Article Title: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Coordinator?.
As all of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area communities slept one night, the front office and head coach Mike Nolan were busy making plans to devise a way to rectify the ill-fated season of 2007 and immunize itself from offensive obscurity in which we placed last in every conceivable category as a team that has literally lost it’s grand luster as one of the best within the NFL.
Mike Nolan confessed right after the regular season in 2007 that he had made some legitimate mistakes in his decision making process with several game-day type things and even some personnel and roster moves he now looks back on with some regrets. In his third season as a head coach he has been on a roller-coaster of indecisions and has manufactured some in-house controversies about his stubborn headed reluctance to partake in the blame of what went wrong on the season.
Mike Nolan clearly a defensive-minded genius of some sorts had no idea what he was doing in an offensive sense after his close friend in Norv Turner jumped at an opportunity to be a head coach yet again with the San Diego Chargers now deep in the playoffs at that. Norv Turner came in and evaluated what was wrong with the offense and its quarterback and manufactured a true identity for this offense in 2006.
Turner built a meaningful relationship with quarterback Alex Smith and mentored him into something legitimate again following his rookie failures in 2005. He threw away a lot of the verbiage that had been taught to him through then offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy now the successful head coach of the Green Bay Packers and is as well deep into the playoffs on all cylinders running.
In fact after Mike McCarthy left so did in many ways the West Coast Offense did as well. Norv Turner turned to other specifics of establishing a simplified system of the run and shoot system that proved less cumbersome to the identity of Alex Smith. He accepted it and proved it to be to his liking in many ways and started to have some success with it until the day he accepted the job with San Diego.
Mike Nolan suddenly saw abandonment and isolation take hold with his offensive genius gone and himself left holding the bag to make decisions based upon nothing he has been truly accustomed to readily executing from a game-day standpoint. Nolan needed an offensive coordinator that could come in and take complete control of the system they wanted to run and submit for identification and execution the very plays he needed to in order to move the ball down the field with consistency and precision.
In comes quarterback’s coach Jim Hostler to assume a prestigious role that screamed for experience and incredible diversity in understanding scheme, systems and terminology to the point that every call was made with the credibility and confidence that cannot be defined by mere mortals. Hostler was thought to be the best mind available next to Alex Smith and was a close nit friend to Norv Turner throughout the 2006 season in which they coached together.
Who else could possibly run the Norv Turner offense better than his trusted assistant in Jim Hostler in Mike Nolan’s eyes? For it was the right offense at that time for sophomore quarterback Alex Smith and it was proving to be an offense that helped spring Frank Gore for over 1600 total yards in rushing and improve a passing game that found itself standing and throwing with renewed precision at the benefit of maximum protection behind a well disciplined offensive line that at that particular time had great discipline and overall execution.
All of the pieces were set in place for the 2007 season to replicate itself from last season. Yet what transpired was the greatest despair in San Francisco 49er history as the season revealed incompetence, indecision, miscalculation and one mistake scenario after another that proved to be breaking points for Jim Hostler and ultimately forced Mike Nolan to call in Ted Tollner for immediate assistance.
All season long 49er fans were subjected to an offense running in reverse to itself. Alex Smith started out strong but slowly fizzled to a mere resemblance of himself back in 2006 and ultimately found himself staring from the sidelines after a season-ending injury made worse by a head coach that wasn’t listening. Veteran Trent Dilfer came in to inject a spark and what we saw was a prehistoric reptile of the past that was stuck in that time warp and unable to break free until he succumbed to a season-ending concussion.
Shaun Hill finally got the call and answered it with flying colors like the diamond in the rough that is talked about among close friends. We saw a spark ignite and flame into something special that has brought about calls for a new contract. Chris Weinke performed the grand finale in the thriller in Cleveland that left us in a flu-like state without a cure as the regular season came to a close.
Soon after the season ended so did the experiment that was Jim Hostler. Mike Nolan had some of his personnel powers revoked to close ally and friend in new General Manager Scot McCloughan announced by owner Dr. John York and his executive son Jed. However Mike Nolan came away virtually unscathed with promises of renewal and a more unified front office that would collectively make the right decisions for this franchise and get it back on track following a season that was intended for us to make the playoffs rather then be in the cellar.
First order of business was to fire Jim Hostler and replace him. Despite some clear cut interesting candidates for the job as offensive coordinator the San Francisco 49ers under Mike Nolan made one of the strangest moves on record in hiring Mike Martz as the new mastermind of the Bay Area offense. Mike Martz is well known for his years as the bitter rival head coach of the St. Louis Rams and the “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
He is well renowned for his lightening passing plays down the length of the field to elite wide receivers Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce among others. He is also very highly scrutinized for his sometimes rash and weird decisions that call for ultra-risk type situations where conservatism is annihilated. He is what you will call the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of offense everyone knows is as strange as it is successful.”
This is where the clash of the titans may come to its fruition with Mike Nolan the ultra-conservative meeting the ultra-liberal and deviant philosopher in Mike Martz who has a reputation for being arrogant and intensely independent in his play-calling that comes with small print at the end that says: “Do not disturb or think about meddling with my offense.”
The immediate concerns with Mike Martz are numerous. This is a man with a proven track record except for his stint in Detroit where he was let go as the offensive coordinator soon after their season ended. The running game becomes less of a priority and the passing game gains momentum. He is well known for utilizing the pass first and lowering the rushing game to be second. The San Francisco 49ers have always been a run-first type of offense based on the offense originated by Bill Walsh himself in the early 1980’s and its continuance into the 2002 season that ended under then head coach Steve Mariucci.
Slowly but surely under Dennis Erickson and now Mike Nolan the offense has been a mongrel or hybrid of just about anything that fills the mood at the present time. There has been no clear-cut direction that the offense has taken to welcome a consistent identity. Mike Martz will guarantee us that the quarterback will have to be more accountable should his translation of his offense take hold.
Mike Martz likes to take chances. He likes to do gadget plays and spice things up. We will see some of that in our offense like never before. Being conservative is not a part of his vocabulary and he will try to sell his scheme and philosophy to the team throughout mini-camps and training camp especially. Finding any kind of strength out of our wide receivers and or quarterback will be a daunting task for Mike Martz considering we haven’t had any sort of downfield threat since Terrell Owens left us for Philadelphia.
The center-piece as he has told the newspapers will be around running back and a more frequent receiver in Frank Gore. He will be the man he will build the new offense around and he’ll rely on the draft and free agency to supplement his arsenal of offensive weapons. Frank Gore as we all know is the ultimate weapon of choice on our offense. We are still trying to find deep legitimate threats that will take the focal point off from him and allow him to be a scoring monster in his own right.
Mike Martz has a history with quarterbacks from Trent Green to Super Bowl Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger. He will find a way to involve either Alex Smith and or Shaun Hill into his magical potion of offensive efficiency in one form or another, his intent is to be successful with a bit of risk involved.
The passing attack he is so grounded in jeopardizes the quarterback when you have four to five wide receivers all running down the field and into their individual routes at the same time. Minimal protection of the quarterback transfers over and places that person at extreme risk of being pummeled into the ground should the line not hold at all positions in unison with one another. Recovering from 2007 as the offensive line struggled to find ways to protect the quarterback is re-positioning the line to find those maximum benefits in each individual lineman.
Mike Nolan knows that the offense is a do or die proposition for him entering the 2008 season. If he is to survive another season and reel in an extension on his five-year contract he will have to be playoff bound and he is banking highly on Mike Martz to deliver an offense that can totally diversify itself and be a resounding offensive threat in more then just a chance type of situation.
Frank Gore will be utilized to his maximum benefits as a receiver as well as a rushing specialist. He will breathe new life into spectacular tight end Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker as well, which in all rationale could be the best duo tight end package in the league if allowed a chance to develop and grow. Rookie Jason Hill and newcomer still-waiting-for-something in Ashley Lelie could directly benefit from Mike Martz’s presence as the new man in charge of the 49er offense.
Having won a Super Bowl and been a head coach with some interesting successes prior to his medical condition as a result of an illness he then recovered from, Mike provides an interesting twist upon an offense submerged in a bog of quicksand of nothingness to being propelled out of a cannon like some kind of circus on wheels show that makes the crowd sigh in awe. We have to concede that anything at this point is an upgrade to what we were used to back in 2007.
Mike Martz will be allowed to have free control on play-calling and with the assembly of his staff. Mike Nolan will grant him autonomy in full motion as he is relying on Martz to rejuvenate an offense that has flat-lined on the operating table after Week Two in the 2007 NFL season. As worried as I am about losing our identity as a running team, I am equally anticipating the changes we will see from a seasoned coordinator that opens a playbook and plays the role of the Grand Wizard of Oz.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.