San Francisco Chronicle

49ers put 4 at top of their wish list
January 22, 2003
Donahue focuses on coordinators

Kevin Lynch, Chronicle Staff Writer

In between fiddling with his home fax machine and dealing with the mighty NFL bureaucracy, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue found time Tuesday to name four candidates for the 49ers' head-coaching vacancy.

They are: 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora, Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress.

Donahue, working from his home office in Southern California, was leaping through the NFL's flaming hoops in order to gain access to Johnson, Childress and Crennel.

Donahue said he could look to the college ranks and to former pro coaches to fill the field of six to eight candidates.

"We do not have a timetable," Donahue said by conference call. "(Owner) John (York) has been very emphatic about not wanting a timetable. . . . Just take our time, find the best person for this job and move forward."

Odds are the 49ers will move forward with a defensive coach. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, one of eight current coaches without a contract, signed an extension a few days ago.

"I think one of the things that's sacred in the 49ers' organization is the offensive system," Donahue said. "I think the continuity of that system and the terminology for the quarterback and the offensive players is very important."

It puts Childress, as an offensive coach, in an awkward position. Donahue wants to give the new coach leeway to bring in his own staff, but also wants to maintain the 49ers' traditional West Coast roots.

Donahue did say the Eagles' offense was a "twin brother" to that of the 49ers.

Crennel has spent 33 years in coaching and 22 in the NFL. He was considered for the Browns' head-coaching job after the team fired Chris Palmer. Butch Davis was hired instead.

The 49ers' lone African American candidate won league-wide recognition for his game plan in the Patriots' upset victory over the Rams in last year's Super Bowl.

The Patriots dropped several defenders into coverage and used a five-man defensive line at times to hold the powerful Rams to 17 points. Crennel has long been a protege of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, working with him while with the Giants, Jets and Patriots.

Johnson, 61, also is considered to be a brilliant defensive schemer. He constantly carries a notebook and has been known to scribble down plays whenever inspiration strikes. An assistant head coach under Dan Devine at Notre Dame in the 1970s, many thought Johnson would succeed Devine. Instead, the Fighting Irish went with high school coach Gerry Faust.

Slightly disillusioned, Johnson skipped to the pro ranks, and is once again a head-coaching candidate.

One NFL coach said the Eagles' defense is among the most difficult schemes for which to prepare. The Eagles might blitz more than any other team in the league.

"I don't want (opposing teams) to dictate to me what I want to do," Johnson said last week while preparing his team to play the Buccaneers. "I want to dictate to them. I want to put pressure on the offensive coaches and the quarterback's mind. Not just physical pressure, but mental pressure."

Johnson also is known for his honesty and straight-forward nature.

Childress is credited with developing Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, and for keeping the Philly offense clicking after losing McNabb and second- string quarterback Koy Detmer to injury.

As an offensive coordinator at Wisconsin (1992-98), Childress, 44, assembled a unit that led the nation in rushing three times as the Badgers went to five bowl games.

Childress and Raiders coach Bill Callahan worked together as assistants at Northern Arizona, and even lived in neighboring houses.

Childress was named the Eagles' offensive coordinator in 2001, and he was doing yard work when the story of his promotion broke. Childress quickly was summoned for a press conference.

Upon arriving, Childress told the media to never trust a man who doesn't cut his own lawn.

Mora already had met with Donahue before Mora was granted permission to interview for Carolina's defensive-coordinator job. That position reportedly is his if he wants it.

Donahue didn't indicate how closely he'd examine coaches from the college ranks. Names that have been floated include Oregon State's Dennis Erickson and Oregon's Mike Bellotti.

College coaches might be reluctant to interview now because that could scare off recruits. The first day recruits can sign letters of intent is Feb. 3.

BRIEFLY: Defensive line coach Dwaine Board apparently is interviewing for an opening in Seattle. Donahue said quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner, offensive line coach Pat Morris and secondary coach Brett Maxie would not be released from their contracts.


Jim Mora Jr.: 49ers' defensive coordinator

Jim Johnson: Eagles' defensive coordinator

Brad Childress: Eagles' offensive coordinator

Romeo Crennell: Patriots' defensive coordinator

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