this much trouble scoring?

"I could imagine it, yes. Did I want to imagine it? No. Is it a nightmare rather than a dream? Probably, but that's the way it is. It's something that when we started, we knew we had some adversity along the way, but everybody does. What you cannot foresee is the type of adversity you're going to have. Not only since the season began, but long before the season began, there has been adversity that we've faced as a football team that is a little unusual in certain cases. The complexion of the team has changed dramatically from the beginning of the season to now, but that's just something we have to deal with and have dealt with all along the way. The most important statistic is to score and to score points. Hopefully that is in touchdowns and not field goals. We've been very fortunate that we have an outstanding kicker in Joe Nedney, and he's a large reason why we have the two victories that we do have. It is about scoring points and winning games. It's one thing when you cannot identify what your issues are as a football team. I think we can identify week-in and week-out what our issues are, and what battles we have to face and what things we have to overcome to win. We have a football team that believes in overcoming those things. Yesterday, if they don't score 10 or one point less, we've got a chance to win that game, so it could happen.

RE: With two games left, what can you do to stimulate any kind of offense at all?

"We'll continue on the path that we're on, which I think is that path to improvement. Alex continues to grow and get better. He's growing up in this process. There's a real serious approach in his mind as he thinks about the game, after the game and during the game, and it changes. As a player matures, you can see that their mind is working in a very mature way. They are commanding certain things. It's becoming more and more important to them with more urgency. When you first step on the field for the first time as a young quarterback, or any position, there's a little bit of a written excuse where nobody really expects you to do anything, so you can just wing it. When you get past that, you get to the point where it's really important to you, you don't care what anyone else thinks anymore and you're about winning, that's what I see happening in Alex's eyes. Not that early on he didn't care about winning, but there was still that, ‘What are the expectations of me? Whatever I do, good or bad, I just can go out there and wing it and do the best that I can.' He has not had that, and at this point he's shown a lot of maturity in going forward. That, along with the maturity of the offensive line and the young players we have in there, the maturity of a guy like Frank Gore, who played a very good game yesterday, all those guys add up to a bright future at their positions. As I've said time and again, what leads me to believe that the other positions will be on the same course is that as we add the players, a couple through free agency if that be the case, and another good draft run by Scot McCloughan, that will help us. I'm very optimistic about the future, but that doesn't take me away from the fact that this week's game coming up and the week after that against Houston are very important for the direction we go, win, lose, or draw. The games that we're playing, we are playing to win. Whatever comes out of them is going to have something to do with our future. I'm looking forward to that because I believe it's very bright."

RE: Are you a stats guy?

"I am a huge stat guy because I believe they measure where you're strong and where you're weak. I don't know if the first week is an indication of that, but as your season goes along it certainly is. I'll give you an example of the difficulty with our team: the first six weeks, defensively we were not very good at all on third down. We might have been last in the league. The last six weeks, we've climbed to the middle of the pack somewhere in efficiency. That's pretty good when you start at midseason at last. You can't only take a season's worth of stats, you have to break them down to what direction you're headed in. At the beginning of the season, you look at the first four weeks and see where you are. Then you break it down the next four weeks and see where you're headed. Are we going in the same direction, are we going downward, or are we going up? Where are we going with it? Some of our statistics have stayed consistent the whole way through. We've not been very good. We've been consistently good in certain things, special teams is a great example where we've been consistently good the whole year in most all of the statistics. Offensively, we've stayed where we're at. We struggle on third down. We struggle in certain areas, but I do believe that we've improved in the running game. That's a good sign. Defensively, there are some (statistics) that have maintained where they are, and some have gotten better. Our points have gotten better, with the exception of last week's game with Seattle where they took it to us. The last six weeks or seven weeks of the season, our points have gotten considerably better. Prior to that, we had a 52- and a 41-point game. Those statistics have changed. The direction you're headed with statistics and where you've been is very important to me. I certainly don't disregard them. You could also twist them to fit what you want. I'll give you another example people use. The overall defensive measure for a football team, or even offense, is total yards. Total yards is really not the indicator, it's how many yards you get per play. My first year in the league in '93, we were number one in defense with the New York Giants in points, but I believe we had the least amount of total time on the field of any defense in the league. Although we were pounding our chests and saying how great we were at giving up only 203 points and being number three overall, the reality was that our offense was on the field about 36 minutes of every game, and we weren't on the field very much. We felt good about what we did, and we were a good group, but to say we were number one would not be fair. You can take the stats you want to say, ‘Look at us,' but you have to be realistic to yourself when you're using them the way I'm talking about. That's the only way I use them."

RE: Don't you think that points scored and points allowed corresponds to the yardage figures?

"Not really, but points are about winning and losing. That's why I said that the direction we've gone in holding our opponents down is significantly better the second half of the season. You have to include all games, so last week's game with the 41-3 score wasn't good. We've headed in that direction defensively. Offensively, that statistic has stayed pretty consistent throughout the season. It hasn't gotten better and it hasn't gotten worse. It has stayed where it was, which is a low number."

RE: Have you ever felt depressed and thought this was much more work that you thought?

"I'm about today and about tomorrow. I learn from the past and the things that I've done. The football team, as we know it today, has an entirely different look than the beginning of the season from a player standpoint and who's on the field. Those are things that I didn't expect to have occurred, but they did and we've just had to deal with them. I think they've had a huge impact on our win-loss record, but so be it. I will remain positive because I wasn't looking to win the Super Bowl this year. I thought that was unrealistic. I do believe setting the goal to take command of the division will be the goal every single season and every time we step on the field. Certainly the most important goal is the game at hand, and that will always be it. The complexion of this football team has changed dramatically from the beginning of the season to now as far as who's on the field. If there's anything unexpected for me that has happened since taking the job it's been that. It will not change the goal at hand. Like I've said from the very beginning, it's all about the personnel, the structure and chemistry, and all of those things inside this building and around the football team are headed in the right direction. We will continue to build on those things like we're doing now and when this season ends. The attitude of this football team at this time is a great indication of why I'm very optimistic and positive about things going forward. That will remain. Our team feels very confident when they come in here. They think it's home, so to speak, a place where they feel comfortable. They know where they stand and know the discipline that is required of them. I think that they're very secure in that. One of the things in going to work every day, whether you're coming to the 49ers or any other place, if you can walk in the building and feel that you're secure and can do your job without having to worry about external things, you can perform pretty well. Especially if we add good players all the time. The last thing you want to do is take a good player and put him in an environment where's he's looking over his shoulder, saying, ‘What's going on? Am I starting this week or am I a backup? Is the coach going to be here or is he gone?' The stability of an environment is critical to a good player playing well. Our players feel that stability, whatever level they're at. I feel very good, and that's why I'm optimistic about the future."

RE: What do you say to the people that say you could intentionally lose to get Reggie Bush in the draft?

"I do not think it's nonsense at all for a fan to think that way. I think that's what makes being a fan fun. They get to think about that, but as the head coach of the 49ers, I am not a fan. I won't be a fan. I think a fan would appreciate the head coach being a head coach and not a fan. To be honest with you, that's what everyone in this building needs to be. When you work for the 49ers, you need to lose all your fan stuff. That's not what we're about. The great part about our job is that there are fans out there, and you love the fans and the good and bad that comes with it. That's what makes our job exciting, and I appreciate everything about the fans. I do listen when they talk about certain things. I listen to what they have to say; I always do. It's important because there are answers that come out of fan-talk. Certainly not all of them, but they're worth listening to. Now if you can't handle what they have to say, then you don't want to listen to them. I'm all for it. As long as you're in this building and work here, it's not your job to be a fan. If you are, you need to work in another building."

RE: Do the 49ers have the wherewithal financially to sign another marquee player in the draft?

"I don't believe that will be an issue. I believe in taking the best player. Our cap situation is good for next year, and we'll do what it takes. John (York) has been supportive from the very time I took this job, and he will continue to be supportive. I believe in that. That's why I'm very confident in going forward that we'll do the things we need to do this offseason throughout this organization and continue to stay on the right path. We will be picking in the draft somewhere, and if it involves that part, money will not be an issue."

RE: Have you made any decisions regarding draft scenarios, like trading the high pick?

"No, that's for later. That's the whole-hearted truth, and we'll deal with that when it comes. I'm always looking to make the football team better, whatever that entails. Sometimes that's staying put; sometimes it's doing what you have to do. If you do it right, you always entertain that. We entertained the entirety of last year prior to picking Alex, but obviously we stayed pat. That's something you have to entertain in making the right decision."

RE: Are you impressed by Reggie Bush?

"All I've seen is the Notre Dame game and another game recently. I just watched it as a fan would watch that game. When it comes to everybody else's games, I'm a fan so I watch. It was fun to watch those games. To go off a TV thing and say a guy's good enough to be the first pick, that's where Scot McCloughan comes in and that's for his crew, but I don't do that until the season is over. I really can't answer honestly or effectively about how good any of the players are because I haven't seen them, other than the TV viewing and really enjoying them. There are some good players out there, so it's exciting for the future."

RE: On an NBA-style lottery system for NFL Draft

"I would object to it because of this: basketball is played in an area with five players. They've minimized the rules to the game to the point where it's man-on-man a lot of the time. There's a controlled environment all the time. A lot of times, in basketball, it is about the best players. Not always, because there are great teams, but you need good players. The elements of our game change all of the time. Whether it's cold, rainy, windy, can you throw or can you run. Plus, there's an awful lot more scheming in our game of football than basketball. For someone to try to lose because they think they're going to get the best player that is going to make the difference on their team, there are better players than others, but to lose (purposefully), I don't go there. I know we can win a Super Bowl. New England won three of the last four, and they haven't had the top pick in the draft for quite some time. The objective is to win the Super Bowl, and you don't need that top pick. I've never come across anyone on a coaching staff even discussing it. I've heard a lot of fans discuss it, and a lot of people have asked me that question over the years. There are too many uncontrollable situations in our game that are not the same in basketball."

RE: Could Frank Gore be an every-down feature back?

"First off, we certainly have a good corps of backs and we'll continue to use them all. I think that's important in winning games. Most of the time, the back that carries the load all the time is a bigger player, but that doesn't necessarily mean more durable. I think in answering your question about Frank I would say that he could be an every-down back. I think for us to be a successful football team we do have to utilize our entire backfield. That's the important part in being a good football team. You don't want to wear any one guy down, and we're fortunate enough to have a good corps of backs. That's the key for us."

RE: Have you ever sat down talk to Bryant Young about his future?

"We haven't specifically, but at the end of the season I'll talk to Bryant. I really try to stay away from those discussions throughout a season. Sometimes when you get right on the job you'll talk to a guy, but I didn't see that at the time. It was my understanding that Bryant had one more year on his contract. I didn't think the discussion was needed. From what I hear people say that B.Y. wants to keep going and that's certainly good for us. That means that he's on board with everything that we're doing."

RE: Did you leave the door open for him to choose whether or not he wanted to come back?

"If a player is injured and he feels that ‘I am really jeopardizing my career' or something like that and the doctors kind of concur with that, the yes, I have to go with the doctors. Like the other day if he'd have walked in and said, ‘Coach I can't play,' I wouldn't have argued with him and said, ‘Hey look you're getting on the field.' As a matter of fact I'm more surprised that he said, ‘I'm going to go,' because I know where his knee is at and it's not 100 percent. He didn't surprise me knowing B.Y.; I pretty much knew that was what he was going to say. So for that matter it's because I know him. Now if you just took a bunch of people you don't know and they say, ‘Here's this guy's knee and here's that guy's knee,' you would say then that all of those people are going to come in and say ‘I'm not going,' but not him."


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