49ers' Smith, Nolan respond, defuse report of rift

12/12/2007 - NFL Alex Smith San Francisco 49ers + more

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers moved quickly
Tuesday to refute the latest report on the perceived rift between
Mike Nolan and Alex Smith, insisting the third-year coach and his
franchise quarterback still can work together if both return to the
team next year.

Smith criticized Nolan in comments to the San Jose Mercury News
on Monday, just a few hours before Smith decided to undergo
season-ending surgery on his separated right shoulder. Smith, who
was injured Sept. 30 and hasn't played in a month, said Nolan had
tried to "undermine" him in the locker room, telling players
Smith was using his injuries as an excuse for poor play.

In a statement issued by the 49ers on Tuesday, Smith said the
article "does not reflect how I truly feel."

Smith and Nolan already had a lengthy public conflict about the
quarterback's injury after Smith returned to the lineup in late
October. Both insisted the quarterback's arm was fine as he
struggled through three games -- but Smith then changed his story,
acknowledging the injury affected his throws and implying Nolan
hadn't understood his concerns.

The coach and quarterback insisted they had patched the lines of
communication in recent weeks, but then Smith essentially claimed
Monday that Nolan had attempted to turn his teammates against him.

"I can see how an article like this can be very damaging, but I
know my relationships with Coach Nolan and my teammates are
stronger than that," Smith said in Tuesday's statement. "I met
with Coach Nolan [on Tuesday], and I never intended this to be a
distraction for the team or their preparation for the upcoming
game. My focus now is to concentrate on getting healthy so I can
return and continue to help my team."

Smith will undergo surgery to strengthen his right shoulder
Thursday in Alabama by Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedist.
Backup Trent Dilfer also is unlikely to play for the 49ers (3-10)
Saturday against Cincinnati because of a concussion, likely leaving
third-stringer Shaun Hill as the starter.

Nolan knows his job security is in question because of the
49ers' miserable season, which includes 10 losses in the last 11
games. His quarterback's lingering injury and the resulting
misunderstandings have been nettlesome, prompting him to trade
criticism through the media with Tom Condon, Smith's powerful agent
who believes the team mishandled his client.

"It is a difficult time for Alex," Nolan said in Tuesday's
statement. "He has not had to deal with an injury that will
require surgery before. The relationship Alex and I have developed
over the past three years is stronger than a negative news story."