Turner's exit completes unsettling Trifecta

It's an unsettling Trifecta for Mike Nolan and the 49ers. After Norv Turner landed the head-coaching job in San Diego on Monday, Nolan must now complete the task of replacing all three coordinators on his staff since the end of the 2006 season, even though he has other essential matters to attend to such as the upcoming NFL Combine and the beginning of free agency in two weeks.

Turner, in something of a surprise, was named the 14th head coach in Chargers history on Monday, officially ending his one-season stay as San Francisco's offensive coordinator, after which he became a frontrunner for two premier NFL head-coaching jobs. His first February dalliance was with the Dallas Cowboys, but that job went to Wade Phillips.

The Chargers still run the same offense Turner implemented in San Diego during his one season as the team's offensive coordinator in 2001. Turner, a 21-year nomad of NFL coaching, then spent two seasons as Miami's offensive coordinator before moving to Oakland for a two-year stint as the Raiders' head coach. He then landed with the 49ers after being fired by Oakland in 2005 - his fourth stint as a NFL offensive coordinator.

Nolan now is left to find a new offensive coordinator very late in the offseason game at a time when most teams already have their staffs set and are gearing up for the Combine and free agency. Nolan already has replaced two coordinators this year, hiring San Diego linebacker coach Greg Manusky a month after Nolan fired Billy Davis after two seasons as San Francisco's defensive coordinator. Earlier, Nolan had hired Al Everest to replace departed Larry Mac Duff as San Francisco's special teams coordinator.

It's the second season in a row since joining the 49ers that Nolan has lost his offensive coordinator to a head-coaching position elsewhere in the NFL. Mike McCarthy left the 49ers after one season with the team in 2005 to become head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

As he did after McCarthy left the team, Nolan said Monday that he sees Turner's departure as an opportunity for the 49ers to get better because of the team's ability to attract and recruit new blood to take part in San Francisco's resurgence. But losing Turner - who helped greatly with the development of quarterback Alex Smith in particular and the offense in general last season - is a big blow.

Nolan said he plans to keep in place the offense installed by Turner last year, and that could be an indication he'll hire his senior assistant, Jerry Sullivan, to take over direction of the attack. Sullivan, San Francisco's receivers coach, was offensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

Sullivan is the only assistant currently on the San Francisco staff that has experience as a NFL coordinator, though much of the staff already is well-versed in the current offensive structure. That includes offensive line coach George Warhop, running backs coach Bishop Harris, quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler and tight ends coach Pete Hoener.

Turner and 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary both interviewed with the Chargers, just had both had interviewed earlier this month with the Cowboys. Singletary also interviewed for the top coaching position with the Atlanta Falcons, where he reportedly narrowly lost out for the job to former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.

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When both Turner and Singletary were passed over for the Dallas job - which also was a late-opening position - it appeared the 49ers would be safe from losing any more of their assistants in 2007.

But then a strange set of circumstances took place with a 14-2 team firing its veteran head coach - a team with which Turner just happened to have a history.

The more likely candidate to get hired away from the 49ers was Singletary, whom Nolan opted not to go with as his next defensive coordinator because of the other vital roles Singletary already fills in his current position with the team.

Singletary now has been interviewed by three teams as a head-coaching candidate since he joined the 49ers in 2005.

When asked if he needs more NFL experience to be a head coach, Singletary cited his Pro Football Hall of Fame career as a linebacker as experience that should not be overlooked.

"I think experience is huge," Singletary said. "If I hadn't played the game, if I hadn't been around the game as long as I've been around it and if I hadn't coached it for the time I've coached it in the roles I've been in, I think I might agree with that.

"But I think the most important thing is my question is always 'Do you want experience or do you want results?' I think that's really the bottom line and I think that's what I'm about."

When asked if he believes he is ready to be an NFL head coach, Singletary answered, "There's no doubt in my mind. Absolutely."

When it appeared as if Turner might be going to the Cowboys as head coach, Nolan began compiling a list of candidates to replace him as offensive coordinator. Nolan said he would look outside the organization, as well as consider Sullivan for the position.

However, if the 49ers were to lose Singletary, Nolan said it is unlikely he could find somebody to take over the team-wide duties he has delegated to him.

"Mike's got some outstanding, hard-to-replace qualities," Nolan said. "In fact, if I lost Mike, I would not be able to replace Mike. He's unique in what his strengths are. When you have to replace just a coach, you can replace a coach. But Mike is closer to something else. Mike is a good coach, but he's something else first. Some guys are coaches and learn how to be leaders. Some guys are leaders and learn to coach. Mike is a tremendous leader who impacts the team in positive ways."

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When Turner interviewed recently for the Cowboys' head coaching job, he made it known he wanted a similar structure to what Mike Nolan has with the 49ers. Turner won't have that structure in San Diego, where A.J. Smith is firmly entrenched as the Chargers' executive vice president and general manager.

Smith won out in an organizational power play over venerable head coach Marty Schottenheimer in what team president Dean Spanos described as a "dysfunctional" situation within the team.

Just a few years ago, the 49ers might have provided the league with the model of dysfunction, but now they seem to have their act together off the field.

Nolan and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan have the team's salary-cap problems under control, as they headed into the off-season with $37.5 million in cap space. Under Nolan, the 49ers won two more games in his first season and three victories in the second year.

Before 49ers owner John York fired coaches Steve Mariucci and Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue, the organization was a mess. Donahue feuded with Mariucci and Erickson, and different factions of the organization appeared to be pulling in opposite directions.

Whereas the team's coaching staff was not considered a strong point under Erickson, Nolan has generally done a good job of putting together his staff of assistants. He admits to making a mistake with the hiring of defensive coordinator Billy Davis, but he took steps to remedy the problem this offseason when he fired Davis and hired Manusky.

But one mark that Nolan knows what he's doing when assembling his staff is the level of attention his coaches have received for head coaching jobs despite two sub-.500 seasons.

"There are things I've learned from being a head coach but there are things I've learned along the way from being with other guys -- being in Miami, being here (in San Diego) a year and being with Mike in San Francisco," Turner said.


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