Dickey: Nolan needs to think outside box 

Norv Turner’s departure gives 49ers coach Mike Nolan a chance to think outside the box in picking a new offensive coordinator. Will he? We all know the answer to that. The guy I’d like Nolan to hire is Sam Wyche, who was Bill Walsh’s first quarterbacks coach with the 49ers. Wyche later went on to be the coach of a Cincinnati Bengals team that nearly upset the 49ers in the Super Bowl in Walsh’s last season.

Wyche has a brilliant mind for offensive football. When he was with the 49ers, he often sparred verbally with Walsh over strategy, but Walsh respected him for that and has often called him one of the best football minds he’s ever known.

Wyche was especially good at working with quarterbacks, including Joe Montana at the start of his career. That’s critical because, for all the deserved recognition Frank Gore got last season, the 49ers’ continued improvement depends on how fast and how far Alex Smith progresses.

In his last coaching job, with Buffalo, Wyche was the quarterbacks coach.

The entire Buffalo coaching staff was fired after the 2005 season. Wyche, who had some health problems but has overcome them, returned to his broadcasting career in 2006, but his first love remains coaching.

Unfortunately, his connection with the Walsh years probably works against him. Though he has occasionally brought former players to practice to talk to his team, Nolan is adamant about starting his own tradition. He’d probably see Wyche as interfering with that process.

Nolan is also adamant about not returning to the West Coast offense, which originated with Walsh in 1979. Many 49ers fans are upset about that, but, in fact, the versions of that offense that are being run around the league now have little resemblance to Walsh’s offense. The one exception is what Mike Holmgren, once a coordinator under Walsh, is running in Seattle. Certainly, what Mike McCarthy ran in his one year as offensive coordinator under Nolan didn’t bring back any memories.

Mindful that Smith will be working with his third coordinator in three years, Nolan has said he wants to see continuity this season with the offense Turner used last season. That means that he’s looking first at members of the current staff.

In speculation this week, Jerry Sullivan has emerged as the most likely replacement. He would not be a good choice. Sullivan is a terrific receivers coach, but in his one year as an offensive coordinator, 2003 in Arizona, the Cardinals had one of the worst offenses in the league. He should stay where he is.

Tight ends coach Pete Hoener is a strong candidate, because he has a coaching resume that includes 15 years as an offensive coordinator. But those years were all spent with college teams, which is quite different than the NFL.

If he’s going to hire from within, Nolan should promote quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler. (See earlier comment about the most important player for the 49ers.) Hostler worked well with Smith last year and with Chad Pennington when he was the quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets.

This is a crucial appointment for Nolan. Last year, hiring Turner was a no-brainer. This is a much tougher decision. I’d like to see him go for Wyche but Hostler is a more realistic choice. Think quarterback first, Mike.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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