Nolan won't rest until Niners get it right

Mike Nolan is ready for a rest but knows he can't take one. The monster that is this massive project of rebuilding the 49ers does not sleep, and neither will Nolan until he gets his team further along in that process. His debut season as a NFL coach in San Francisco did not exactly go according to plan, but that doesn't mean the Niners are off track of the plan Nolan still promises will indeed bring the floundering franchise back to life.

"With respect to where we go from here," Nolan said Monday during his season wrap-up news conference, "I have the responsibility to our players, coaches, fans and everyone in the 49ers family to get things right. That was the job I was handed and that is what I need to do."

And so, that means no rest for the weary, even for a strong, forceful and energetic coach who deserves a little postseason relief just as much as he could use some.

But that's not Nolan's way. There is still unfinished business to attend to, even if the business of the 2005 season just finished yesterday.

"I'd love to think that after the first year it's time to relax," Nolan said, almost wistfully. "But I know it's not time. It's time to continue to push forward and get things right."

Nolan first season with the 49ers, a 4-12 disappointment that was saved from being a total disaster by a two-game winning streak to carry into 2006, was all about stepping back to assess the situation before plunging ahead and pushing forward.

Nolan may have underestimated the talent on his team when he declared in early spring that the goal of the new 49ers would be to win the NFC West, but his dual purpose was clear. Nolan intended to motivate his troops while also giving the personnel remnants of the previous regime an opportunity to prove themselves worthy before he blew up the team and started over.

The explosion will be coming in the offseason, now that Nolan has learned by the trial an error of 2005. Nolan's second season won't be all about getting the team's structure, chemistry and personnel in the right order. It will be about winning.

"Really, everything falls in line with the players and the structure," Nolan says. "Everything does. So, what (this season) did was, from my standpoint, it identified positions that we have to strengthen. When I took the job I could have come in like some and try to make a lot of changes and that would have been the wrong thing to do. Some guys like to change everything and bring in their own people but I felt it was important to give people here the opportunity to prove themselves one way or another and it has proven to be a right decision because we did it that way."

But now, changes are coming. Without being specific, Nolan all but promised it.

To be sure, there will be changes on the roster. Lots of them. Nolan said the 49ers would "like to have all of them back," in regards to the team's 17 unrestricted and restricted free agents, but at least half of them are practically certain to leave, some by their choice and some by the team's.

Nolan also is seriously considering bringing in some veteran, experienced football mind to add to the team's operational brain trust, but he made it clear he won't be relinquishing any power to a potential newcomer. Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughan, Nolan's right-hand man, will continue to be the power brokers and decision makers in all football matters regarding the 49ers.

There also will be several subtle, less-visible changes made in detail areas of the organization, a product of the lessons Nolan learned this season from his mistakes.

"Getting to the purpose, as you've heard me say, about the personnel, structure and chemistry, that is an area that we made the biggest strides in, I believe, in the entire season," Nolan said. "Amidst all the adversity we faced with the injuries and a lot of other things that came up in the course of the year, I thought we made tremendous strides in that area. And that's really building the foundation for the future of this football team, which I'm the most, I guess, pleased with and certainly I'm the most optimistic with regards to that."

So what's next, now that the foundation is in place? Well, it starts tomorrow.

"Scot and I, with the support of John (York) will start to put together our plan for (2006) whether it be free agents, the draft selections and everything that has to do with our offseason strategy going forward," Nolan said. "We'll begin to do that this week coming up right now."

After a second consecutive last-place finish, there's no time to waste. And, as Nolan will tell you, no time to rest.

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