- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Seven games into the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers fired head coach Mike Nolan on Monday.
Assistant head coach Mike Singletary will be the interim head coach, general manager Scot McCloughan said. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the two sides are working on a suitable contract for a head-coaching position.
"The decision was difficult, because Mike has been both a friend and a 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."
Even with Singletary's elevation, speculation -- especially in Southern California -- immediately turned to USC coach Pete Carroll, a former 49ers assistant, as a possible replacement. Carroll told the Los Angeles Daily News on Monday that he did not want to answer questions about the 49ers' coaching situation because it would lead to just more inquiries.
"There's no reason to respond," Carroll told the Daily News.
Nolan's firing came late Monday afternoon after he met with ownership. Earlier Monday, ESPN's Michael Smith reported that Nolan was going to be fired after next Sunday's game and be replaced by Singletary. Whether that story sped up the process or not, it was clear that Nolan's days were numbered following Sunday's 29-17 loss to the New York Giants in the Meadowlands.
49ers ownership was noticeably upset following that loss, which accelerated talk of change. The 49ers play the Seahawks Sunday and then have a bye week, which would have been a convenient time to make a coaching change. Apparently, the York family didn't want to wait.
Nolan, who seemed to have no idea he would be fired when he conducted his usual news conference earlier Monday, didn't return a phone call from The Associated Press. Several team executives -- including owner Jed York -- and coaches either wouldn't comment or didn't return phone messages, e-mails or text messages. Most 49ers players knew only what they heard on television.
Nolan, 49, was 18-37 as coach of the 49ers. Though the offense improved its scoring under the play calling of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the defense -- which is Nolan's specialty -- has been inconsistent all season.
Nolan brought back a measure of respectability to the franchise, but the 49ers have had five straight losing seasons and were 4-12, 7-9 and 5-11 in three full seasons in his tenure.
In fact, Nolan might be best known for his insistence on wearing a suit and tie on the sideline for the 49ers' home games. After 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 suit.
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 father, Dick, who coached the 49ers and New Orleans Saints.
Nolan was in the fourth year of a five-year, $8.5 million contract. For most of his career, he was in charge of personnel but he lost that ability after last season.
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 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, and he had an embarrassing public spat with Nolan last year over the severity of the quarterback's shoulder injuries, which forced him onto injured reserve last year.
Smith's shoulder gave him more problems this year, and the quarterback went on injured reserve before the season began.
The 49ers' fortunes have declined considerably under owner John York, who inexplicably gave power over every aspect of his football operations to a career assistant who had never been a personnel executive. The unorthodox arrangement hasn't thrived on the field or the front office, and Nolan ceded some power to McCloughan.
McCloughan, San Francisco's top personnel executive, was formally anointed as general manager with a contract extension and a raise.
Nolan and McCloughan had made joint decisions on personnel issues, but McCloughan has had the final say.
"I will remain the one voice in this organization, and the face," Nolan said at the conclusion of the 2007 season. "I don't believe it will change at all. The important thing is that we will maintain the relationship."
Singletary has been coaching the 49ers' linebackers since 2005. The Hall of Fame linebacker from the Bears spent 11 seasons as one of the best on-the-field leaders in football. Now, for nine games, he gets a chance to see what he can do running an entire team.
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, while the Raiders are 1-1 under Tom Cable.
Earlier Monday, Nolan deflected questions about his job security.
"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."
John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.