Contra Costa Times

49ers coordinate search for their new coach
January 22, 2003
GM Donahue says he will interview four NFL assistants for the job

By Cam Inman

SAN DIEGO - The 49ers' search for a new head coach picked up speed Tuesday when general manager Terry Donahue revealed the names of four candidates -- all NFL coordinators -- as Steve Mariucci's possible successor.

Besides 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora, Donahue said he also planned to speak Tuesday and today with New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crenell, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress.

Donahue said he plans to interview six to eight candidates in his search. Whoever wins the job will have 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp at his disposal. Knapp last weekend signed a one-year extension through next season, Donahue said.

Why so much focus on coordinators? Donahue said he's familiar with what college coaches and former NFL coaches are out there, but not so much NFL assistants.

"I'm spending most of my attention on the pro assistant coaches because those are the ones I'm probably not as familiar with as the other two categories," Donahue said in a conference call with reporters.

Donahue said former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell are part of the 49ers' list of candidates but have not been asked to interview.

Knapp, whose contract was set to expire next week, is convinced he'll remain with the 49ers under the next coaching regime.

"I'm going to be here," Knapp said. "I'm very excited about that."

Knapp has spent the past eight seasons with the 49ers, first serving three years as the offensive quality control coach, the next three as the quarterbacks coach and the past two as the offensive coordinator, as well as the primary play caller. The 49ers offense produced its third-worst scoring output in 20 seasons this past year.

"One of the things that's kind of sacred in the 49ers organization is the offensive system," Donahue said. "The continuity of that system and the terminology for the quarterback and the offensive players would be important. (Knapp's extension) probably gives the organization its best chance to move forward with the greatest speed and ease of adjustment."

Knapp admits that his role might change depending on who's hired as coach, but whoever that might be, "he won't change the system; there's too much history with that," Knapp said.

Childress, 46, is the only offensive-minded candidate, at least, for now. Childress took over as the Eagles offensive coordinator this season after spending the previous three years as their quarterbacks coach.

"His offensive approach would be a twin brother to ours," Donahue said, referring to how the Eagles and coach Andy Reid ran a similar style of West Coast offense as the 49ers.

Johnson, 61, has spent the past four seasons as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, guiding a unit that was second in the NFL the past two years in fewest points allowed.

As for Crenell, this was his 21st season as an NFL coach and his first as defensive coordinator of the Patriots, who had the league's 23rd-ranked defense overall and worst-ranked run defense.

Mora was expected to conduct his formal interview Tuesday with Donahue, only a day after interviewing in Charlotte, N.C., for the Carolina Panthers' vacant defensive coordinator position.

"(Mora) asked if I would give him permission to go down and talk to Carolina in case he didn't get the head job here and I said absolutely I would," Donahue said.

Donahue said he hasn't approached any college coaches for interviews. As for the possibility of considering any coach from the Raiders' or Tampa Bay Buccaneers' staffs after Sunday's Super Bowl, Donahue said, "it's not something we're focused on right now."

Donahue said he's under no deadline to pick a group of finalists to present to 49ers owner representative John York. Although an Internet report quoted York as stating he'd like to see the coaching search resolved by the end of next week, Donahue said he was told otherwise.

"He was pretty emphatic with me last night that he didn't want to be tied down to any timetables," Donahue said. "We just want to make sure we have the right guy when we hire him."

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