McCloughan's Departure Coming At Odd Time

Peyton Manning was not available

Sports, like most aspects of life, is all about timing. The NBA's San Antonio Spurs had the first pick in the 1997 draft (thanks to David Robinson being injured for most of the year) and they took Tim Duncan. The Los Angeles Clippers had it the next year and took Michael Olowokandi. Both teams took the consensus best player available. It was the timing that made one look smart and the other dumb.

So it was with the 49ers.

The team that had fortune smile upon them so often during the 80's has seen the other side of the coin this decade. With a glaring need at quarterback (and just about everything else) and the number one pick of the 2005 draft, they were left to choose between Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers.

Some critics would liken it to the Indianapolis Colts choosing Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in 1998, but the difference between Rodgers and Smith isn't that dramatic. Also, it's doubtful Aaron Rodgers would be the quarterback he is now if he got thrown right into the fire on a talentless and directionless team the way Smith had to.

Timing is at the core of every decision, so one wonders why would the 49ers and General Manager Scot McCloughan pick now, of all times, to part ways? McCloughan seemingly had what every sports executive craves, the autonomy to call the shots on personnel issues, including free agency and the draft.

Why pack up the office and move on five weeks before the draft and during the heart of free agency season? Why not in May or June when the roster's largely in place? Why not last January when the season ended?

McCloughan's departure - he left a message for Nancy Gay of NFLFanhouse.com that he is "Fine and moving forward," - shouldn't affect the team's draft too much. By now 99 percent of the prospect evaluation has already been done and teams simply have to make selections by going off their draft boards.

Still, it doesn't project a united, organized front for prospective free agents, such as guard Chester Pitts, who is scheduled to visit the team today. Surely agents around the league must be raising their eyebrows and wondering what's going on with the 49ers. With the futures and salaries of their clients at stake, now is not the time for uncertainty.

It's peculiar for a guy like McCloughan, who's waited to be The Guy for so long, to give up the job so quickly for "personal reasons."

Maybe it's coincidence, but 49ers president Jed York is looking for an increased role in the team's day-to-day operations. And head coach Mike Singletary has been taking more of an active role in the team's personnel evaluation, personally attending many college teams' pro days and making background checks on players.

Of all the heavies in the 49ers organization, including Owner John York and son Jed, Pro Personnel Director Tom Gamble, Player Personnel Director Trent Baalke and cap guru Paraag Marathe, to meet with McCloughan at the team's offices in Santa Clara Wednesday evening, Singletary was the only one who wasn't present.

He was scouting at Florida.

More odd timing?

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