San Francisco Examiner

Pair of Eagles on Niners' list
January 23, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

SAN DIEGO -- Niners general manager Terry Donahue on Tuesday identified the first three outside candidates who could replace Steve Mariucci, who was fired as coach last week.

Donahue said he has requested -- and received -- permission from the Philadelphia Eagles to interview defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Donahue also has clearance to meet with New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, an African American.

Donahue said he would continue talks with 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora, 41, who is the lone in-house candidate for the job. Mora, however, met with Carolina officials to discuss the Panthers' defensive coordinator job. He did so with Donahue's blessing and because of his tenuous situation with the Niners.

"That's where we're at at this particular time," Donahue said.

Donahue also announced that offensive coordinator Greg Knapp signed a one-year extension to remain in San Francisco. Donahue said the move, along with keeping offensive line coach Pat Morris and quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner, was vital to maintain continuity on the offensive side of the ball.

"Greg came to me and expressed his desire to stay with the 49ers," Donahue said. "One of the things that is very sacred in the 49ers' organization is the offensive system. The continuity of the system and the continuance (of that) is important."

All three of the candidates, who will be interviewed within "the next week," Donahue said, have extensive coaching experience, both college and NFL:

Childress, 46, has been the Eagles' offensive coordinator since 1999 and is credited with helping to develop quarterback Donovan McNabb into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Childress has also served as the Baltimore Colts' offensive coordinator in 1985 before bouncing around the league in various capacities. Childress also worked with Raiders coach Bill Callahan when the two worked at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1992-98.

Johnson, 61, is the oldest of the three. For the past four seasons, he has been Andy Reid's defensive coordinator, helping develop a unit that is among the league's most talented. Johnson has also been a head coach at Missouri Southern, defensive coordinator at Drake, linebackers coach at Indiana and assistant head coach at Notre Dame. Johnson also spent four seasons as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals.

Crennel, 55, has 22 years of coaching experience and has been an assistant in the NFL since 1981. He was an offensive and defensive lineman at Western Kentucky and, although he has never been a head coach, Crennel has served in various capacities for the New York Giants (1981-92), Patriots (1993-96), New York Jets (1997-99) and Cleveland Browns (2000) before joining the Patriots as the defensive coordinator in 2001.

"It's become apparent that after an initial sweep that these are definitely the three people we need to talk to," Donahue said.

Donahue stressed, however, that the search to replace Mariucci -- who was fired Wednesday, three days after the 49ers were knocked out of the playoffs by Tampa Bay 31-6 in the NFC divisional playoffs -- would be an arduous process. The 49ers, Donahue said, will probably interview at least two more candidates, including currently employed college head coaches and perhaps NFL coaches who are currently not tied to a team.

The key qualities Donahue is looking for in Mariucci's successor is a proven ability to motivate and lead and a willingness to work under the current organizational structure designed by owner representative John York, who has sought the counsel of Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney.

Former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green and current St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith -- both African Americans -- have been mentioned as candidates, but Donahue said he has not made contact with either.

Donahue said there is no timetable for filling the vacancy.

Meanwhile, Donahue said Niners defensive backs coach Brett Maxie, who initially sought permission to interview with the Arizona Cardinals, has decided to remain in San Francisco. However, linebackers coach Richard Smith has been granted permission to meet with the Seattle Seahawks.

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