Nolan covers the spectrum

From a new contract extension for running back Frank Gore, to San Francisco's myriad of personnel moves this offseason, to the team's focus and outlook in the upcoming college draft, to his views on the NFL's push for a tougher player-conduct policy, 49ers coach Mike Nolan covers a wide variety of topics regarding his team from the league meetings this week in Arizona.

Q: Can you talk about Frank Gore's recent contract extension?
Nolan:
We got Frank agreed. That will be good. I spoke with Frank about it (Tuesday evening). We had a nice chat about it. We met with him in the afternoon and it worked out well. It was a little early because Frank just finished his second year. But as we said, if you identify somebody you want to have that is a good player, that you want to have around for a while, it's good to get it done early because the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets and the closer it gets to them seeing that window for free agency. Anytime they get closer to that window, it's a temptation to go after it because that's pay day, whether you're good or not.

Q: Are there any concerns about the fact that he might wear out quickly because he's a running back?
Nolan:
Yeah, they do. But the good thing is that when we looked at the other running backs, when they re-did their deals, they were most of them four, five or six years into their careers. That showed they're still in there and that Frank just finished his second and we wanted to go out ahead of it. We get him as a young player, when he's still out early in his career. That's a good thing. He had an outstanding year and if he has another one, it gets all the more expensive and we don't think it's a fluke. If you think it's a situation where the guy just lucks into it, like Timmy Smith in the Super Bowl year, but that's not the case (with Gore).

Q: Do you envision him being a 350-carry guy?
Nolan:
Hopefully, he'll be a little less than this past year. It would be nice to get somebody in there who could take some of the load. But he is the guy for us. We'll see how things go. We have two good backups behind him in Michael Robinson in his second year at running back and Mo Hicks. Somebody has to take some of the load off of him. He doesn't like coming out, which is a good thing. He really enjoys playing, being on the field. So, I don't have any problem with that. You just sometimes have to be careful. There's a lot of wear and tear on a running back who runs like he does. He doesn't shy away from too much and he's not a huge guy, although he's stocky and sturdy. He takes a lot of punishment.

Q: What's your reaction to the eight starting running backs who have changed teams?
Nolan:
I'm glad ours didn't.

Q: Is there something about the position that will cause such musical chairs?
Nolan:
Every situation is different. Some were free agents able to change. Some were trades where teams thought they upgraded. Some guys were unhappy where they were. For us, Frank was under contract so wanted to make sure we took care of him long-term.

Q: You have made quite a bit of moves this offseason. Can you discuss that?
Nolan:
It started with us back in August. We identified all the free agents we thought we'd be interested in and there was obviously a large numbers. We whittled that thing down as the season went along and Scot McCloughan and his staff obviously evaluated those guys as we went along. So as soon as free agency started, we had already done a lot of work that led to the guys we picked. The two defensive backs, Nate Clements and Michael Lewis, were obviously the first two guys we signed. They were two of the guys we identified early in the process that we'd like to add. There was a few other DBs, but a lot of those guys were obviously taken off that list as we got closer to free agency. Some guys were franchised, some were re-signed. So the numbers were not automatically whittled down, not necessarily by us but also by their teams taking care of them. Aubrayo Franklin is a guy I coached earlier in my career. Aubrayo did not have as much tape as other guys, so there were people who didn't know as much about him as I did in being around him. So we tried to get out on him early because I think Aubrayo is a good player who happens to be behind Kelly Gregg and (Haloti Ngata). So he didn't get as much playing time as he'd like to, but he's a good player and he's our type of guy, a good person and a hard worker. Doesn't have great leadership skill, but he's a darn good follower and that's important to us, too. Tully Banta-Cain is another guy we signed from New England. I think he's got some pass rush and a lot of people became aware of him in the second half of the season when he became a starter for New England. Again, another guy we watched earlier in the year. We watched him thinking he would be a solid backup and we kept trying to evaluate, ‘Can he be a starter?' and the next thing you know, he's a starter for New England and did a good job. I think he got 5½ sacks in half a season with New England.

Q: Did you evaluate Banta-Cain on the special teams aspect?
Nolan:
A little, but the four guys I just mentioned, we went after as starters rather than backups. When you look at backups, I think you're looking at special teams. Now, if he can do that.(special teams), that's a plus. But we were really thinking more about the front-line players with those guys. We've helped ourselves there. Then we signed Ashley Lelie and he'll give us, I think he's a vertical threat. He's got a lot of speed. He's a tall guy with good range. He's got all that. We're still looking for a No. 1 receiver. Maybe he can give that to us.

Q: Is wide receiver a top priority for you now?
Nolan:
It's one of them. We (are) still of the thought that we'll take the best player. Because of some of the things we've done in free agency, it will allow us to do that. That's good. It keeps you on the same track you've been on.

Q: So is a pass rusher or wide receiver the top priority?
Nolan:
They are both (a) need, so I wouldn't say which one is on top of the other.

Q: Does it help that wide receivers come into the league more ready to play than these days?
Nolan:
I would look at it this way: I think in the draft there are more wide receivers in the top part of the draft than there were last year. I know in the top part of the draft there are six or seven guys who will go in the first or second rounds, which is a lot more than last year. There were only a couple that went last year, one or two, I can't remember. But I wouldn't say that a wide receiver will play before a defender. Typically, if a guy is talented he can play right away (on defense) because defense has more to do with talent and instincts. Offense is a lot more … it's hard to not be too intelligent on offense. On defense, you can get away with it in certain cases. But on offense, if you run the wrong route, there's too much coordination between two guys. But there are some good players at both positions this year.

Q: Do you have to pay a premium on contracts because of the cost of living and taxes in California?
Nolan:
New York is up there, too, as far as cost of living. The biggest cost is housing. But if you buy a place, you get that back. And as I always say, it's expensive because everyone wants to live there. It's not expensive because it's some dirtbag place where no one wants to live. There's a lot of people who want to buy your house. That's a good thing once you get in. I will say that it has affected some people. It has scared some people away. I think some other teams use it against you at times. I've been part of that. But I think if a guy is looking for a lot of the more important things, not that money isn't an important thing, but it's not as if you lose all those millions once you put the money in a house. That's not the case. It's just instead of sticking it in the bank, you stick it in the house. But I think a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you're going to spend all this money on a house.' I think you sometimes scare a young guy with all that, ‘God, are you sure you want to go out there?' With my staff, not with the players, that's something I have to consider. To get someone to come out of Dallas, for example, the cost of living, the cost of housing, compared to San Francisco is not close. We just have to step up sometimes more than others.

Q: A big topic this week at the league meetings is the commissioner's push for a tougher player-conduct policy. Are you a strong supporter of it?
Nolan:
I am. One of the things that is really key to me is that the coaches have a relationship with the players and don't rely on the league. It's not the league's responsibility to discipline at every level of your football team. I believe it's their responsibility to support what we do and have a system in place where if things really get out of control they can step in and do some things. But I also believe strongly that individual teams need to do the very best job they can in disciplining and enforcing things. I believe that's the way it's supposed to be run. I look at our place like our household and I'm the parent. I should be held accountable to the job of keeping that thing in line. And if I don't, then the league has to have something in place. A lot of it is up to the individual clubs. If the marriage at the top is not right it's difficult for someone to discipline. If the players can go around a head coach to a GM or an owner, or however they can do it, that's a bad marriage at the top of the organization. No different than a family, you know. If they (kids) can go past mom to dad or vice versa to get what they want, you'll have a hard time disciplining your family. When something comes down the pike, you do it for the family, not for one individual. You want to help the individual but ultimately it's the 52 other guys that I am worried about not the one.

Q: Is that what went into the thinking process when the 49ers made the decision to release wide receiver Antonio Bryant earlier this month?
Nolan:
Antonio is very impulsive with his behavior. He is a very good player. We took the risk when we signed him that we might have the structure in place to handle it. I thought he was much improved from the things he had done in the past. I never had any really big issues until he was pulled over (for speeding on a freeway, which led to his arrest) late in the season. But outside of that, he was doing what he was asked to do. But, in the end, it just got to a point where I was more concerned with the 52 than I was with Antonio, so that's why I made a change. What I'm saying is, if you're preaching one thing and not living up to it, you have 52 other guys on your 53-man roster looking at you like, you're saying one thing but you're not coming through, and they'll start to do their own thing too. I think it's important, as the commissioner is pointing out, that you get a team (of experts) around you, whether it's psychologists or sociologists, people you can trust and can assist you, because there is a lot going on with young people when they come to. They come from all different types of backgrounds. We can do the best that we can when they get here, but we also have to be smart who we're bringing in. Because if you bring in the wrong thing, one bad apple can screw up the whole thing, as we've seen on certain teams. I won't name names, but there are certain guys in the league that aren't necessarily drug-users organg-related and all that, but just bad guys for the team. I don't care how could they are, if they destroy a team ... It's a team sport. You're not running a track meet.

Q: Are you surprised at the league-wide arrest numbers, which now total over 50?
Nolan:
I was surprised, although one individual, alone, I think, has had 10. But whether it was 24, I think it should always be an issue because you never want conduct to get out of hand. But this also can get a little comical like spiking the ball, where a guy is excited, to penalize him. I like it when guys hand the official the ball and go back. But when you talking about conduct, you can't put that in the severe category like other things, where we're saying we're not going to take anything (from players), we're just going to lock it down. You have to still enjoy the game. There's an adrenaline rush when players make a big run or catch and jump up and spike the ball like, let's go get some more, that's not disrespecting anybody. And that's not taunting. Now if I guy sticks his finger in someone's face or spits at somebody or throws the ball at them, that's a different story. But those are (rule proposals) out of the competition committee. The commissioner's talking about off-field things and obviously I think that's real important.

Q: As a coach, is a talented yet trouble-prone player someone you want to stay away from?
Nolan:
I already did it once, as you know. I took my chances. (Bryant's) a good player. He's got a good heart. It's just that some people don't control their emotions. They're too impulsive. Some guys know when to stop. Some don't stop until later and it's too late. At least we showed signs we were going to work with him. Matter of fact, when I told some of the team leaders (about Bryant's release) they kind of let me know they agreed that I had to do something. Too many warnings. If I didn't do something, then I'd have a problem.

Q: What do you see ahead as far as the progress of your team?
Nolan:
Last year, we started to believe we could win. The year before we were hoping for the best. But off of what we did in free agency, and we'll have a good draft, when we go into training camp, we can start to build off that.

Q: A few years ago, you had the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. With all the money that is involved in making and signing that pick, how much do you look at character and personality, issues and was that a factor in the ultimate decision to take Alex Smith to lead off the 2005 draft?
Nolan
Huge. That's why we took Alex. Other players we looked at (first overall pick considerations) were very talented - everything from running backs, to wide receivers, the other quarterback. Not that they don't have some of that too. That (Smith's character) was something I was saying about him after his rookie season when he had 11 interceptions and one touchdown pass. We made the right pick. He is the same guy every day. He's a football guy who has a lot of passion for what he does. He's very intelligent, talented. But most important, his head is screwed on right. With 11 interceptions and one touchdown, I understand that the surrounding cast wasn't the very best. He had a lot of things to deal with. Never bitched. Never pointed a finger. Still doesn't. He's not one of those, 'look at me.' To answer your question, that (character issues) has everything to do with it.


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