San Jose Mercury

Candidates don't seem like a magnificent seven
February 03, 2003
By Skip Bayless
Mercury News

Hope you can hear me over the coast-to-coast chortling.

For their next head coach, the once-proud 49ers are now interviewing a guy who regularly has been a loose-cannon laughingstock in Chicago -- a defensive coordinator whose anonymity beyond the Bears has already sent quarterback Jeff Garcia into one of his increasingly regular tizzies.

``I don't even know who he is,'' Garcia groused.

His name is Greg Blache, pronounced Blah-sh. He's best known in Chicago for giving rifle bullets for big hits, demoting Brian Urlacher, ripping the media and fans on his weekly radio and TV shows and concocting the stop-Jerry-Rice game plan that allowed Terrell Owens to catch an NFL-record 20 passes.

Blache's name has been tossed into a yawning canyon of candidates without NFL head-coaching credentials who keep rejecting the 49ers. Assistants Monte Kiffin, Jim Johnson and Brad Childress -- all debatable head-coaching candidates to begin with -- opted to stay with their current teams for considerably more money. Once, guys like these would have hitchhiked across country for this job.

Now, even assistants are leery of the 49-Cent-ers' organized chaos. The budget-cutting director, John York, is said to be offering low-end money, around $1.2 million. The general manager, Terry Donahue, won the power struggle over fired coach Steve Mariucci and now has taken over completely for Bill Walsh, who says he has no input in this choice.

If this had been Walsh's call, Dennis Green almost certainly would have been hired by now. But Donahue, who coached UCLA for 20 years, still has much deeper connections in college football than the NFL. This raises a final please-be-true, joke's-on-us possibility.

That Donahue did have a plan from that start. That Phase 1 was to give three minority assistants an honest shot. That Phase 2 begins with Wednesday's national signing day for college recruits.

It's certainly possible that Donahue has made informal contact with a college head coach who felt obligated to finish recruiting. Of course, this could mean an entire class of freshmen-to-be and their parents are about to commit to a coach who knows he'll soon commit to the 49ers. It's also possible Donahue's target won't hear from him for the first time until Thursday.

A year ago, when the 49ers anticipated Mariucci going to Tampa Bay, the University of Washington's Rick Neuheisel was high on Donahue's list. Since then, a coaching blunder cost Washington an early season game at Michigan and the Huskies fell to 7-6 with a Sun Bowl loss to Purdue. So 49ers fans couldn't get nearly as worked up about Neuheisel as they could over, say, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops.

I know. You're asking how an organization that would stoop to interview Blache could be expected to shoot as high as Stoops. You're right. I'm still thinking of this franchise as Eddie DeBartolo's shoot-for-the-stars, spare-no-expense 49ers when it's possible the husband of Eddie's sister has turned them into just another team.

Again, the only reason York should have fired Mariucci was if he had the vision and cash to do better. The 49ers deserve better. They deserve Jimmy Johnson or Mike Holmgren or Stoops.

York is well aware of Stoops. York lives in Youngstown, Ohio, where Stoops' father was a legendary high school coach. Surely York knows that Stoops will be the next great college-to-pros coach. Stoops has turned down several NFL overtures, as well as the Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida jobs. He would be expensive, but he would pay for himself tenfold. He's just what Dr. York ordered.

Like Jimmy Johnson coming out of Miami, Stoops' expertise is defense. Donahue has retained his offensive staff. Stoops would revamp and recharge the 49ers' defense while providing the kind of tough-guy leadership Mariucci lacked. Stoops and Donahue would hit it off. Both are devout Catholics.

Asked at Sunday's Pro Bowl what he wanted in his next coach, Garcia said ``discipline, energy, excitement.'' That's Stoops, who would make division rivals say, ``Uh-oh.''

But there I go, daydreaming again. Back to reality. Given Mariucci's one-year bridge to the 49ers, Cal fans probably should be a little nervous about Donahue pursuing Jeff Tedford. He certainly appeared to be cut from head-coach timber in his first year running a team.

Speaking of the East Bay, ABC's John Madden and Dan Fouts strongly suggested the 49ers hire their pal Norv Turner, a Martinez native who played at Alhambra High and Oregon. I know Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Turner well. He's a much better play-caller than leader, as the Washington Redskins discovered. As a head coach, he'd be no better than Mariucci.

Same for Kiffin. Many people who know him say he doesn't have the people skills or desire to talk to the media and deal with ownership and handle the daily headaches a head coach must. Put Kiffin or Turner in charge and you dilute what they do best -- game plan and teach within one unit.

You might not even want Blache running your defense. Perhaps York, a fellow Notre Dame alum, is giving Blache a highly publicized interview to help get his name in the head-coach mix. But as a rival general manager said, ``Watching him call defenses is like watching a guy riding a wild bull.''

Soon, York will show us the extent of his vision and cash. I'm holding out hope. Stoops to conquer? I'm not holding my breath.

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