Davis was a goner long before he was gone

Billy Davis finally got his walking papers Wednesday, but they were being drawn up as far back as October. Mike Nolan is adamant about getting it right with the 49ers, and it's no secret 2007 is the year he has to do it. So Nolan immediately embarked on the dirty work that still needs to be done in that pursuit, dumping a young coordinator who did little to improve the SF defense this past season.

And after the 49ers finished dead last in the league's defensive rankings in Davis' debut as a NFL coordinator last season, Davis needed to show incremental progress - both in his role and in the way his methods contributed to the defense's performance on the field.

He didn't. So he's gone. As Nolan already has demonstrated several times in his dealings with players, he is running a tight ship with a tight fist.

It's no different when one of his subordinates no longer fits into the structure of the Nolan plan. Defensive lineman Gary Emanuel, who also directed a unit that was little - if any - better in late December than when the season began, also got the axe Wednesday.

When Davis was hired back in February of 2005, he fit the profile Nolan was looking for in a defensive coordinator as he assembled his first staff: Young, bright, and on the rise.

Davis had 13 seasons of previous NFL experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants. Despite his relative youth - 39 when hired by Nolan - Davis had been around, and he was considered one of the league's up-and-comers on the defensive side of the ball.

He appeared to be a good fit for the structure Nolan envisioned, and to be sure, Davis could count on a lot of help from his head coach, who had 11 years of experience as a NFL defensive coordinator before landing his first head coaching position with the 49ers.

As it turned out, Davis needed far too much of that help. It might be unfair to suggest Davis was in over his head at this point of his career, but he definitely didn't play a strong enough hand with the cards he was dealt as - by most outward appearances - Nolan had taken over almost total control of running the defense by season's end.

"After an evaluation period, we felt this was the right time to make the move," Nolan said Wednesday morning. "I wish Billy and Gary the very best and I enjoyed our time together. These were tough decisions as they are both great individuals and have the potential to be very successful coaches in this league."

As you read between the lines in Nolan's statement, the key word is "potential." Neither Davis or Emanuel are there yet at this level, and Nolan can no longer wait.

After all, Nolan still is in the process of fulfilling his potential as a head coach, and he's got a date with postseason destiny to reach next season, or else the momentum that has built methodically through Nolan's first two years in San Francisco will grind to an unceremonious halt.

Without question, the 49ers will need a better defense to get to the playoffs in 2007. While the blame for San Francisco's defensive failures of 2006 hardly rest only on Davis' shoulders - the 49ers finished 26th in total defense this season while allowing a NFL-worst 412 points - he didn't make enough of an impact to convince Nolan to keep him around for the payoff that's expected to come this year after the team's rebuilding struggles of the past two seasons.

Davis was in a difficult position to begin with, since he basically was a defensive coordinator in name only with Nolan actually running the show on that side of the ball.

Nolan typically scouts the opponent and prepares the defensive game plan, then calls the defense from the sidelines with subjective help from Davis. During the week of practice preparation, Nolan was the most hands-on defensive coach on the field, barking out instruction and positioning players during walk-throughs as Davis stood by as an observer.

Davis appeared to become more of a practice bystander after the 49ers went through their roughest patch of the season - a four-game swing in October when San Francisco allowed a whopping 150 points, including losses of 41-0 to Kansas City, 48-19 to San Diego and 41-10 to Chicago.

It was after the Chicago debacle - when the 49ers trailed 41-0 at halftime - that Nolan stepped in and made some key personnel changes, moving linebacker Brandon Moore and safety Keith Lewis into the starting lineup. Tackle Ronnie Fields had been moved into the starting lineup by Nolan shortly before.

That left Davis - who was good at spotting tendencies in opposing offenses, among other things - facing rumors of his imminent departure and in a position of needing to save his job during the remainder of the season.

In an early October interview, a few days after the blowout in Kansas City, Davis said his relationship with Nolan had never been better. Davis talked about great trust on the coaching staff and "a lot of great things happening."

While saying then that, "We're going to get it right" on defense, Davis also acknowledged, "It's not where we want it right now. But keep watching, because it's coming. I promise you that."

That's a promise that now will be fulfilled by someone else. And that became obvious by Tuesday, when Nolan - in his postseason state of the team address - was asked specifically about Davis' status.

"I think Billy did a good job, but right now as we stand, I have to have those (year-end) meetings with the coaches," Nolan said. "A lot of things come out of those meetings, and I'll wait."

Nolan didn't wait for long. Billy Davis came out of his meeting being shown out the door at 49erland, even though he easily could have been given another season to develop along with the rest of the team.

If that doesn't show you how serious Nolan is about winning this year, right here and now, then nothing else will.

Niners Digest Top Stories