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Nolan explains why 49ers picked Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers

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Can you imagine if Aaron Rodgers was leading the 49ers deep in the playoffs every season? If he was a living legend alongside Steve Young and Joe Montana?

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality in San Francisco. The franchise is currently searching for its sixth head coach since 2005. Rodgers, meanwhile, is surely heading for Canton when his NFL career is over and the Packers are two wins away from returning to the Super Bowl.

The man who made the decision to pick Alex Smith over Rodgers, Mike Nolan, called into KNBR 680 on Tuesday morning. Host Brian Murphy confronted the former 49ers’ head coach: Are the rumors true that San Francisco passed on Rodgers because Nolan didn’t like his attitude?

“You know, that’s really an interesting statement. Because I’ve heard that since I was fired,” Nolan said. “I’ve heard more and more of that the past few years. I don’t know where that came from or where it was generated. But I’m going to tell you this point blank, this is the honest to God’s truth: The thing that was impressive, most impressive about Aaron was his cockiness, was his arrogance. Because that’s what you look for in a great quarterback.

“So I don’t know where that ever started, or where it was generated from. But it’s got legs. And sometimes it’s even sprinting. But if there’s anything further from the truth, that was the thing that had me continue to ask the question: Guys, are we on this? Are we right? And the thing that kind of swayed me, because I was the decision-maker at the time, was well, Alex is going to better in the long run. I was thinking, well, we’re in the first year, I’ve got a five year deal, I think we’re going to have some time to get it done. And so I went that way. And that was my mistake for trusting in that part of the assessment.”

Nolan did want to point out that Smith had quite the productive career with better coaching around him. In four straight seasons in Kansas City, the 32-year-old Smith has posted a QB rating of 89.0 or above in addition to at least 3,200 yards passing.

Rodgers, on the other hand, has won a Super Bowl, two MVP awards, has been named to six Pro Bowl teams and led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes in 2016.

“At the time, we thought in the long term, that Alex was going to be the better quarterback. Obviously, we were wrong,” Nolan said. “One of them, Aaron Rodgers is going to the Hall of Fame, and Alex Smith is a very solid, capable, good quarterback. So we didn’t have a bad choice, but there’s always one better than the other. We missed the mark. We should’ve taken Aaron, no question.

“But like I said, they both turned out to be capable quarterbacks, one much more than the other. I just think that’s the facts of it. Obviously, right now, Alex is still playing. He’s in the playoffs, he’s been to the playoffs many times. Now to credit — I will say this. One of the things that would’ve really helped us immensely, is had we used Alex’s entire skill set — meaning if we would’ve had some zone-read and things like that in our offense to utilize his legs which is what he has done since (Jim) Harbaugh has coached him and also on to Kansas City — we would’ve used the entire package that Alex has. And I think early on, Alex would’ve been thought as a much better quarterback because that’s what he would’ve been doing. Plus, we would’ve been innovative in the fact that we’ve done it…Who knows who would be the head coach at this time if we would have done a better job with that situation.”