San Jose Mercury

49ers pare down the field
February 05, 2003
By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

Even though defensive coordinators Greg Blache, Ted Cottrell and Jim Mora emerged Tuesday as top candidates in the 49ers' search for a head coach, General Manager Terry Donahue still expects to delve into the college ranks.

``We would like to have further discussions with each of them,'' Donahue said in a statement. ``I feel all three have the potential to be excellent head coaches.

``As I stated before, I am very familiar with the college head coaches and expect to turn some of my attention to a limited number of viable candidates in that area as well,'' added Donahue, a 20-year coach at UCLA. ``The addition of potential candidates from college football, along with Greg, Ted and Jim, will give us a deep and talented pool from which to choose our head coach.''

Donahue did not identify any of the potential college candidates, though he could be waiting until after today's national signing day to avoid disrupting the recruiting process at a school.

Nevertheless, the field, reduced earlier by the withdrawals of Philadelphia assistants Brad Childress and Jim Johnson and Tampa Bay assistant Monte Kiffin, was narrowed further when the 49ers said New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was no longer in the running.

The job has been vacant since the Jan. 15 firing of Steve Mariucci, who reached agreement on a five-year, $25 million deal with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday.

Mariucci immediately hired two of his former 49ers assistants, bringing in Richard Smith as assistant head coach and linebackers coach and Andy Sugarman as an offensive assistant.

That makes five assistants who have left the 49ers since Mariucci's dismissal. Bruce DeHaven (special teams, Dallas), Dwaine Board (defensive line, Seattle) and George Stewart (wide receivers, Atlanta) left last month.

Smith helped develop Julian Peterson into a Pro Bowl player during his six years with the team.

``I see it as a chance to go to a team that has won only five games in two years and work like heck to get them to a championship level, just like we did here with the 49ers,'' said Smith, who turned down an offer from the Seahawks.

Sugarman leaves the 49ers after five seasons.

Besides its impact on the coaching staff, Mariucci's hiring relieves the 49ers of most of their obligation to pay him $2.25 million for the final year of his contract.

Donahue has been conducting the search for a new coach out of his Southern California home for the past two weeks. He was expected to join team director John York today at the club's Santa Clara headquarters, where the Jets' Cottrell is due for a second round of interviews, introductions to staff and a tour of the facility.

There was no word on the next round of interviews with the 49ers' Mora and the Chicago Bears' Blache.

Donahue, whose drawn-out interview process has been questioned in the media and ridiculed as haphazard by quarterback Jeff Garcia, reiterated there was no rush to judgment on a new coach.

``When we began our search for a new head coach we established a strategy and are proceeding as planned,'' Donahue said. ``This has been a deliberate and lengthy process because not only have we been getting to know the coaches, but we have been talking to many highly respected football people around the league about our candidates. We have been and will continue to be thorough in our approach.''

While the 49ers press their coaching hunt, other issues loom.

Most notably, the team's exclusive negotiating period with pending free agents wide receiver Tai Streets and defensive end Chike Okeafor expires March 3.

The 49ers also must consider whether to sign wide receiver Terrell Owens to a long-term extension. Owens can become a free agent after next season, and it's not likely he'll negotiate once the season starts. Retaining Owens will require a huge investment, considering Minnesota's Randy Moss got an $18 million signing bonus as part of an eight-year, $75 million deal in July 2001.

The 49ers signed punter Jeff Crowell.

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