49ers assistants on the hot seat?

When asked earlier this week if he planned to make any offseason changes on his coaching staff, Mike Nolan replied: "I'd rather refrain from any comment on that. I'll just wait and see." That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the assistants on a 4-12 team, some of whom Nolan never knew until he hired them. Several assistants, obviously, aren't going anywhere, but here's a look at some who might be deemed expendable because they don't fit the Nolan plan and vision as the team moves forward.

First off, it should be noted that even in the face of growing criticism, Nolan stood by his assistants throughout the season, even praising them on several occasions when the subject was broached.

But all can't be well, considering the lack of development of a young team through most of the season. Nolan is big on his assistants being teachers, and it appeared the 49ers were slow learners until they began getting their act together at the end of the season.

Going down the list of assistants whose 2005 performance may give Nolan reason to ponder when he goes about securing his staff for 2006:

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis: The feeling here is that Davis will not be a fall guy for San Francisco's defensive futility, and he does appear to be a promising coach who did the best he could in his first season as a coordinator despite losing four front-line starters to season-ending injuries, and having several others hampered by injury or who played below expectations. But the fact remains: The 49ers finished last in the league in total defense, surrendering a franchise-record 6,259 yards. That can't be blamed just on the players, but – after all – Nolan came to San Francisco known for his defensive background and prowess, yet that unit reeked most of year. But there was considerable progress with patchwork parts near the end of the season, so that will reflect well on Davis.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy: Some eyebrows might be raised that McCarthy is getting a head coaching interview with Green Bay after his offense ranked last in the NFL in his first season with the 49ers. But with a 21-year-old rookie quarterback trying to learn a pro system, a dearth of talent at the skill positions and a unit that was in transition practically every step of the way through the season, McCarthy probably will be cut some slack. It would be disruptive to change offensive coordinators at this point in the building progress, but not out of the question after the 49ers produced just 3,587 yards on offense – the fifth-lowest total of any team since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Offensive line coach George Warhop: There were several complaints about the lack of guidance on this unit in 2004, and Warhop was supposed to change all that. But the line was slow to progress, and when the Niners brought in Anthony Clement as a stopgap measure – Clement had played under Warhop when both were with the Arizona Cardinals – Clement appeared lost and was highly ineffective. There also are plenty of rumblings regarding why it took so long for the 49ers to get their prized rookie linemen onto the field when, once they were there, it was obvious they were better than what they replaced.

Running backs coach Bishop Harris: Harris is under heavy scrutiny because of his feud with fullback Fred Beasley that became public after Beasley simply couldn't take it any more. Harris declined to speak with reporters about it, but it indicated a lack of communication at a vital position. Harris had a well-publicized sideline run-in with Jets coach Herman Edwards during a game in New York last year, so his temperament may be in question. When asked if he thought there is a workable relationship between Harris and Beasley in the future, Nolan said, "I think it would take some work." So, take that to mean at least one of them won't be back. On the plus sign, there was good development from rookie Frank Gore and incumbent tailback Kevan Barlow, even if the latter's statistics don't suggest that.

Tight ends coach Pete Hoener: Again, you can't necessarily blame coaches for poor talent, but Hoener got absolutely nothing out of San Francisco's tight ends this year, and that was a debilitating blow for the offense. San Francisco's leading tight end this season caught nine passes for 76 yards. Combined, the position produced 20 receptions for 158 yards, a paltry 7.9 average. That's terrible, and it's not like the blocking from this position was that good, either. The loss of receiver supreme Eric Johnson at the start of the season was a big blow to this position, but the 49ers didn't do a very good job developing the players they were left with.

Quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler: Hostler had just one previous season as a quarterbacks coach before joining the 49ers, and it's debatable how much he was able to help in the development of San Francisco's young quarterbacks this season. It would seem these young guys need an experienced hand to guide them – Nolan already has indicated he wants to bring in a veteran quarterback as a backup to mentor Alex Smith next season – not someone who's relatively starting out such as they are. McCarthy was quite involved with the quarterbacks, so maybe Hostler was doing everything that the 49ers were asking of him and will welcome him back. Maybe.

Defensive line coach Gary Emanuel: This was Emanuel's first season coaching in the NFL, and it showed. While the 49ers did some nice things stopping the run, particularly as the season progressed, their pass rush was poor up front, even with Bryant Young producing eight sacks before he was hurt in the team's 10th game and then not heard from again as a pass rusher. It's a bit difficult to assess Emanuel's performance because the 49ers flip-flopped between a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme all season, and the team didn't really have the best personnel to make either system succeed.

Secondary coach A.J. Christoff: Also in his first season as a NFL assistant after a long career in the college ranks, Christoff's secondary was embarrassed in the early going and ultimately finished last in the league in passing yards allowed. But injuries destroyed the 49ers in their defensive backfield this year, and Christoff actually did well with the emergency replacement parts the team was forced to pick up off the free-agent scrap heap. Youngsters such as Mike Adams and Bruce Thornton – neither of whom began the season as a starter – displayed clear development, so perhaps Christoff's effort should be praised instead of questioned.


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