Nolan getting good at coaching search

Mike Nolan must be doing something right. His first team with the 49ers goes 4-12, finishes last in the NFL in both total offense and total defense, yet two of his top lieutenants immediately get head coaching interviews after the season, and one of them lands the top job with one of the league's most vaunted franchises. But now Nolan's suddenly looking for a new offensive coordinator, and that doesn't exactly fit into his busy plans for a consequential 2006 offseason.

Of course, he'll make it fit.

"It's certainly not something you hope for as a coach," Nolan said Thursday after losing Mike McCarthy to the Green Bay Packers in what has to be the most stunning personnel move in the NFL so far in 2006. "I didn't expect to lose a coach in such a manner after the first year. But just the same, I should expect it."

Expect it? Nobody could have really expected McCarthy to be chosen over several other viable candidates by the Packers, not after his one season in San Francisco resulted in an offense that set franchise records for futility and was statistically one of the worst the NFL has seen in the modern era.

But Nolan's point is he knew what he was doing in the first place when he assembled his first coaching staff with the 49ers last year when he was named a head coach for the first time after 18 seasons as a NFL assistant.

"As long as I've been in the league, I was very confident that I did put together a good staff," Nolan said. "It's evident that, even after the year we had, Mike McCarthy and Mike Singletary (with the Detroit Lions) both had head coaching interviews. To some degree, it's surprising to me, but on the other hand, I should know better because of the people that I hire."

Now, Nolan gets to do it all over again.

At a time when he is evaluating his organization from top to bottom after a rugged debut season, and also preparing to take his staff of assistants to Alabama in eight days to coach the South squad during Senior Bowl week, Nolan is unexpectedly looking for perhaps the key component of his entire staff, considering that Nolan's coaching background is predominantly defense, and that's the side of the ball he consumes himself with.

He also might be looking for a few other new assistants, since Nolan said, "there could be a coach or two" that leaves with McCarthy for Green Bay. But Nolan indicated he won't let it happen unless those coaches go to the Packers with a promotion, because he's intent on keeping San Francisco's offensive coaching structure in place as much as possible since that offense now is looking for a new man to lead it.

Nolan will take his time with this hire. Acknowledging that "there is a huge pool" of coaches available at the moment because so many NFL teams have recently fired their head coaches and released various assistants, San Francisco's head man realizes he's going to have a lot of choices from which to pick.

But there is only one guy Nolan wants – and that's the right guy.

"I don't want to make it sound like I'm looking for the perfect person, but this is a big job and not everybody is qualified to have this job," Nolan said. "Not everybody will want it. I think there will be a lot of guys that think they can handle it, but I'm going to make sure that we get the guy that can."

That guy will have NFL experience, and most likely experience as a NFL coordinator, since Nolan will be entrusting his offense to the new hire. That guy probably also will have to have close ties to the West Coast offensive structure that McCarthy implemented this year, and he'll also have to be a good fit for the offensive staff Nolan already has in place, because most of San Francisco's current offensive assistants – and perhaps all of them – aren't going anywhere.

And that's the difference in Nolan's offensive coordinator search between this year and last year. In 2005, only veteran receivers coach Jerry Sullivan had been hired before Nolan brought in McCarthy, and the rest of the team's offensive staff was then shaped around McCarthy. This time, it will be the other way around.

"There are a lot of good coaches," Nolan said, "but I think you have to fit the chemistry of your staff. I have a staff in place that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and they do an outstanding job. There's a lot of experience on the offensive side of the ball. Now, I have to put together a coordinator position to match those guys. So I'm coming at it from a whole different angle than I did a year ago, and I don't know if it's easier or more difficult. You want to match the guys that we have, because we have very good coaches on offense."

Nolan is going to make sure he adds another one of those guys, and he indicated that's what he'll be doing, adding a new face instead of promoting within. While Nolan said, "Sure, there are thoughts from hiring within," he quickly followed that remark with, "At this time I'd rather complement the guys that I have on offense. I look at this as an opportunity for us to get better. The better possibility of us getting better is to bring in someone that's done it from the outside, but I'm not set on that at this time."

Yes he is. Nolan clearly has his sights set on big game to replace McCarthy, and that could be one of the head coaches that found himself out of a job earlier this month.

The name of Norv Turner – fired as head man of the Oakland Raiders last week – was tossed out at Nolan on Thursday, and he seemed agreeable to the idea. Nolan was Turner's defensive coordinator in Washington from 1997-1999 when Turner was head coach of the Redskins, and Turner won two Super Bowls earlier in his career as offensive coordinator in Dallas, a position he also recently held with the Miami Dolphins.

When Tom Rathman's name was mentioned – a very popular candidate in the Bay Area, considering his rising talent in coaching circles and close ties to the 49ers – Nolan said, "Tom's on the list," and he quickly pointed out Rathman's many virtues. But just as quickly, Nolan said, "the only thing that hurts Tom at this point is that Tom has not done it, and I am looking for some experience at the position."

Without revealing any other names, Nolan said, "I do have some people in mind," and pointed out that he would like to hire his new OC sooner rather than later because, "It would be a great opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl and work together with the staff."

"But at this time," Nolan said, "I can't assure anyone of that."

What Nolan does assure is that he ultimately will get his man, just like he did last time. After all, he's already getting pretty good at this coaching search stuff.

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