San Francisco Examiner

Niners pare list to three
February 06, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

Ted Cottrell didn't sleep very well Monday night. Understandably, he was anxious and nervous, fidgeting throughout the night as he awaited word from 49ers general manager Terry Donahue.

Donahue had promised to call the New York Jets' defensive coordinator late Monday to let him know whether he would be a finalist for the Niners' vacant head-coaching job. The call came a little later than expected -- Tuesday morning -- but Cottrell was nonetheless thrilled when Donahue telephoned to summon him to the Bay Area for a second series of interviews.

"I'm very pleased," Cottrell said. "I'm excited. I've got to go pack, though."

Cottrell, 55, is one of three finalists to survive marathon interviews with Donahue. In a statement released by the team Tuesday, Donahue said he would schedule follow-up meetings with Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache, as well as the Niners' current defensive coordinator, Jim Mora.

"Today, I informed Greg Blache, Ted Cottrell, and Jim Mora that we would like to have further discussions with each of them about becoming our next head coach," Donahue said in his written statement. "We have asked Greg and Ted to fly out so that we can show them around the Bay Area and introduce them to the organization.

"Jim, obviously, is very familiar with both the organization and San Francisco. I feel all three have the potential to be excellent head coaches."

Donahue has been orchestrating the search for a successor to Steve Mariucci, who was fired on Jan. 15 despite leading the Niners to four playoff appearances in six seasons. Ironically, Mariucci agreed to five-year, $25 million contract to become the Detroit Lions' coach on the very day Donahue went public with his group of finalists.

Cottrell, a longtime coaching veteran who has interviewed seven times previously for head-coaching positions in the NFL, is one of two African-American finalists for the 49ers' job. The other is Blache, who met with Donahue in Southern California on Monday. New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, 55, another African American who was interviewed by Donahue, was informed Tuesday that he is no longer under consideration.

A team official was uncertain when Donahue would meet with Blache, although it could be as early as Friday. As for Cottrell, he is scheduled to arrive in San Francisco this afternoon to immediately engage in a series of meetings with Donahue and owner representative John York. Those meetings are expected to conclude Thursday.

Cottrell, Blache, 53, and Mora, 41, must now survive the second phase of the search that, Donahue conceded, would conclude only after he meets with at least one college coach. Donahue said weeks ago that he would initially devote his energy to interviewing prospects from the pro ranks because, as a former college coach, he felt he had a firmer grasp on coaches in the collegiate ranks.

Also, today is national letter of intent signing day and it has been rumored that Donahue wanted to avoid disrupting recruiting activities of any of the college candidates he was interested in interviewing.

"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," said Donahue, a former college football analyst for CBS and former coach at UCLA. "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."

The search for Mariucci's replacement has been a calculated process that is entering its fourth week. Donahue suggested he is in no rush to hire a new coach, saying: "This has been a deliberate and lengthy process, because not only have we been getting to know the coaches, but we have been talking to many highly respected football people around the league about our candidates.

"We have been and will continue to be thorough in our approach, because I feel it is the only way to find the best coach for our players, our fans and our organization."

49ers' Coaching Candidates

Greg Blache

CURRENT JOB: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator

AGE: 53

THE SKINNY: Blache is a 15-year coaching veteran who interviewed for the Indianapolis Colts' head-coaching job last year. Blache's defense slipped after being ravaged by injuries in 2002. However, the Bears led the NFL in fewest points allowed and finished second against the run in 2001. Blache worked as a defensive assistant at Notre Dame (1972-75, 1981-83), Tulane (1976-80), Southern (1986) and Kansas (1987); in the USFL with the Jacksonville Bulls (1984-85); and in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers (1988-93) and Colts (1994-98).

Ted Cottrell

CURRENT JOB: New York Jets defensive coordinator

AGE: 55

THE SKINNY: Cottrell has been widely praised for taking a defense that featured six new starters and molding it into one of the more cohesive units in the NFL. Cottrell has interviewed for seven head-coaching jobs previously, but has been passed over each time. He has also worked in Kansas City (1981-82), Buffalo (1986-89, 1995-2000) and Arizona (1990-94), earning a reputation as one of the NFL's more innovative defensive minds.

Jim Mora

CURRENT JOB: 49ers defensive coordinator

AGE: 41

THE SKINNY: Mora, one of the few remaining holdovers from Steve Mariucci's staff, would provide a seamless transition for the 49ers. Mora knows the players well, his defense has shown improvement the past few seasons and he would probably accept far less money to become the head coach.

-- Ricci Graham

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