San Francisco Examiner

Who will lead the Niners now?
January 17, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

SANTA CLARA -- Now that Steve Mariucci has been set free from the final year of his obligation with the 49ers, the obvious question that owner representative John York and general manager Terry Donahue must confront is this:

Who will be the 49ers' 14th coach?

Mariucci was fired Wednesday for what Donahue characterized as "major philosophical differences" with York. Mariucci's sudden dismissal sets into motion a nationwide search for a replacement that will include current and former coaches in the NFL and college.

Donahue said the organization will also interview in-house candidates, but he did not give a timetable for completing the search.

"I think my responsibility will be to put together an initial list of candidates for the organization to consider," Donahue said. "Screen that list and try to get it down to a finalist group. Then present that list to John.

"John will select who he wants as his new coach."

Said York: "We don't have a timetable, but we are going to move as quickly as possible to get a good, viable list of candidates together and try to make sure we don't lose any continuity with our team so we can get on the field next year and make a run for the playoffs and the Super Bowl."

While the two declined to identify possible candidates, two names most prominently mentioned are current 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora and former Minnesota coach Dennis Green, who is now an ESPN analyst.

Green, 53, is an African American with extensive head-coaching experience. And Mora, 42, is perhaps the leading in-house candidate. He is a fiery leader who has exhibited a special knack for designing schemes to compensate for the 49ers' many defensive weaknesses and injuries.

But York could make a huge political statement if he were to hire an African-American coach.

The NFL has been under pressure by a minority group led by attorney Johnny Cochran, who has threatened to sue the league for its lack of minority representation in the head-coaching ranks. There are 32 teams in the NFL, yet only three African-American head coaches: Herman Edwards of the New York Jets, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Marvin Lewis, who was hired by the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday.

York said he would give serious thought to hiring the first African-American head coach in team history.

Green -- who spent 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, leading them to four NFC Central titles and two appearances in the NFC Championship Game -- worked for Bill Walsh in 1979 as the Niners' special teams coach. He coached quarterbacks and receivers from 1986-88.

During an interview on ESPN, Green -- who was one of the leading candidates for the Jacksonville Jaguars' coaching job -- said he would love to renew ties with his mentor Walsh, a team consultant who will have a major say in who the team hires.

"I've got some interest," Green said. "It's a very attractive job."

Further, Green said he would have no qualms with the 49ers' organizational structure.

"It's not that kind of job," Green said. "The San Francisco job, the whole world is set up by Bill Walsh. When you're the head coach, that's what you do. Terry Donahue as general manager, Bill Walsh as the master consultant, Mr. York as (owner representative).

"I think everybody has clear-cut roles. In that organization, that's what's ideal."

Naming names

With Steve Mariucci getting axed Wednesday, names of potential successors began crawling out of the woodwork:

Pete Carroll -- Improved his stock at USC

Terry Donahue -- Was excellent at UCLA

Dennis Green -- Tons of ties, but wants power

Mike Holmgren -- Can live where he has restaurant

Jim Mora Jr. -- Would come cheap

Mike Mullarkey -- Steelers more creative than you think

Rick Neuheisel -- A Donahue favorite

Ray Rhodes -- Ex-Niners assistant is unemployed

Bob Stoops -- Family ties with York, DeBartolo

Tyrone Willingham -- Back to Bay Area?

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