Saturday, January 31, 2009

With Martz out and Raye in, 49ers' offense in peril of taking another tumble in 2009

For the sake of all 49ers fan, I hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling you and your team are going to miss offensive coordinator Mike Martz before too long.

After firing Martz then conducting an exhaustive search, coach Mike Singletary hired Jimmy Raye as the 49ers’ new offensive coordinator. Who knows? Maybe hiring Raye will turn out to be pure genius. Maybe he’ll bring stability to an offense that, counting Raye, has had a different offensive coordinator for seven straight years.

My gut’s telling me this hire was a mistake and that the 49ers’ offense is going to take a step backward in 2009.

I mean, this was the anti-WOW! hire. In eight of Raye’s 12 seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator, his teams had losing records. Raye’s offenses failed to average over 20 points per game in seven of those seasons.

Under Martz, the 49ers averaged 21.2 points per game. Say what you want to about Martz, but he’s an offensive magician. He took the NFL’s worst offense and turned it into something respectable last season. Well, at least after Singletary stepped in and benched quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill.

Singletary and Martz obviously clashed when it came to offensive philosophy. I suppose Mad Mike and smash-mouth Samurai Mike was a combustible marriage. I suppose it couldn’t last, even though the results they produced together were good, with Singletary forcing Martz to reign in his uber-aggressive, self-destructive tendencies.

Raye and Singletary apparently are simpatico when it comes to their shared belief in having a tough, physical offense that can run through brick walls.

Personally, I wish the 49ers had never abandoned the West Coast offense. That was the team’s signature, its identity, its source of offensive stability since the day Eddie DeBartolo hired Bill Walsh as his coach in 1979. You can argue whether it’s the best offensive system, but at least the 49ers knew who they were and the type of players and coaches they needed to fit their scheme.

When the 49ers fired coach Steve Mariucci after a 10-6 playoff season in 2002 and hired Dennis Erickson, they lost their offensive identity. They’ve been floundering ever since, switching schemes and coordinators as often as hockey teams change lines.

Raye’s approach is more akin to the Ernie Zampese/Norv Turner offensive philosophy than anything Walshian.

I’m certainly not expecting to see offensive magic from the 49ers next season. But at a minimum, they should establish an offensive identity and stick with it for at least a few years. The team simply can’t keep changing coordinators and schemes if it hopes to ever return to the playoffs.

At 62, Raye is probably too old to be a prime head-coaching candidate. So the 49ers probably won’t lose him the way they lost Mike McCarthy to the Packers and Turner to the Chargers after one season in San Francisco. Raye agreed to a three-year deal with the 49ers and said he hopes to fulfill that contract and land another with the team. The 49ers have also hired a new quarterbacks coach, 41-year-old Mike Johnson. So maybe Johnson can learn under Raye and be ready to step in for a seamless transition when Raye retires.

Of course that’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case is that the 49ers’ offense backtracks, Raye gets whacked, and the 49ers start over again.

We’ll find out soon enough.

1 comment:

  1. OH my god, this has disaster written all over it!