San Francisco Examiner

Niners coming up empty
February 04, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

It has been 20 days since the 49ers fired their coach and, as of today, they still don't appear any closer to naming a replacement.

When will this circuitous search end? There's only one person who can answer that: 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, who has been holed up in Southern California interviewing candidates.

Donahue was not available Sunday to discuss his arduous search to replace Steve Mariucci, the popular coach who was fired Jan. 15. But a team official said Donahue is scheduled to interview Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache today in Southern California.

Blache, 53, is the fourth defensive coordinator -- and third African American -- to interview for the job. The others are Romeo Crennel of the New England Patriots, Ted Cottrell of the New York Jets and current Niners property Jim Mora. Crennel and Cottrell are African Americans.

Not what he expected

The 49ers' job was once considered a plum assignment in the NFL, but much to Donahue's chagrin, he has watched at least two of his candidates leverage the Niners' interest into more lucrative deals with their current clubs.

The 49ers were certain they had their man last week when Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin agreed to meet with Donahue. But Kiffin left Donahue at the altar after signing a three-year extension with the Bucs that will pay him a total of $5.1 million. The deal makes Kiffin the highest-paid coordinator in the NFL.

Kiffin isn't the only candidate to abruptly remove himself from consideration. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and, purportedly, Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress withdrew their names from the pool of candidates after inking extensions. Johnson received a four-year, $3.6 million extension to remain in the City of Brotherly Love.

Donahue, however, insisted Friday that he removed Childress from his list after informing Philly's offensive coordinator that he was "going in a different direction" in the 49ers' search. But Childress' agent, Bob LaMonte, disputed Donahue's account, telling Philadelphia-area reporters that Childress removed himself from consideration once he received the three-year extension from the Eagles.

Mariucci laughs last?

At the current pace, Mariucci -- the leading candidate to replace Marty Mornhinweg as Detroit's coach -- will find employment long before the 49ers name his successor. And that has frustrated Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has been publicly critical of the decision by owner representative John York to fire Mariucci, who led San Francisco to a 10-6 regular-season finish, the NFC West title and a thrilling, come-from-behind 39-38 victory over the New York Giants in an opening-round playoff game.

The usually reticent Garcia, who spent the week in Hawaii preparing for Sunday's Pro Bowl, didn't seem too impressed upon learning that Blache, a 15-year coaching veteran, is the latest candidate to meet with Donahue.

"I don't even know who he is and I don't know much about Chicago's defense," Garcia told the Associated Press on Saturday. "That's just another candidate that probably doesn't do a lot for our fans."

Garcia then took a shot at the organization, saying that the 49ers' wayward search "doesn't seem real organized right now. It's frustrating. Hopefully it'll be resolved in the next couple of weeks, but the way it's going, I won't be surprised by whatever happens."

What direction the search will take after today is anyone's guess, but there is speculation that Donahue will interview at least one college coach once Wednesday's national signing day hits. Meanwhile, as Donahue struggles to find a new coach, his assistants are fleeing at an alarming clip.

Defensive line coach Dwaine Board and receivers coach George Stewart have taken similar positions with Seattle and Atlanta, respectively, while linebackers coach Richard Smith joined the Seahawks' staff shortly after Mariucci was fired.

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