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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Can 49ers Become Next Mediocre Team to Ride Hot Streak to Super Bowl? Longtime Coach Says NOOOOOOOO!

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge A good quarterback and the NFL's top receiver -- there's two things the 49ers could use
  • A good quarterback and the NFL's top receiver -- there's two things the 49ers could use

Are the Arizona Cardinals a great team? Hardly. Are they a good team? That's up for debate. But the only question that matters come Sunday is: Are they good enough?

Just as Tila Tequila can achieve success and stardom with a few salacious Web clips -- when it used to require millions of dollars of studio publicity or, in rare cases, talent -- assembling a Super Bowl team doesn't seem to be the task it once was. In the age of salary caps and parity, you don't need to be the '85 Bears, the '89 49ers, or even the legendary Up With People. Nowadays teams can employ something we call the Barack Obama strategy -- stay close, tread water, and then ride a hot streak to the end (case in point: Your 2008 New York Giants).

So, if you don't need to win 14, 13, 12, or, maybe, even 10 games to put yourself in a position to take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy, could the San Francisco 49ers be the next mediocre team to stumble through the season and catch fire at just the right time? One former National Football League coach we called is, to put it mildly, wildly dubious.

Artie Gigantino has more than 25 years coaching experience at schools including UC Berkeley and USC and was a special teams and linebackers coach for the Los Angeles Rams and an Oakland Raiders executive. The way the former FOX analyst sees it, all the Niners are missing is a quarterback, a top receiver, an offensive coordinator, and a coherent plan on defense -- but other than that, they're golden.

When asked if he's sold on Shaun Hill as signal-caller, Gigantino's voice rises to a startle-the-dog octive and he utters "Nooooo" in a manner reminiscent of Luke Skywalker reacting to Ben Kenobi's death in "Star Wars."

"No, God no! He's a backup," said the coach. "If there's anything NFL history has proven, it's that you've got to have a great head coach and/or offensive coordinator and a quarterback. The Baltimore Ravens are the only team who've won without a quarterback; they were so dominant on defense. And the Niners are not. My advice is, they better get a real quarterback."

San Francisco's search for its next offensive coordinator has turned out to be a longer and more convoluted story than War and Peace, so, minus a coach and a QB to carry out his wishes, Gigantino has a hard time handicapping how long -- if ever -- it may take for the 49ers to return to mediocrity. But he can't emphasize enough how important it is that the man lining up under center has the entire franchise in his hands, not just the football.

"When everyone sits around and says the 49ers need a better left guard, right defensive tackle and a playmaking wide receiver, that's nice. But you still have ot look at the bottom line: Who is calling the plays and who is quarterback? Everything goes from there," he said. "If the quarterback is not any good, the running game isn't any good -- and vice versa. The defense plays differently when you've got a quarterback who moves the ball down the field. They say that not everything should revolve around the QB. Fine. But 95 percent of it should."

But Gigantino isn't finished yet. He notes, "The 49ers have to decide what they want to do on defense. Every time I look at the Niners on D -- and I consider myself a solid defensive coach who can look at things and decipher what people are doing -- I have no idea what they're doing on defense." He pauses. "I'm not sure they do either."

So, in short, Gigantino does not foresee the Niners representing the National Football Conference at next year's Super Bowl. But, then again, he didn't predict Arizona snaring that honor this year (nor did anyone else -- and we do mean anyone). So, to quote the great Joaquin Andujar's "favorite word" -- "Youneverknow"

Incidentally, Gigantino foresees an Arizona victory on Sunday. "Or, if nothing else, they will cover the spread."

UPDATE: The 49ers confirmed Thursday morning that they have indeed hired an offensive coordinator, 62-year-old Jimmy Raye. While this may turn out to be an inspired decision, the team's second choice for the job has not, thus far, prompted dancing in the streets among its devoted fan base.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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