Former 49ers head coach and NFL Network analyst Mike Nolan joined the Murph and Mac show on Tuesday, and there was a ton to glean from the interview.
First things first, Nolan regrets being hired before general manager Scot McCloughan back in 2005, and strongly advised Jed York to do the opposite this time around. McCloughan ended up outlasting Nolan, who was fired midseason in 2008.
“Hire the general manager first for this simple reason: It’s always players first — always” Nolan said. “It might even be first through 10. Players first. Because great players make a coach look like a hero. But it’s not the other way around. A great coach sometimes, if you don’t have the right guys on the field, you can be as good as you want — it’s hard to get a win on Sundays.”
Also, Nolan isn’t quite sure why one of York’s biggest priorities is how well the head coach and general manager get along. Nolan provided some background information on why he hired McCloughan. Hint: It wasn’t his personality.
“I hired Scot. I was looking for somebody that I felt was the best at picking players. Because that is ultimately the job of the general manager,” Nolan said. “I don’t care what else he can do. I mean, he might have the worst people skills in the world — if the guy knows a player and can pick the right guy, that’s what we were looking for and that’s what I was looking for.
“It sounds like what’s really important is that the two guys get along. You know, personally, that’s good, but Scot and I didn’t even know each other when we first got together. And they are looking so much for that. I just think if you’ve got somebody that you determine can work well with other people, and they’ve proven they have people skills and will do that…They don’t need to be joined at the hip. If they grow together, like any marriage, they can be successful.”
There were reports that Paraag Marathe was meddling in the football operation during Nolan’s tenure with the 49ers from 2005-2008, even sitting in on coaches meetings. But Nolan had positive things to say about Marathe’s role as Chief Strategist.
“Listen, Paraag, I think he’s one of the best at the job he does,” Nolan said. “I’m not talking about (hiring coaches), but as far as the cap and contracts and really putting together all the information, I’m just telling you, the son of a gun is good. I have absolutely zero questions in my mind how good he is.”
Nolan also detailed how his interview process went back in 2005. The 49ers flew all of the candidates out to St. Louis to keep everyone in a central location. Dr. John York, Jed York and Marathe were a part of the interview process. John is not a part of the process this time around.
“We interviewed the night before briefly,” Nolan said. “Then thee next day we had a long eight hour interview to go through all the different scenarios of a lot of different things. That was the way we did it at that time. Like I said, I think it’s very similar now. I would like to think they’ve become better and progressed at it. That’s not necessarily something you want to get good at because as you know and I know, that means you’re doing it a little more than you’d like.
“I think a lot of teams miss the mark on what it takes to do the job. And so therefore, there’s a lot of questions involved in it that I don’t think personally have a whole lot to do whether you’ll be good at the job and whether you’ll fit the situations there…The disappointment sometimes is that you kind of think, you know, if you guys were hitting the mark, I’d be more excited about this job. But you’re asking questions about things that really won’t pertain to me being successful or not.”
Nolan can relate to just about every candidate the 49ers have interviewed — Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Anthony Lynn and Vance Joseph. Nolan himself was a longtime defensive coordinator with the Giants, Redskins and Ravens before becoming the 49ers’ head coach. He explained the biggest difference in making the leap.
“When you go from a coordinator to coach, you go from a big brother to a Dad,” Nolan said. “And any of us that have children know that’s a huge change. To have no responsibility, basically just walk around the house and do what you want and maybe scream at your brothers and sisters. As opposed to having to go around the house and lay down the law. It’s just entirely different. Some guys are great big brothers but they aren’t very good Dads.”
What about York and Marathe — do they need to back away from the football operation?
“After they pick a guy? Definitely,” said Nolan. “But in the process, they’re the ones making the decision. I will say this: They’ve done this a few times. Everyone is very hopeful they get it right. But obviously, they’ve failed a few times. So what’s everyone saying? You’ve screwed this thing up a few times, so get out of the way.
“I’ll say this: I believe they are asking the right questions. This is very much like a personnel guy. A lot of the personnel guys will accumulate all of the information in the world on players. They’ll have notebooks on guys. But they have a hard time seeing through the information to say, ‘This guy’s the guy.’ That’s what they are in the process of doing. They need to make the best decision based on the information. They are going to get all of the information, believe me, I have all the trust in the world.
“But the two of them have to put their heads together, obviously, and pick the right guy. They’re going to ask the right questions in my opinion, and they’re going to likely have a guy in the room that can do the job. It’s just going to come down to when they’re sitting there looking at him, ‘This guy’s the guy we want.'”