SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -When Mike Nolan finally left the San Francisco 49ers' training complex Tuesday night, the coach sure didn't look like somebody who would never be back.
Though the 49ers maintained their stubborn public silence on Nolan's fate after his third straight losing season, two long days of meetings without a firing seemed to be strong signals Nolan will return for his fourth year with San Francisco.
``Happy new year, guys,'' Nolan said with a small smile as he drove away. ``I'll see you in the morning.''
As Nolan indicated, he's expected to participate Wednesday in a news conference postponed from Monday. Though it's widely speculated Nolan will return without total control of San Francisco's football operations, nobody with the 49ers would confirm it.
Owner John York, Nolan and the 49ers' assistant coaches all refused to say anything about their franchise's fate as they left the complex. The group silence was another bizarre chapter to the York family's decade of ownership of a once-proud franchise that finished 5-11 last Sunday in its club-record fifth straight losing campaign.
Nolan, a longtime assistant coach who improbably was put in charge of every aspect of the 49ers' football operations by York, is 16-32 with the club. In addition to possible changes in the Niners' decision-making hierarchy, Nolan is expected to make changes to his offensive coaching staff after that unit finished last in the NFL in many statistical categories.
Nolan's assistants also were in the office Tuesday, but they were just as tight-lipped as their bosses. Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, the most beleaguered coach in the building, didn't say whether he'll be back.
``As far as I know,'' receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said when asked if he still worked for the 49ers.
``Yeah, we had meetings,'' assistant head coach Mike Singletary said. When asked if Nolan led the meetings, he declined to elaborate further.
Singletary also said he hadn't yet had any conversations with other NFL teams. Atlanta and Baltimore both could be interested in speaking to the Hall of Fame linebacker about the NFL's only two current head coaching vacancies.
Scot McCloughan, Nolan's top personnel executive, is the likely candidate to gain more authority if the York family decides to change the front office's structure.
But every day of silence seems to indicate Nolan has sold the York family on his direction for the franchise despite San Francisco's dismal record and the coach's awkward public feud with quarterback Alex Smith, who missed most of 10 games this season with a shoulder injury.
Nolan's personnel moves with McCloughan have been mostly solid, though their success with No. 1 pick Smith still is up for debate. The 49ers will get plenty of flack for trading their 2008 first-round draft pick to New England last April, but even that decision has a logical argument behind it.
The lost pick turned out to be the seventh overall after San Francisco's miserable season, infuriating many fans. But right tackle Joe Staley - the player selected with the Patriots' first-round pick last spring - became the first rookie offensive lineman in 49ers history to start all 16 games, and he'll probably be San Francisco's starting left tackle next season.

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