San Jose Mercury

Mora among Niners hopefuls
January 22, 2003
Donahue to interview three coordinators from other organizations as Mariucci's replacement

By Roger Phillips STAFF WRITER

After a week of rumors and speculation, San Francisco 49ers general manager Terry Donahue has provided the first concrete leads in the mystery over who will replace the fired Steve Mariucci as coach.

Donahue said Tuesday that 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora is the only former Mariucci staffer he currently plans to interview. Donahue added that he has been granted permission to interview Philadelphia's offensive and defensive coordinators (Brad Childress and Jim Johnson), and New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

"We have a number of people within the organization gathering information on various candidates throughout the NFL," said Donahue, who declined to give a timetable for making a decision. "It became apparent these are definitely three people we need to talk to and consider for the second phase of the process, which would be coming to Santa Clara, seeing the facility and meeting members of the organization."

Donahue said he was hoping to speak on the phone to each of the three outside candidates Tuesday, and that he was planning to interview Mora either Tuesday or today. Mora also has interviewed to be the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, which would be a lateral move.

It appears that whoever ends up as the 49ers' coach will inherit at least four of Mariucci's former assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Donahue said Knapp, whose contract was about to expire, signed a new one-year deal with the 49ers a few days ago.

"Greg expressed a desire to stay with the 49ers," Donahue said. "One thing sacred in the 49ers is the offensive system. The continuity of the system and the continuance of the terminology for the quarterback and offensive players would be important.

"It probably gives the organization its best chance to move forward with the greatest speed and ease of adjustment. We thought it was important to try to keep that part of the organization intact."

Donahue also said he expects defensive backs coach Brett Maxie, offensive line coach Pat Morris and quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner to return. Maxie had been considering interviewing for a lateral move to the Arizona Cardinals, but instead will stay put.

"At this particular time," Donahue said, "Jim is the one member of the staff I'm definitely going to interview."

It also is clear that the highest-profile person to enter the 49ers coaching sweepstakes has seen his interest go unrequited, at least to this point.

Former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, who has long-standing ties to 49ers consultant Bill Walsh, told ESPN he has not heard from the team. Donahue confirmed that the team has not contacted Green, or another rumored candidate, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren.

He also said the team has not yet contacted two other well-known NFL assistants, defensive coordinators Lovie Smith and Ted Cottrell, of the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets, respectively.

At the time of Mariucci's firing last Wednesday, owner John York said the team would give serious consideration to hiring an African-American coach. Green, Smith and Cottrell are African-American, as is Crennel.

"I feel confident giving interviews to any qualified football coach," Donahue said. "We're looking for the ability to lead and motivate the team, to fit into the organizational structure that's fundamental to Dr. York, and we're looking for the best football coach. It's a matter of who is the best person at the end of day to be chosen."

Donahue said he is not finished asking permission to talk to candidates. He said the team will consider NFL assistants, former NFL head coaches and college coaches. He said the team has yet to seek permission to interview any college coaches.

"We're putting together a short list of college head coaches that we will look at as an organization," said Donahue, adding that he expects to interview up to eight candidates before reaching a decision.

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