The Press Democrat

Niners' Knapp signs extension
January 22, 2003
Jim Mora, Jim Johnson, Brad Childress, and Romeo Crennel to be interviewed this week for vacant head-coaching job


The 49ers announced plans to interview four men this week for the head-coaching vacancy, but the most significant development general manager Terry Donahue announced Tuesday was that Greg Knapp will return as offensive coordinator.

Knapp signed a one-year extension over the weekend to remain in charge of the 49ers' offense, making it likely the team will seek a defensive coach to replace Steve Mariucci, who was fired last week.

Donahue said he received permission to interview Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress and New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel for the 49ers' head-coach opening. He plans to begin formal interviews this week.

Niners defensive coordinator Jim Mora, who interviewed for the same job with the Carolina Panthers on Monday, also is a candidate to replace Mariucci and will meet possibly today with Donahue.

Donahue suggested he might interview as many as four additional coaches. He said he also will consider a few college coaches but did not specify any candidates.

"Right now, I'm spending most of my attention on the pro assistant coaches because those are the ones I'm probably not as familiar with," Donahue said. "I'm more familiar with the college head coaches."

One of the coaches yet to receive so much as a phone call is former Minnesota coach Dennis Green, who took the Vikings to the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons with the club. Green also was an assistant with the 49ers and head coach at Stanford.

"I haven't heard anything from the 49ers so I'm assuming they are going in a different direction," Green told ESPN radio. "And I think this would be a great job for me. But if management doesn't believe that, then there isn't anything I can do."

St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith is on the list of candidates, Donahue said, but the team has not yet asked for permission to speak with him. New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, also considered a viable candidate, has not been contacted, either.

Green is the most successful former NFL coach who does not have a job. Green is an offensive-minded coach who learned under Bill Walsh. Typically, a new head coach gets to hire his own offensive coordinator, but Knapp is in place with the 49ers.

"I think one of the things that is kind of 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 would be important. It probably gives the organization its best chance to move forward with the greatest speed and ease of adjustment."

Knapp, whose contract with the 49ers was to expire next week, said he was a little hesitant to re-sign with the organization before a new coach is named. Knapp said he began exploring other options in the coaching world before settling in with the 49ers.

"We made some strides on offense and we got some young guys playing well," Knapp said from his office at the team's Santa Clara facility. "It was nice to hear positive things from Terry Donahue and the owner of the team."

Donahue indicated that Knapp, quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and offensive line coach Pat Morris will be retained, along with secondary coach Brett Maxie, who interviewed with the Arizona Cardinals this week but is not leaving the 49ers.

"We have definitely told Ted Tollner, Greg Knapp and Pat Morris that we would not release them from their contracts, along with Brett Maxie," Donahue said. "Having said that, I would hope there are a number of coaches who do not have contracts who would be considered by a new head coach."

Tuesday night, defensive line coach Dwaine Board agreed to terms with Seattle and coach Mike Holmgren. Niners linebacker coach Richard Smith, who interviewed with Seattle on Monday, meets with Pittsburgh today.

Tollner, rumored to be a serious contender to become head coach if the 49ers are not satisfied with their pool of candidates, does not have an interview scheduled. But Donahue did not close the door on him, either. "I don't want to rule out any possibilities at this time," he said.

Team owner John York said last week that he was committed to interviewing "viable" African-American coaches for the vacancy.

Crennel, 55, likely will become the first minority to ever interview for the 49ers' head-coaching job. The Patriots, one season off their Super Bowl run, had the 23rd-ranked defense in the league, 11th against the pass, under Crennel. The 49ers' defense ranked 14th in the league, 22nd against the pass.

Johnson, 61, finished his fourth season in charge of the Eagles' defense. One season after going an entire season without allowing more than 21 points in a game, the Eagles were fourth in the league in total defense.

Childress, 46, who runs the West Coast offense under Eagles coach Andy Reid, concluded his first season as offensive coordinator. Despite losing starting quarterback Donovan McNabb to a broken ankle for six games, the Eagles finished 10th in the league in offense.

Donahue said he did not contact Seattle about speaking to Holmgren about the opening. When asked if anyone in the organization called to check on his status, Donahue replied, "I do not believe so."

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