SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers fired coach Mike Nolan on Monday night, seven games into the fourth consecutive dismal season of his attempt to rebuild the five-time Super Bowl champions.
After four straight losses culminating in Sunday's 29-17 loss to the New York Giants, the 49ers replaced Nolan with assistant head coach Mike Singletary. The Hall of Fame linebacker will take over for the rest of the season, general manager Scot McCloughan said.
Nolan was 18-37 in 3½ seasons with the 49ers, who hired the veteran defensive coordinator to run every aspect of the club in January 2005. Although Nolan brought back a measure of respectability back to the franchise, he has the worst winning percentage (.327) among any 49ers coaches who made it through more than one season with the team.
"The decision was difficult, because Mike has been both a friend and valued coach of our team," said McCloughan, who was hired by Nolan but gained authority over the coach last year. "My first obligation is to do what is in the best interest of our fans and the entire 49ers organization."
Instead of delaying a decision on Nolan's fate until the 49ers' bye week following Sunday's home game against Seattle, McCloughan and owners John and Jed York decided to get rid of the family's choice to fix the 49ers, who have endured five consecutive losing seasons and haven't made the playoffs since 2002.
Nolan seemed to have no idea he would be fired when he conducted his usual news conference earlier Monday, and he didn't return a phone call from The Associated Press. Several team executives -- including Jed York -- and coaches either wouldn't comment or didn't return phone messages, e-mails or text messages, while most 49ers players only knew what they heard on television.
The York family took over the 49ers after owner Eddie DeBartolo lost control of the team in 2000 to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.
The 49ers' fortunes have plummeted under the Yorks, who gave power over every aspect of the Niners' football operations to Nolan, a career assistant who had never been a personnel executive. The unorthodox arrangement didn't thrive on the field or in the front office, and Nolan ceded nominal power to McCloughan last January to avoid being fired after the 49ers finished 5-11.
Singletary, the famed centerpiece of the Bears' dominant defense on their 1986 Super Bowl team, has been at Nolan's side since 2003, when he worked for Nolan on the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff. Singletary interviewed for a handful of head coaching vacancies in recent years, but was out of the NFL from the end of his playing career in 1992 until joining the Ravens.
"I am confident that Mike Singletary's leadership ability, along with his experience as both a Hall of Fame player and coach, gives him the ability to turn our season around," McCloughan said.
The 49ers had the NFL's worst record in 2004 before Nolan's arrival, but they didn't manage a winning season or make a significant impact on the league during his tenure.
In fact, Nolan might end up being best remembered in San Francisco for his insistence on wearing a suit and tie on the sideline for the 49ers' home games. After two years of protracted negotiations with Reebok, which has a contract to supply clothing to all the league's coaches, Nolan got permission to wear his specially designed suits for two games in 2006 and a full home season last year.
Nolan claimed his snazzy outfits were a way to project an image of authority while paying tribute to the league's former coaching greats, including his late father, Dick, who coached the 49ers and New Orleans Saints.
Nolan was the third NFL coach to be dismissed during the season, joining Oakland's Lane Kiffin and St. Louis' Scott Linehan. The Rams have won two straight games under interim coach Jim Haslett, and the Raiders are 1-1 under Tom Cable.
Earlier Monday, Nolan deflected questions about his job security. John and Jed York attended the 49ers' loss at the Giants, which featured a miserable offensive performance and another defensive struggle.
"It's talked about," Nolan said. "It's a reality, just on the outside. I can't let it affect what my job is. It's just speculation until something is acted upon. ... You always want to have support, but I know what my job is, by having a job. My job is to work with our players and coaches and try to put together the best game plan to win games."
Nolan was in the fourth season of a five-year, $8 million contract.
The 49ers fielded the NFL's worst offense during two of Nolan's first three seasons, including last year. Nolan's first two offensive coordinators -- Mike McCarthy and Norv Turner -- both left the club after one season for head coaching jobs, and Mike Martz became his fourth offensive coordinator last winter.
Nolan's future also was heavily tied to quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Smith never became a consistent starter in his first three seasons, and had a public spat with Nolan last year over the severity of the quarterback's shoulder injuries, which forced him onto injured reserve despite Nolan's prior insistence that the injury wasn't serious.
Smith's shoulder gave him more problems this year, and the quarterback went on injured reserve before the season began. The 49ers promoted veteran journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan to their starting job this year, but a decent offense under Martz's direction hasn't been able to counteract a defense that has yielded a league-high 196 points.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press