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49ers make McCloughan GM, but keep coach Nolan

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Coach Mike Nolan will return to the San Francisco 49ers next season despite going 16-32 in his first three years with the club.

Owner John York promoted top personnel executive Scot McCloughan to general manager Wednesday, giving him a raise and final say on personnel issues. But other than the new title for McCloughan, the 49ers changed almost nothing significant in their power structure at the close of their franchise-record fifth straight losing season.

Nolan, who previously had total control of football operations, and McCloughan said they will continue to make joint decisions on every issue for the 49ers (5-11). San Francisco lost 20-7 at Cleveland last Sunday to complete an embarrassing run of losing for a franchise with five Super Bowl trophies.

"The trigger belongs to Scot on personnel issues, and it's something that I've been excited about," said Nolan, claiming the change will allow him to focus more on coaching. "I think it's something that will make us stronger."

Nolan also fired offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, whose unit finished last in the NFL with 219 points, but announced no additional changes to his coaching staff. Nolan, who has two years left on a five-year, $8 million contract, is the first coach in franchise history to return after three straight losing seasons.

Two days after abruptly canceling his season-ending news conference, Nolan gave no indication his future ever was even in doubt with the 49ers. York, the much-criticized owner who has presided over the 49ers' fall from power, answered only one question from reporters before fleeing.

"Mike had recognition and solutions to these problems that were completely acceptable to us, and we moved forward from there," York said.

Those problems include the 49ers' losing records, a profoundly inept offense and Nolan's rift with quarterback Alex Smith. But according to Nolan and McCloughan, it's nothing they can't fix.

McCloughan, a 36-year-old former minor league baseball player, was hired by Nolan to run the 49ers' personnel operations three years ago. Considered a rising star executive with ties to respected former Packers GM Ron Wolf, McCloughan is eager to continue the work he's already done in restocking the talent-starved roster left by Terry Donahue.

"It was a big part (of the decision) that Mike Nolan would be around, because I totally believe in what he started here, what we started here," McCloughan said. "We're all in this together, and we want to make the best decisions together."

Nolan's third season in San Francisco easily was the most disappointing, with an eight-game losing streak and dissension erasing Nolan's bold hopes for a playoff run. The season also was personally taxing on Nolan, whose father, former 49ers coach Dick Nolan, died one day before a game at Seattle.

Mike Nolan and McCloughan have made significant strides in rebuilding San Francisco's decimated roster and installing a competent defense. But Nolan's three offensive coordinators in three seasons never built a respectable offense, with Hostler's unit floundering nearly every week.

Hostler's replacement will be San Francisco's sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons.

Nolan compounded the offense's problems this season by engaging in an embarrassing public feud with Smith, his first draft pick three years ago. Smith accused Nolan of failing to understand the severity of his arm injury, while Nolan belittled the quarterback's worries and intimated Smith needed to show more toughness despite his obvious physical problems.

After Nolan took over a 2-14 team in early 2005, the 49ers again were among the NFL's worst clubs in Nolan's inaugural 4-12 campaign. They improved to 7-9 last season to stoke cautious hopes of a playoff return this year.

Instead, the 49ers collapsed from a 2-0 start with 10 losses in 11 games, including a franchise record-tying eight-game skid. Most of the problems stemmed from another awful offense for the franchise that redefined offensive football with Bill Walsh's West Coast offense in the 1980s.

Nolan was left in a jam when coordinator Norv Turner departed for San Diego last February. Former quarterbacks coach Hostler was hastily installed, but the desperate hire didn't work: San Francisco finished last in the league in total yards per game (3,797), yards passing (2,320), offensive touchdowns (23), first downs (218), sacks allowed (55) and third-down conversions (31.4 percent).

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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