Sports

Nolan absorbs difficult loss in wake of death

SEATTLE -- Mike Nolan was on the sideline Monday night, where you expected him to be.

The family profession demanded it.

When you are the kid of an NFL football coach -- who once coached the same team, no less -- there is no decision to be made.

And so it was that Mike Nolan, the day after his father died, put the headphones over his ears and a cloak over his heart as his team went out and stunk up the joint against the Seahawks. Dick Nolan, when he coached the 49ers from 1968-75, surely had some nights this bad.

But were any as sad as this 24-0 defeat?

For so many different reasons?

If this had been a television movie, the 49ers would have somehow found a way to channel the competitiveness of both Nolan coaches and pulled off an upset of the Seahawks.

This wasn't a television movie.

Instead, it was the same old 49ers reality show of 2007, the one where the offense operates in an invisible sludge and goes nowhere, while the defense holds on as long as it can before suffering a breakdown.

They've now lost seven games in a row.

Mike Nolan stood there in the cool and damp Northwest air, dressed in an all-weather sweatsuit with his former goatee now gone, watching it all unfold.

Trying to get inside his brain would be folly. But you can only imagine what was happening up there.

Last week, just by coincidence before the news about his dad became so grim, I asked Mike Nolan if being the son of a coach had prepared him for the travails of a season like this one.

"It's different when you're the child of the coach going through it," Nolan admitted, "because you see it through his eyes. If it's helped me anyplace, it's probably with my own children, in trying to educate them about what to face. I know that every day my son has to go to school and ... like this morning, that's one of the things I told him: 'It's going to be a tough day for you, too. Do the right thing and handle it well.' "

After that particular conversation, Nolan said, his son had told him he loved him. Nolan admitted that had moved him -- and as it turned out, just a few days later, he ended up flying to Texas where he surely told his own father the same thing.

Because of Dick Nolan's condition -- Alzheimer's disease complicated by prostate cancer -- he did not often recognize those who came to visit him in his final months.

It is known that Dick acknowledged his son's presence during a visit last July. But whatever was said between son and father during Mike's time there last Friday and Saturday will and should remain private.

Dick Nolan was known as a forthright man who handled brickbats with class. And before Mike left for last week's final visit, he admitted that his dad had taught him plenty by example.

"As far as the pressure that goes with this job," Nolan said, "I got into this profession fully aware of that because of what I saw my dad do."

Hang tough. That's what Dick Nolan did.

He coached the 49ers for eight seasons. He had to hang the toughest during the last three, the three losing seasons that followed three consecutive playoff appearances.

There should probably be some sort of rule about criticizing a coach within 72 hours of his father's death.

But after Monday, it was impossible not to wonder if Mike will ever get the 49ers back to the playoffs at all. This is his third season and everyone expected better. So much better.

But in the first half against a very average Seahawks team, it was the same old story.

Alex Smith, the 49ers quarterback that Mike Nolan personally selected, could not move the team. And Smith did not get much help.

On the first offensive play from scrimmage, Smith winged a 50-yard pass that 49ers wide receiver Darrell Jackson got his hands on, but could not secure as a Seattle defender intervened and flipped it away.

And that was pretty much it for 49ers offensive excitement in the first two periods.

Seriously. They did not even make a first down until the very last play of the half -- and that was on a Hail Mary play that resulted in a 45-yard pass completion to Arnaz Battle at the Seattle 11-yard line as time ran out.

If not for that desperation reception, the total 49ers offensive output in the first two quarters would have been 31 yards. They were lucky to be trailing only 17-0.

In the second half, Nolan made a concerted effort to be bold.

He ordered up an onside kickoff to begin the third period -- but it didn't work.

He ordered his offense to go for it twice on fourth down inside the Seahawks' 25-yard line -- and failed on both attempts.

If it had been a television movie, all of those moves would have worked and the game would have taken a happier turn.

But the sad, awful reality show brutality is this: Mike Nolan has seven more weeks to show that he deserves to coach the 49ers half as long as his father did.

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