49ers bark back at Barlow

To be sure, the 49ers were tempered with their reactions Wednesday to deposed running back Kevan Barlow's incendiary comments about coach Mike Nolan from the day before. But it wasn't too difficult to read between the lines.

Barlow unleashed a firestorm of scathing criticism on his former coach Tuesday, two days after Nolan traded the sixth-year running back to the New York Jets for a 2007 fourth-round draft pick.

In an interview with the Contra Costa Times, Barlow piled on Nolan, saying he's a first-time head coach with too much power who "walks around with a chip on his shoulder, like he's a dictator, like he's Hitler. People are scared of him. If it ain't Nolan's way, it's the highway."

Hitler?

"Yeah, it was unfortunate," Nolan said.

Barlow went on to call Nolan a "liar," and said the coach "doesn't know what he's doing," was "dirty" for the way he handled the trade and "ain't living up to the standards of his San Francisco coaching predecessors.

Barlow, San Francisco's starting tailback since the end of the 2003 season, went on to say nobody on the team has a good relationship with Nolan and that San Francisco players "are uptight and walking on eggshells."

Nolan took the high road Wednesday when asked to further expound upon Barlow's comments.

"I enjoy Kevan. I think he's a good guy, a good kid, and I still feel that way," Nolan said. "I have no gripes with him, none at all. Kevan was always a model citizen while he was here. He did an outstanding job of doing what we asked him to do. He was good on the field as well. He was our back last year, carried much of the load for about 12 weeks. I never had an issue with Kevan at all. I still feel the same way about Kevan. I don't feel any differently. I think he just acted out of emotions, and outside of that, nothing's changed on my part. I understand the situation. I'm good."

Knowing Barlow as they do, several of the 49ers veteran players understand the situation, too. And contrary to Barlow's comments, the prevailing feeling in the San Francisco locker room is that Nolan is not a tyrant and fear, tension and unrest are not emotions that are hanging over the organization.

Here's a sampling of what some of them had to say about Barlow's outburst:

Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich: "Kevan's a very emotional guy. We all knew that. That's part of what makes him a really good football player, and it's sometimes what hurts him and, obviously, what kind of puts his foot in his mouth."

On Barlow's comments about the team walking on eggshells, Ulbrich said, "That's not the way I see it. He had a different perspective than me, but I don't see it that way at all. I don't think it is. I think he might get a big wakeup call going to New York and realize how good he had it here. We're definitely going in the right direction here."

Asked if Barlow is better off now that he's elsewhere, since he was going to be Frank Gore's backup this season, Ulbrich said, "When he was Garrison's (Hearst) backup, he thrived in that role and did well. So, who knows. There's a lot of what ifs. From a personality standpoint, I thought that Kevan had progressed. It seemed like he was getting better. Who knows how he would have handled it? We'll never know now."

Offensive guard Justin Smiley: "That's one man's opinion. That's how he sees things. That doesn't make him right and it doesn't make him wrong. I'm very happy to be here. I have no complaints, I love the regime and I think it's good for us and I think we're a better team than we've ever been here because of the tutelage of coach Nolan. That's just one man's opinion of him wanting to be here and some things shaked up the way that he didn't personally like them. I know Kevan's heart is here. I knowhe wanted to be a part of this team. But coach Nolan did what he felt was best for the team. Everybody's happy here. We understand that every day you come to work, you have to perform. It's a high performance business that if you don't perform, that's your quickest ticket out of this league. You've got to show up every day. I mean, you're only as good as your last play."

As far as tension in the locker room, Smiley said, "Every head coach comes in with his dreams of how he sees things and stuff like that and it takes a while to get things that way. But you can feel it around here. Obviously, were as confident as we've ever been. And look at the way our offensive line has played the last two games - it's because we've gotten people in here that we need and we've got great depth and we're well coached. Obviously, we have a long ways to go, but just the way our guys react, you can see it. That's the way it is, and I don't believe you create a good team unless you have competition early in the season like we have. You have to treat every day like it's your last out here. Nothing's guaranteed around here."

Long-snapper Brian Jennings: "All the decisions that they've made here we're excited (about) as a football team, to really have an opportunity to go into the season with a chance of being successful. I think this team as a whole is dedicated to winning football games. I think that the guys that we have here, the guys that are going to be here, are focused on doing their job, are focused on helping us win offensively, defensively, on special teams."

On Barlow's comments about unrest in the locker room, Jennings said, "I can't speculate. That might be something he feels. In my experience, were excited to play football. We're excited to win games. We believe in our coaching staff offensively, defensively and special teams. The schemes that we're running, the practices, the structure, the things we've been doing this entire camp for the last three weeks. Were' focused on winning football games."

Quarterback Alex Smith: "It's tough. Kevan's got a lot of personality and is probably pretty emotional. He's been here his whole career and I think when you get traded, he's probably having some strong feelings. It's a tough situation. But I don't share the same feelings."

When asked about any tension in the locker room, Smith said, "I don't think so. I've never seen anything to believe that. I think this is the best the locker room has been this year. Don't get me wrong, we have to get this thing down to (a 53-man roster), so I think there's healthy competition going on right now. I don't think there's anything unhealthy, or eggshells or whatever he said. I think guys are fighting to make this team and I think everyone knows that. I think honestly this is the best the locker room has been this year. I think there's a lot of good competition going on and I think there's a lot of good battles and I think everyone is picking this team up, which is what you need."

Defensive end Marques Douglas spent three seasons with Nolan in Baltimore when Nolan was the Ravens' defensive coordinator and he probably knows the coach as well as any San Francisco player. Douglas said Nolan is the same person he was in Baltimore, and he doesn't believe Nolan coaches with a my-way-or-the-highway approach. "I don't think he's that way at all," Douglas said. "I've been with the guy for almost five-and-a-half years and he's always listened to players, he's always had the attitude of the players should own it. He's always promoted team unity and team chemistry within the players. I definitely think he's taken this team in a positive direction."

Douglas went on to say, "There's no secret there were some guys on the team maybe who weren't with the system. And (Nolan) made it known from Day 1 if you're not with what's going on, you wont be around here. It's obvious that some of those (departed) players didn't want to be here. What were trying to build here is a winning tradition. And it has not been around here for sometime now. So I feel like I'm always on eggshells, I feel like always have to prove myself, I feel I have to (perform) every day. But if you go out there and make plays, you make their decision a lot easier by saying that they can count on you and they can trust you."

Barlow called and left a telephone message apologizing to Nolan early Wednesday, and the coach said that's where he will leave things. Nolan has no plans to address Barlow's comments with the team.

"No, because that makes it about me," Nolan said. "This isn't about me. If I had done or said something that I felt was wrong, I would tell the team and fess up. But that's not the case here. This is what Kevan said, and I'm not going to apologize for Kevan."


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