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Niners' Nolan avoids GM speculation, Tollner arrives

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A day after Mike Nolan hired a veteran football man to look over his offensive coordinator's shoulder, the head coach wasn't interested in discussing whether the same thing might happen to him.

Nolan became testy and abrupt Wednesday when asked to comment on co-owner Denise DeBartolo York's suggestion the struggling 49ers (2-8) might hire a general manager next season, a move that would take away Nolan's complete control of San Francisco's football operations.

"There will be a time and a place to speak about that, and it will be January," said Nolan, who claimed the York family has never broached such an idea to him. "Whatever it is, I want to do what's best for the 49ers (so) that we can get on track and win some games."

DeBartolo York, the sister of former owner Eddie DeBartolo, granted a rare interview to the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday. Saying she was "devastated" by the 49ers' eight-game losing streak, she gave a vote of confidence to Nolan, but also suggested San Francisco could use a general manager.

When Nolan was hired nearly three years ago, he got control over all aspects of football operations even though the career assistant had never been a personnel executive or a head coach. Scot McCloughan is the 49ers' top personnel man, but he reports to Nolan.

That unorthodox arrangement -- usually only enjoyed by veteran head coaches such as Bill Belichick and Andy Reid -- worked fairly well until this season, when the 49ers fell apart with the NFL's worst offense.

Nolan was more interested in talking about his latest step to help that terrible offense. He hired veteran coach Ted Tollner on Tuesday as an assistant who will work in the same office with Jim Hostler, San Francisco's much-criticized first-year offensive coordinator.

On Monday, the same day Nolan said there were no coaches "on the street" who could help out, Nolan called the former USC and San Diego State coach with a cry for help. Though Tollner will be in the booth with Hostler on game days, Nolan emphasized Hostler will continue to call plays.

"I understand my role, and there's no threat there," said Tollner, most recently the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator in 2005 before Steve Mariucci was fired. "I'm just here to add another set of eyes, and that's really it. Mike didn't ask me to come in here and add ideas."

Hostler, the 49ers' quarterbacks coach during Nolan's first two seasons, hasn't been able to recapture the effectiveness of Norv Turner, who turned the NFL's worst offense in 2005 into a fairly competent unit last year. Hostler and Tollner had never met before Tuesday, but Hostler claimed he welcomes the veteran coach's expertise.

"This is to help me better the offense, to give me a chance to have somebody to sound things off of," Hostler said after practice Wednesday. "As we get more comfortable, it will help me to have somebody to communicate with me in the box. ... The bottom line is about what I do and how I do it, and that's not going to change."

Nolan attempted to hire Tollner for his first staff with the 49ers in 2005, but Tollner went to the Lions after spending the three previous years with San Francisco. Nolan compared Tuesday's hiring to the Washington Redskins' decision in 1999 to hire veteran coach Bill Arnsparger to work with Nolan, the defensive coordinator.

That one didn't turn out so well: Nolan was with the New York Jets one year later.

"When I did the same thing, sure, there's some reluctance in doing it," Nolan said. "But if you're a team player, you'll always have the team in mind first. Just accepting it is the right thing to do."

As if Nolan didn't have enough worries with the 49ers' losing streak, his tenuous job status and Sunday's trip to face the Arizona Cardinals, he's also waiting to hear whether his assistant head coach is leaving town.

Mike Singletary, Nolan's right-hand man for three seasons, had a lengthy interview with officials at Baylor on Tuesday. Singletary played at Baylor before his Hall of Fame career as a linebacker with the Chicago Bears, and two of his children attend the school.

"He's very interested in the job, I'm certain of that," Nolan said. "I know he has the desire to be a head coach at some level. I don't know where it's at, other than that."

If Singletary gets the job, Nolan expects him to stay with the 49ers until their final game Dec. 30, which almost certainly will end their fifth straight season without a playoff berth.

Dominique Zeigler, a former Baylor receiver on the 49ers' practice squad, believes Singletary might be the rare coach who could win in the tough circumstances at the school.

"I think people will listen to him, because everybody does around here," said Zeigler, who started 30 games in his four seasons at Baylor under coach Guy Morriss, who was fired Sunday. "I think Coach Singletary would be a great choice."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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