49ers on the offensive with Martz in as OC

Mike Nolan didn't take the methodical, conservative approach in finding a new coordinator to fix an offense that doomed the 49ers' 2007 season. He made a fast and furious splash instead, wasting no time in luring to San Francisco one of most innovative, productive offensive minds of this NFL era.

Not to mention a guy that's sure to add spark and pizzazz to a unit that finished dead last in the NFL in total offense two of the past three seasons.

You can be certain the 49ers won't finish last in the league in total offense this year now that Mike Martz is running the show.

Less than a week after firing Jim Hostler, who directed the league's 32nd-ranked offense last season in his first shot as a NFL coordinator, Nolan identified Martz as the man he'll entrust to revive San Francisco's lagging attack, then secured his services with a two-year contract on Tuesday after interviewing just two candidates for the job.

And thus, Nolan may have solved the biggest quandary facing him in 2008, handing over San Francisco's struggling offense to a man who has directed some of the finest offenses the NFL ever has seen.

"It'll be Mike's call on the offense," Nolan said. "He's the offensive coordinator, and that's the way it's been here. Mike will put the offense in and it'll be his offense. Mike has got a very thorough offensive attack that utilizes the personnel extremely well. He plays to the strengths that your offense allows him, and I'm confident that he'll do that with us."

Of course, bringing in the volatile Martz could all blow up in the 49ers' faces, particularly since his wide-open, free-wheeling offensive style doesn't seem to mix very well with Nolan's grind-it-out, conservative approach.

But after their hugely disappointing 5-11season, the 49ers can use a little fire and ice to get the team moving in the right direction after the Nolan Plan took a southward detour in 2007.

Martz definitely will provide the fire. His pass-happy philosophy produced one of the greatest offensive attacks of this NFL era during Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" days with the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers know all about it, having faced those Martz-led St. Louis offenses 14 times between 1999-2005 - and losing 10 of 12 of those games before sweeping the Rams in Martz's final season with St. Louis in 2005.

Martz was offensive coordinator with the Rams during their Super Bowl championship season of 1999 before taking over as St. Louis' head coach the next year. In his seven seasons with the team, Martz led the Rams to five playoff appearances, four 10-win seasons, three NFC West titles and trips to the Super Bowl after the 1999 and 2001 seasons.

Martz's offenses won three consecutive NFL passing titles during that span and finished in the top five in NFL passing offense seven consecutive seasons. The Rams finished No. 1 in the NFL in total offense from 1999-2001 and also led the league in scoring each of those seasons.

"Mike is an accomplished and highly successful offensive coach that has had great success with individuals and entire offenses," Nolan said. "I believe the addition of Mike will affect our offense and entire team in a positive way. Mike has coached in the Super Bowl, won the Super Bowl, and he's been successful against teams in this (NFC West) division. Mike's got great command of the room and he inspires players. If you want to be a good player, Mike's the guy for you."

And the way Martz made it sound after joining his former rival, the 49ers are the team for him.

"First of all, the organization, to be a part of this is a dream come true," Martz said. "The potential to build that offense around (running back) Frank Gore is pretty exciting. There are a lot of really outstanding pieces there that we just need to tie together. It's not a challenge, it's an opportunity. And that's the part I enjoy."

Martz, who lists former 49ers coach Bill Walsh as one of his greatest influences, has enjoyed more enduring success over the past decade than any other offensive coach in the NFL.

Now Martz brings his flashy play-calling and strategy to San Francisco, which hasn't finished higher than 26th in NFL total offense over the past four seasons, a span that includes two last-places finishes.

Martz says the 49ers are only a decent offense away from being a true NFL contender, and he's just the guy to bring it to them.

"I believe that I have such a great feel for who (Nolan) is, and looking at the personnel and looking at what he's been able to build here with this organization, they're just so close," Martz said. "To me, it was a no-brainer. With the defense and the special teams playing at a high level, we just need to tie the pieces together on offense. To come into a situation like this where you've got somebody like Mike that you can work for and have some talent to put this thing together is a thrill for me."

Nolan and Martz worked together in 1997-1998 on the same staff with the Washington Redskins, where Martz was the team's quarterbacks coach and Nolan the defensive coordinator under head coach Norv Turner, who preceded Martz as San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2006.

Martz served as offensive coordinator the past two years with the Detroit Lions, who unceremoniously fired him after the Lions lost seven of their final eight games this past season after a 6-2 start. Martz produced two top-10 finishes in passing offense during his two seasons in Detroit, but his attack lacked balance as the Lions were 31st in rushing offense this past season and 32nd in 2006.

That has been one of the critiques of Martz's offensive style in recent years. He hasn't coached a team that has finished higher than 22nd in the league in rushing offense in any of the past six seasons.

The 49ers' strength on offense - if they have one - has been running the football. San Francisco ranked sixth in NFL rushing in 2006 while producing the NFC's rushing champion in Gore, but the Niners slumped to 27th in the league this past season despite Gore becoming the fifth running back in franchise history to produce back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Martz made it clear Gore will become the featured player in the offense he'll bring to San Francisco.

"I think the centerpiece is obviously Frank," Martz said. "He is playing at such a high level. That's where you start."

Martz's credentials establish him as one of the most flamboyant and productive offensive minds in today's NFL.

Martz got his first shot at being a NFL coordinator in 1999 with the Rams, and it was one of the greatest debuts ever for an individual in that position. The Rams improved from 4-12 to 13-3 largely behind their offense, which produced an amazing turnaround over the year before, going from 27th in the league in total offense (22nd in passing, 29th in rushing) in 1998 to No. 1 the next season (1st in passing, 5th in rushing).

That offense ranks as one of the most successful in NFL history. The Rams scored 526 points on their way to the franchise's only Super Bowl title, then bettered that mark with 540 points the next season, the third-highest scoring total in NFL history.

The Rams scored 503 points on their way back to the Super Bowl in 2001, becoming the first - and only - team in league history to score 500 or more points in three consecutive seasons.

Martz's presence will give Nolan the luxury of again having a coordinator with head coaching experience to direct San Francisco's offense. Martz finished 54-33 in his six seasons as St. Louis head coach, and his 24 victories during his first two seasons were the third-highest total in league history for a NFL coach in his first two years.

Martz, 56, might view this opportunity as a stepping stone back to a head coaching gig. Mike McCarthy - who spent one season with the 49ers in 2005 as Nolan's first offensive coordinator in San Francisco - is now head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Turner - who previously was head coach in Washington and Oakland - got a promotion to head coach of the San Diego Chargers after his one season as 49ers offensive coordinator.

But first thing's first, and that's fixing a San Francisco offense that tied a franchise record in 2007 for fewest points in a 16-game season with a NFL-low 219. If anybody can do it, Martz figures to be the guy.


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