San Francisco Examiner

A winning ticket
January 18, 2003
Special To The Examiner

The 49ers made the right choice in firing Steve Mariucci on Wednesday. While Mariucci was the perfect transitional coach for the organization and an extremely popular figure with the local media and his players and assistants, he never demonstrated the skills that win Super Bowls.

Throughout the history of the NFL, the coaches who have won Super Bowls have all succeeded in at least one of three areas. Some have been innovators like Tom Landry and Bill Walsh. Others demonstrated their leadership through rare toughness and fire like Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells and Mike Ditka. Others were superior talent evaluators like Jimmy Johnson. Steve Mariucci is neither an offensive innovator, nor a proven personnel evaluator and his toughness has been called into question on several occasions.

Terry Donahue, along with Bill Walsh and John McVay, will spearhead the team's coaching search. Several candidates for the 49ers' job have been publicly bandied about over the last 48 hours. The list includes Dennis Green, Bob Stoops, Tyrone Willingham, Jim Mora, Greg Knapp, Tom Coughlin, Rick Neuheisel, Ray Rhodes, George Stewart, Mike Mularkey, Pete Carroll, Ted Tollner, George Seifert, Gary Kubiak, Mike Holmgren, Donahue and Walsh.

The 49ers need to find a coach who is tough and can evaluate personnel. While Donahue has worked hard to develop a system of personnel evaluation, he is an unproven commodity. The coach is the central figure in any football organization and needs to be able to pick players. The 49ers should lean on two men who were key figures in their success over the last two decades: Dennis Green and Ray Rhodes. The team should hire Green as the coach and name Rhodes the defensive coordinator.

Green lobbied for the job Wednesday on ESPN.

"I've got some interest in that job," Green said. "It's a very attractive job. I've always been a part of the 49ers family."

Green was an assistant coach under Walsh at Stanford from 1976-78. Walsh gave Green his first NFL job as a receivers and special teams coach in 1979. He rejoined Walsh's staff in 1986 and served a three-year stint as receivers coach.

Green is a proven winner and his hiring would indicate that Walsh's voice is still being heard within the 49ers' offices. Green, as the coach of the Minnesota Vikings, showed his personnel acumen by drafting dynamic offensive players like Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Bennett. Green, who last week withdrew his name from consideration for the Jacksonville Jaguars' coaching job, is a high-profile candidate who will command a large salary.

Rhodes is equally intriguing. He struggled as the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, but he is widely considered one of the elite defensive coordinators in professional football. Rhodes was the 49ers' defensive coordinator when the franchise won its last Super Bowl after the 1994 season.

His greatest strength is his unbelievably keen eye for defensive personnel. Everywhere he goes, quality defensive players appear. Rhodes was instrumental in the drafting of several 49ers defenders (Don Griffin, Tim McKyer, Chet Brooks, Jeff Fuller) in the later rounds of the draft. The three best defensive players on the Eagles (Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins and Hugh Douglas) were all drafted by Rhodes.

The Denver Broncos hired Rhodes in 2001 to improve a defense that had been one of the worst in the league. Denver improved from 24th in the NFL to eighth in 2001 and sixth this season. Rhodes, a very emotional person, resigned from the Broncos last week amid disappointment about not reaching the playoffs.

Even former 49ers owner Ed DeBartolo weighed in on whom he would hire on KNBR this week.

"I know who I'd go for. I'd go for Bobby Stoops," DeBartolo said of the Oklahoma coach. "He's from Youngstown and we've known the family. He's a good kid and his family is superior."

To win a Super Bowl, the 49ers need better players. They need to add another dynamic weapon to their offensive arsenal and several playmakers to their defense. They need coaches who are tough, innovative and can evaluate personnel. Dennis Green and Ray Rhodes fit the bill.

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