Get ready for Mike Nolan Lite

Get ready for the Mike Nolan Lite version of the 49ers, coming soon to a football stadium near you. The essential information emerging from Wednesday's several-days-delayed season-wrap news conference is Scot McCloughan's promotion as the team's new general manager, but it appears painfully obvious that doesn't translate into a demotion for Nolan, who will remain the team's central power broker.

There's no other conclusion to reach after an occasionally-awkward 50-minute afternoon media briefing at team headquarters during which owner John York announced the alteration in the team's organizational structure, then handed off the platform to Nolan and McCloughan, who – despite several times each reinforcing their buddy-buddy relationship – shared the microphone somewhat uncomfortably while facing a barrage of questions.

OK, so now McCloughan will be the "trigger-man" on all final personnel decisions, a term Nolan used so many times in a packed conference room that it practically reverberated off the walls. But – after two full days of secretive meetings between team officials following the finish of San Francisco's disappointing 5-11 season – it appears most other important details regarding the organization's football operation will remain status quo.

As Nolan himself said, with McCloughan standing behind him and York off to the side watching, "I will remain the one voice in this organization and the face."

How clear is that?

Nolan went on: "I will not have the trigger on the personnel decisions. It's as simple as this: When it comes to final decisions, the trigger – if there's a disagreement, and we cannot (agree), which hasn't been the case since we've been here and I had the trigger – Scot will make the decision, when it comes to personnel decisions."

Welcome to control of the football operation, Mr. McCloughan.

At least, control of the football operation is the kind of power a NFL general manager is supposed to wield. But Wednesday's development strongly suggests McCloughan's climb in the organizational structure only brings him to equal ground with Nolan, if that.

In fact, in talking about the path and plan the 49ers will follow going forward, McCloughan said, "I totally believe in what he's started here," referring to Nolan, before catching himself and saying, "we've started here."

And, just to fortify the perception this is one GM who isn't necessarily over the head coach in the football structure, McCloughan added, when asked who he now reports to in the organization, "I report to ownership. Coach and I are side by side reporting to ownership."

While speculation over the past few days – and weeks and months, for that matter – was heavy that Nolan would be fired, the coach, the owner, and the new GM seemed to suggest that wasn't a prevailing issue during their discussions since the season ended.

York and McCloughan – who did come out and say he now has the power to fire Nolan, if that's a decision he faces in the future – said the discussions were "not about Mike Nolan."

"(They) were about the whole organization," McCloughan said. "The structure, the front office, the players on the field to the coaching staff. I'll say it again: From my standpoint, one of the reasons I took this job is because I knew Mike Nolan is going to be our head coach. It was very important for me to know that. Because I know with him – my gut tells me, and my past experiences tell me – we're going to get this thing right and we're going to be a dang good team. And we're going to be a consistently good team because of what Mike brings in leadership, and the guys believing in what he's doing."

McCloughan indicated his primary role will be "to get better football players in here," which doesn't sound a lot different than the role he had within the organization before Wednesday. While saying, "If I can help Mike out in any aspect, I will," McCloughan said all decisions about the remake of Nolan's coaching staff will be made by Nolan.

And that remake is coming. It began Wednesday with the official announcement that Jim Hostler has been fired as offensive coordinator, something everybody knew was coming regardless of what happened to Nolan or any other changes that might take place.

But no other hirings or firings were revealed Wednesday, making Hostler the obvious scapegoat for the team's 2007 crash-and-burn. Many believed Nolan might be left to carry that burden, but he emerged from that train wreck virtually unscathed, albeit on a short leash for the future, and a virtual win-now-or-else mandate for 2008.

Both McCloughan and Nolan danced around questions how this change – which, viewed from the outside, looks relatively minor – will help make the organization stronger and the team on the field better.

One of those questions was lobbed across the room toward York.

But Nolan quickly answered it instead.

"Well, for one, it allows me to focus more on the football team, and the coaching staff, and the things I've got to do on the football field," Nolan said. "It gives me more time to spend on some areas that I think are really key to the success of our football team. We're all trying to get better all the time. (When making all the important final decisions), you can get spread a little thin, I guess you could say, at times."

The question now is if Nolan's role in the organization really is getting spread any thinner by the latest move. All parties involved made it sound as though Nolan and McCloughan will be working together in an equal decision-making partnership, which is essentially what they've been doing since both arrived in 2005.

"I've always said the marriage between Scot and I, from the day he was hired, would be a key one," Nolan said. "And it must continue to be that way. So I don't believe any of that will change."

Of course it won't change, because the 49ers – after flopping in the pivotal Year 3 of the Nolan regime – made virtually no change. For better or worse, this remains Mike Nolan's team, even if his all-encompassing role within the organization has been made a little lighter in a few specific areas.


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