Niners, with NFL-worst defense, fire two coaches

Updated: January 3, 2007, 2:24 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday fired defensive coordinator Billy Davis and defensive line coach Gary Emanuel. Each assistant had served two seasons on coach Mike Nolan's staff.

"After an evaluation period, we felt this was the right time to make these moves," Nolan said. "I wish Bill and Gary the very best, and I enjoyed our time together. These were tough decisions, as they are both great individuals, and have the potential to be very successful coaches in this league."

Rumors surfaced at midseason that Davis' job could be in jeopardy, but Nolan said at the time he had no plans to make staffing changes.

The San Francisco defense statistically ranked 26th in the league in 2006. In 2005, the first season for the Nolan staff, the 49ers were last in the NFL in overall defense.

Davis, 41, was regarded as a rising, young star in the league when Nolan hired him as coordinator. Despite his youth, he has been in the NFL for 15 seasons, with stints at Pittsburgh (1992-94), Carolina (1995-98), Cleveland (1999), Green Bay (2000), Atlanta (2001-2003) and the New York Giants (2004), before Nolan hired him.

It is not known to whom Nolan will turn, but one possibility as a successor is current 49ers linebackers coach Mike Singletary, the former Chicago Bears star and a member of the Hall of Fame.

Nolan wants to transition full time to a 3-4 defense in 2007, if personnel allows the switch, and he might seek a coach from outside the organization with experience in that front.

Emanuel, 48, had never worked in the NFL before joining the San Francisco staff in 2005. He spent 23 seasons in the college ranks, including stints at Syracuse, Washington State and Purdue.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.