Mike Nolan had the so-called “trigger,” responsible for the final say on personnel matters during his first three seasons with the 49ers, beginning with his arrival in 2005.
That was the same year Trent Baalke arrived with the 49ers as an area scout responsible for the west region. Baalke worked under then-director of player personnel Scot McCloughan.
Nolan and McCloughan are long gone from the organization. And Baalke is the general manager of a team that finished 5-11 last season, fired coach Jim Tomsula after one season, replaced him with Chip Kelly, and has stumbled to a 1-6 start this year.
“The problem there in San Francisco, in my opinion, is systemic,” Nolan said during an appearance on CSN Bay Area’s 49ers Insider Podcast. “They love you, and then they hate you. They love the next guy, and then they don’t like him any more.
“Right now, unfortunately for Trent, he’s on the down slide. But about three years ago, he was the man, and there was a lot of love for him.”
After the 49ers were eliminated from the playoff picture late in the 2014 season, the decision was made to part ways with coach Jim Harbaugh. Baalke promoted Tomsula from defensive line coach.
Only three starters from the 49ers’ Super Bowl team of 2012 remain on the 49ers’ 53-man roster: Colin Kaepernick, Joe Staley and Ahmad Brooks. The 49ers have been unable to freshen the lineup with players approaching the same levels as those who are no longer around.
But Nolan said he remains confident in Baalke’s ability to construct a winning roster.
“I think Trent is a good personnel guy. He has shown that. He’s done a good job,” Nolan said. “He was a lead scout for us when I was there. And (he) was the interim general manager when Scot was dealing with some personal issues when I was there in the fourth year (2008).
“So I think Trent does a very good job. I would hate to see Trent let go for anything after the season or if they dump it all on him, because when it comes to winning football games, you need to have good players, and you can do a lot worse than Trent Baalke when it comes to picking players.”
Nolan, whom CEO Jed York fired after the 49ers started 2-5 in 2008, noted Baalke was with the 49ers when the parameters were put into place of how the organization would go about constructing its roster. It is a system that Nolan said was installed over a period of years that took into account the ideals of Ozzie Newsome, Bill Parcells and Dan Reeves.
“When Harbaugh walked into there, believe me, as everybody knows, he walked into a pretty good situation with a great-looking football team,” Nolan said. “And that just doesn’t happen over night. That took us several years to get that thing in place, and part of that is staying on track.
“Now, the problem they’ve had as of late, as we all know, they’ve had a lot of continuity problems with players, whether it’s retirement – they’ve had a lot of strange things occur where they’ve lost some key guys. Trent is a very qualified guy to do his job, and I think he does a good job of it.”
Nolan said a lot of pieces are in place within the organization, including Paraag Marathe, whose football duties with the organization have not changed since having his title shifted from president to chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations.
“Paraag is a genius when it comes to the cap and contract negotiations, compensatory picks,” Nolan said. “And all those things affect winning on the field because they all affect players and how you can get good players. So there’s a lot of good in the building.
“Obviously, they have to get back on track with the personnel, but outside of that, they have to bring the building together again, in my opinion. Because when you hear a lot of rumblings on the outside that means there is some division on the inside. Otherwise, there would be no talk.”
There is no indication the 49ers plan to part ways with Baalke, who continues to travel throughout the country to scout college prospects. Baalke returned to the 49ers’ practice facility on Thursday after watching the Western Michigan-Ball State and Toledo-Akron games earlier in the week.