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Staying the course NOLAN STILL COACH, McCLOUGHAN SHIFTS TO GM, COORDINATOR HOSTLER OUT

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SANTA CLARA -- After two days of organizational meetings, 49ers owner John York decided to leave the fate of his franchise in the hands of coach Mike Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughan.

The only change that came as a result of the 49ers' struggles this season was the firing of offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, who was on the job for less than a year after taking over for Norv Turner.

The 49ers finished last in the NFL in most offensive statistics, including yards per game, passing yards and points scored. The 49ers tied the club record for fewest points per game, averaging 13.7.

Therefore, York decided no radical changes were necessary at the top of the organization after the club finished with a disappointing 5-11 record.

"Mike had recognition of those problems and solutions that were completely acceptable to us," York said Wednesday.

The club announced a subtle change, as McCloughan, 36, was promoted to general manager. He was given a contract extension and a raise from his old contract that paid him approximately $725,000 annually.

Nolan was not given a contract extension. He has two years, at $1.6 million annually, remaining on his contract. Nolan said he does not feel like a "lame-duck" coach, even though it took two full days after the season before York acknowledged he would be back for his fourth season.

"I believe a coach, every year is one year at a time, always," Nolan said.

However, Nolan offered no solution to patching up his differences with quarterback Alex Smith, who felt as if Nolan tried to undermine him in front of his teammates and the media during the season.

Smith suffered a separated shoulder that would ultimately require season-ending surgery. Nolan continued to encourage Smith not to disclose the extent of the injury after he returned to play three games, say those close to Smith. Then, Nolan never stepped forward to support Smith when his performance was clearly not up to par due to the shoulder and a forearm that strain that resulted from overzealous work in the weight room.

Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, will compete for the starting quarterback job next season. The 49ers hope to re-sign Shaun Hill and could add a player in free agency or the draft, McCloughan said.

Quarterback Trent Dilfer's future with the 49ers appears in doubt. McCloughan said he and Nolan will discuss the status of some of their veteran players. Dilfer missed the final 3? games of the season with a bad concussion after playing poorly in most of the seven games in which he appeared.

Hostler was the first casualty of a season in which Nolan admitted the 49ers underachieved. He did not return a phone message left at his house.

Nolan said he has a short list of candidates for the offensive-coordinator position. He is looking to hire someone with NFL experience.

More changes are likely on the offensive coaching staff, Nolan said.

When asked why Hostler was fired, Nolan said: "Because as we all are, we're held accountable for the things we do."

Nolan said it was a mistake to hire Hostler in the first place. Hostler spent the previous two seasons as quarterbacks coach under coordinators Mike McCarthy and Turner. When Turner left in February, Nolan did not have a large pool of candidates for the job because some teams declined the 49ers' request to speak to assistant coaches.

"I thought the best answer was to (hire) from within because of the limited resources," Nolan said. "It turned out to be a not-as-good decision, without question."

Nolan said everyone is held accountable at different times. But he said being stripped of his final say on personnel powers was not evidence of being held accountable for his 16-32 record as 49ers head coach.

"I don't think that has anything to do with it," Nolan said. "In no way do I see this trigger, so to speak, that goes to Scot having anything to do with the season. It has to do with his abilities and our relationship."

Nolan said he was "excited" McCloughan would be the general manager, saying it would allow him to focus more of his energy on football matters. Nolan and McCloughan will continue to work in tandem on personnel decisions.

Nolan hired McCloughan as the club's vice president of player personnel two weeks after being named head coach in 2005. York said the idea of promoting McCloughan to assume Nolan's personnel duties is part of the original plan.

"When we interviewed Scot, he was clearly our top choice and we immediately believed over time he would be elevated to a role of general manager, based on his performance," York said.

McCloughan was elevated because of his ability to evaluate talent, his leadership and his managerial style, York added. He will have the power, working through team ownership, to fire the head coach.

Through Nolan's first two seasons as head coach, York said he felt good about the progress the organization made. The delay in giving Nolan a vote of confidence was part of the process of determining the course of action for the future, he said.

"Until this season we were on the right track," York said. "We were moving forward and progressing. During the last two days, we have analyzed this frustrating season, which started out with such high expectations."

York decided big changes were not necessary after meeting with Nolan and McCloughan. York said he became convinced the best decision was to keep Nolan as head coach.

"I'm confident the 49ers can overcome the challenges that we faced this year, that we can make significant changes to correct the course we're on and we can deliver a winning team, not only in 2008 but going forward," York said.

NOTES

The 49ers have not been asked for permission from any team to interview assistant head coach Mike Singletary for a head-coaching job, Nolan said.

Linebacker Patrick Willis was named NFL defensive player of the month for December. Today, he will be named the AP's NFL defensive rookie of the year.

Rookie cornerback Tarell Brown sustained a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament and a fully torn medial collateral ligament in Sunday's season finale. He may require surgery.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at 521-5492 or matt.maiocco@pressdemocrat.com

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