Nolan's lead should suit 49ers, NFL just fine

To be sure, Mike Nolan and his 49ers will be all dressed up with somewhere to go in 2007. In an it-simply-makes-too-much-sense move, the NFL powers that be will allow the Niners' main man to prowl his home sidelines in formal designer apparel this season, even if the Reeboks of the world still have a thread in the matter, which is a fitting decision for both the team and the almighty league.

And, particularly, for Nolan, whose sole intention in the matter when he arrived as 49ers coach in 2005 was to honor his father and other head coaches of NFL days gone by with a touch of class and comportment on the sidelines that befitted a figure of football authority.

To Nolan, that meant dressing up like he was going to work - suit, tie and jacket in tow. It's called looking the part.

That's what Dick Nolan did when he roamed the sidelines at Kezar Stadium and Candlestick Park as head coach of the 49ers from 1968-1975. That's what Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi and a host of other legendary coaching figures did for decades before that elementary practice withered away somewhere along the line during the corporate crush that overtook the NFL while making the league a money-making factory during the 1980s and 1990s.

Nowadays, NFL head coaches - if the network cameras did not single them out - would blend into a pack of dozens on the sidelines wearing Reebok-sponsored and/or-manufactured gear that neither stands out or suggests an air of authority.

Most of the time, it's a polo shirt, mock or sweater adorned by the Reebok label. Or a jacket adorned by the Reebok label. Or some kind of pants adorned by the Reebok label. Or some other form of garment adorned by the Reebok label.

Reebok, you see, has a $250 million contract with the NFL to dress up its coaches on game days that runs through 2012. And as we've already alluded to, money talks in the NFL. And whether or not the reasons are pure and it makes perfect sense, that company is not exactly going to give up the power it is paying for with all those dollars.

When Nolan first approached the idea during his debut season with the 49ers, it got shot down hard. How dare he mess with protocol!

Persistent, Nolan finally got the league to go along with idea in 2006, when it allowed him to wear a dapper black suit, white shirt and red-and-gold-striped tie during San Francisco's home games against Seattle and Arizona.

But Nolan didn't want his sideline suiting-up to just be a dog-and-pony show. He wanted it to become a regular sideline ritual. After all, Nolan doesn't go to work on just two Sundays during the football season.

And, as it turns out, there is some good in the NFL. It comes from the new commissioner, Roger Goodell, who took a closer look at the situation recently and decided there was no good reason the league couldn't expand its policy to meet Nolan's request. Goodell, who has been making all the right moves in his short time as commissioner, just made another.

When the 49ers began three weeks of organized team activities on June 4, Nolan expressed some dismay that Reebok officials were blocking the move, saying then that, "Yeah, I asked (to wear suits) and right now it's still on a two-week for this year. I keep trying to push it all the time."

"It's Reebok," Nolan continued. "I think Roger does have enough on his plate with the conduct policy, although it does sort of lean toward the conduct issue. I find that all the players, all the coaches would like to see it, to be honest with you. I've never heard anybody say anything different. But at the same time, Reebok makes the call on that. Very much I think they wish it would go away, but I try to keep it alive as much as I can."

Alive and kicking, as it turns out.

And when Goodell finally stepped in, that's all it took. As something of a compromise, Nolan asked that he be allowed to wear suits just at the team's eight home games instead of all 16 games this season. Reebok, of course, still will take part in designing the suits Nolan wears on NFL Sundays. Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, a Bay Area native who also wore a suit for two games last season, also has indicated he'll be wearing suits on a more regular basis this season.

Apparently, all NFL coaches have been given the green light to expand their sideline wardrobe this year, but Nolan and Del Rio are the only ones who have indicated they'll do so in 2007. Or, in their case, continue to do so.

"I would like to thank commissioner Goodell and Reebok for allowing me to wear a suit at our home contests," Nolan said after the decision was announced. "As I mentioned before, I made this request out of the high amount of respect I have for the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers, my father and all of the former coaches who have worn suits."

Which is how it should be. Go to a NBA game, and you won't find head coaches on the sidelines in corporate-sponsored cotton attire. They wear finely-tailored suits. Go to a NHL game. The majority of those coaches are dressed to the hilt also. Among the major professional sports other than football, only major league baseball managers decline to wear suits - and that's because they're wearing uniforms just like their players.

There's no reason NFL coaches shouldn't have the same option. It took more than two years for Nolan to get others around the league to see the wisdom in that reasoning, but just like the other struggles and obstacles he has faced since taking over the 49ers, he remained undeterred.

Now he'll be dressing as sharp as he wants his team to look on the field, and the entire NFL world already is a better place for it.


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