The Press Democrat

Next phase of 49ers' search: Colleges
February 05, 2003

On the day that former coach Steve Mariucci landed quite nicely on his feet, the 49ers inched ahead in their quest to fill the vacancy created by his firing three weeks ago.

The 49ers announced three of the finalists for their head-coaching vacancy Tuesday, and general manager Terry Donahue confirmed he plans to add one or more college coaches to the mix.

New York Jets defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Ted Cottrell is scheduled to be the first of the finalists to meet with 49ers owner John York today at the team's Santa Clara facility.

Cottrell, 55, joins a list of finalists that includes 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora, 41, and Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache, 53.

"I feel all three have the potential to be excellent head coaches," Donahue said in his first public statement in two weeks.

Donahue eliminated New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel from consideration on Tuesday.

While York is expected to discuss non-football matters with the remaining candidates, Donahue said in a written statement released by the 49ers that he will now look to the college ranks for additional candidates.

As reported last week in The Press Democrat, Donahue was waiting until today -- national letter-of-intent day -- to begin active pursuit of college coaches because he did not want to disturb the recruiting process. Donahue, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, coached 20 seasons at UCLA.

Donahue conducted the first round of interviews at or near his home in Newport Beach in Southern California.

"As I stated before, I am very familiar with the college head coaches and expect to turn some of my attention to a limited number of viable candidates in that area as well," Donahue said.

"The addition of potential candidates from college football along with Greg, Ted and Jim will give us a deep and talented pool from which to choose our head coach."

Among the college candidates are Washington's Rick Neuheisel, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Kentucky's Rich Brooks and Oregon's Mike Bellotti.

When Donahue began the search for Mariucci's replacement three weeks ago, he said he would look at professional assistant coaches, former NFL head coaches and college coaches.

On Tuesday, Donahue made no mention of looking beyond his three named finalists and the college ranks, which suggests the 49ers have no interest in former Minnesota coach Dennis Green. On Jan. 15, the day Mariucci was fired, Green campaigned for the job in a national television interview.

The 49ers have proceeded slowly during this initial phase of the interview process, apparently because of Donahue's lack of familiarity with most of the candidates.

Blache, who interviewed with Donahue on Monday, said he was impressed with the process.

"They were prepared and I thought they asked some really good questions," Blache said on the Bears' Web site. "I feel good about their process and I'm glad to be part of that process."

However, not all reviews have been positive. Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia was outspoken Saturday while at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, saying, "It's like we don't even have a plan now." He added, "To me, it's embarrassing. ... We're almost pulling names out of a hat right now. I don't know where we're going with it."

York said Garcia made some ill-informed statements and that he is pleased with the thorough nature of Donahue's work.

"Unfortunately, Jeff is talking without knowing the plan," York said. "If he knew the plan, he would be comfortable. I'm very comfortable with it."

York fired Mariucci after the 49ers went 10-6 and won one of two playoff games, citing "philosophical differences."

The 49ers have the only coaching vacancy in the league after the Detroit Lions made Mariucci the second $5 million-a-year coach in the NFL. Mariucci signed a reported five-year, $25 million contract with the Lions to join Washington's Steve Spurrier as the highest-paid coaches in the league.

Mariucci was scheduled to earn $2.2 million in the final year of his contract with the 49ers.

"Congratulations," York said of Mariucci. "I knew he would be back in coaching. I wish him the best."

When asked if he was surprised that the Lions would pay that much for Mariucci, York replied, "It's a big number."


The 49ers have allocated the following players to NFL Europe: receiver Hilton Alexander (Morris Brown), guard Alonzo Cunningham (Iowa), guard Craig Osika (Indiana), fullback Matt Stanley (UCLA) and guard Milford Stephenson (Kansas State).

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