The Press Democrat

49ers tread coachless waters
February 02, 2003
3 candidates stay put, 4 viable, more to emerge as Mariucci's successor


We know Monte Kiffin will not be the next coach of the 49ers. Nor will the next coach be one of the Philadelphia Eagles' coordinators.

More than two weeks after Steve Mariucci was fired on Jan. 15, that is about all we know about the 49ers' coach-hiring process.

Team general manager Terry Donahue, apparently sequestered at his home in Newport Beach, has not made any public statement since Jan. 21.

The 49ers have acknowledged they have four candidates for the job amid a swirl of speculation and unanswered questions. There might be other candidates emerging this week.

Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache entered the mix late Friday night. Donahue spoke with Blache on Friday and arranged a formal interview with him Monday in Southern California.

Three other defensive coordinators have interviewed for the job: New York Jets' Ted Cottrell, New England's Romeo Crennel and the 49ers' Jim Mora.

Three others have been eliminated, as Kiffin re-upped with Tampa Bay, while Philadelphia gave new contracts to defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. The 49ers had received permission to speak with each of those assistants.

In his latest public statement, Donahue said he first wanted to investigate a list of professional assistant coaches before moving on to the group of coaches with which he has more familiarity: Former coaches without teams and current college coaches.

It might be unrealistic to expect that Donahue, who coached 20 years at UCLA, would only seriously consider professional assistant coaches -- most of whom he had never met until conducting formal interviews.

One league source speculated Donahue might be waiting until after Wednesday -- national letter-of-intent day for college recruiting -- before actively pursing anyone from the college ranks.

There would appear to be a lengthy list of college candidates from which Donahue can choose, including Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Washington's Rick Neuheisel, Oregon's Mike Bellotti, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Kentucky's Rich Brooks and USC's Pete Carroll.

Donahue has not ruled out any of those.

About the only coaches -- or former coaches -- who have been ruled out are Donahue and Bill Walsh. Donahue has said he is not interested in coaching the team, and Walsh stated last week he has neither the desire nor energy to return to the sideline.

Dennis Green would appear to be the most qualified candidate, but he also has his drawbacks.

Green was accused of "inappropriate sexual behavior" while he was coach at Stanford in 1991. Similar claims were made against him, stemming from incidents in 1993, with the Vikings. In 1995, Green stated "unequivocally" that allegations he engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior toward a woman were not true.

Donahue may also be reluctant to hire Green because he is seen as being so closely tied to Walsh (as an assistant at Stanford and the 49ers), the Hall of Fame coach who has one year left on his San Francisco contract as a consultant.

Also, the organization already has signed offensive coordinator Greg Knapp for next season, so it appears the 49ers are intent on naming a defensive-minded coach rather than pairing an offensive coach with an offensive coordinator who is already in place.

Here is a closer look at the pro assistant coaches whom the team has announced as possible successors to Mariucci:


Blache, 53, has the Notre Dame connection working for him. He and 49ers owner John York graduated from the South Bend, Ind., university in 1971. Blache has coached 15 seasons in the NFL, the last four as the Bears' defensive coordinator.

In 2001, the Bears had the league's top-ranked scoring defense and yielded only 12.7 points a game. He was a hot coach a year ago, signing a three-year extension with the Bears. But while falling to 4-12 in 2002, Chicago's defense faltered with a No. 25 overall ranking.

He was at the center of a controversy this season when Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick accused Blache of ordering his players to injure him.

Blache interviewed for the Indianapolis job last year and was scheduled to interview for the Houston Texans job before Dom Capers was named head coach.


Cottrell, 55, is the Susan Lucci of the coaching business. Although considered a solid candidate for almost every job for which he has interviewed, Cottrell is still looking for his first head-coaching job.

When he talked with the 49ers last week, it was his seventh NFL interview.

A 19-year NFL coaching veteran, Cottrell experienced great success as Buffalo defensive coordinator for three seasons. With Cottrell at the controls, the Bills' defense ranked sixth in 1998, first in '99 and third in 2000.

In his second year as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach of the Jets, Cottrell integrated six new starters into his lineup. The Jets were ranked 31st in the league at the midway point in the season but improved to 24th at the end of the year.

Cottrell is known as a pro's pro. He is highly respected and yearns for a chance to become a head coach. His name will continue to be on every short list of NFL candidates until he is finally hired.


Crennel, 55, has served as an assistant under Bill Parcells and, more recently, Bill Belichick. He has been on the staff of three winning Super Bowl teams during his 22 seasons of coaching in the NFL.

With Super Bowl-winning New York Giants teams, he coached special teams in '86 and the defensive line in '90. He has served as New England's defensive coordinator for two seasons.

Crennel did not get the credit he deserved for the Patriots' Super Bowl title because Belichick is a defensive coach and most assumed he was the mastermind behind New England's game plan against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

He is a popular coach who is strong but also will listen to his players' suggestions during a game. The Patriots had difficulty stopping the run last season. Although the pass defense was ranked 11th in the league, New England's total defense was 23rd.


Mora, 41, grew up the son of the former New Orleans and Indianapolis coach by the same name. He already has logged 17 seasons as an NFL coach, the last four as the 49ers defensive coordinator under Mariucci.

Mora's appointment as defensive coordinator coincided with the organization's transition to a young unit. The 49ers' defense ranked 28th, 29th and 13th in his first three seasons. In 2002, the team ranked 14th during a season in which the 49ers were beset by injuries.

If Mora is not named the 49ers' next head coach, he will almost assuredly end up as defensive coordinator in Carolina or Detroit.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren would also be interested in Mora if he is unable to sign Ray Rhodes to run his defense.

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.