49ers' Smith, Nolan respond, defuse report of rift
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."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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