San Jose Mercury

Mora makes a strong sales pitch
February 07, 2003

By Skip Bayless
Mercury News Staff Columnist

This time it was Jim Mora's turn to participate in, take your pick, this charade or parade.

Thursday evening, Mora came bouncing down the same stairs at 49ers headquarters that Ted Cottrell had descended the night before. At the bottom, in front of the Super Bowl trophy case, waited about 20 reporters. Unlike Cottrell, who appeared uneasy answering media questions about why he should be the next coach, Mora seized the opportunity to lobby in the lobby.

When he was finished, you were ready to believe Mora could cure cancer, depose Saddam, find Osama, build a new 49ers stadium, turn Terrell Owens into a coach's dream and add several more gleaming Lombardi trophies to the five behind him.

The rumors that 49ers defensive coordinator Mora will join Steve Mariucci in Detroit? Uh, stop the presses. Mora went after his old boss as if he were running against Mooch for president. No wonder Mora said that he loved the 49ers so much that he would consider staying as coordinator.

Asked if offensive changes need to be made, Mora said: ``What is important is that we are an attacking offense and we identify the playmakers and get them the football. We've been an organization in the past that has gotten people down and gone for the throat. That is the kind of offense I would like.''

And the kind General Manager Terry Donahue would love. The two biggest criticisms of Mariucci were 1) that he didn't get the ball to Owens early and often enough; and 2) that he lacked killer instinct with a lead. From moribund to Mora? You could almost hear the applause from the executive offices upstairs.

Mora was well versed and rehearsed, extremely confident and surprisingly convincing. Mora can be as volatile as his dad, the former New Orleans and Indianapolis coach. But on this night, Junior's passion was perfectly harnessed. Give them Mora?

So far all we know for sure is that, for better or worse, this is another first for the trend-setting 49ers. Not only are they making public the names of three candidates who are getting second interviews. But at the end of each candidate's ``day,'' the team is making him available to the media.

Usually the first public comments from a candidate come after he has been hired. Often, second-interview candidates or finalists avoid media detection. For instance, it wasn't reported in 1997 that Donahue accepted Jerry Jones' offer to be head coach of the Cowboys, but that the deal fell apart when Donahue arrived in Dallas with a month's worth of clothes.

So why would Donahue sanction a process that publicizes candidates who might not even be finalists? The cynical theory: Team director Dr. John York wants only to increase the national perception that three defensive coordinators are credible head-coach prospects.

First up was the New York Jets' Cottrell, the most qualified minority candidate among NFL assistants. Thursday belonged to Mora, whom Donahue and York appear to like personally as much or more than they do professionally. Today's spotlight falls on the Chicago Bears' Greg Blache -- like York a Notre Dame alum.

So the cynic in you warns that York was conveniently forced into a week of promoting minority candidates and rewarding Mora's six years of loyalty as a 49ers assistant. Remember, the 49ers pursued two higher-profile defensive coordinators, Tampa Bay's Monte Kiffin and Philadelphia's Jim Johnson. If, say, Kiffin had returned their interest, do you think he would have agreed to a daylong interview at 49ers headquarters followed by having to tell the media why he deserves the job?

No, Kiffin would have told York to kiss his Super Bowl ring. Yet, welcome to Dr. John's 49-cent-ers: York couldn't offer Kiffin or Johnson enough money or front-office stability to keep them from taking big raises to remain coordinators.

That left former UCLA coach Donahue to pursue the coaches he knows best -- NCAA coaches. But he couldn't go after one with national signing day looming on Wednesday. One leak could ruin a school's recruiting. So what better way to pass the time this week than to interview and publicize Cottrell, Mora and Blache?

The cynic in you scoffs that only the dogs and ponies were missing. But the idealist in you argues that York might wake up and say, ``You know, Ted Cottrell deserves serious consideration.''

Cottrell has consistently produced defenses that were statistically superior to Mora's. Last season Mora's ranked last in the NFL on third down. That had something to do with injuries to safety Zack Bronson and linebacker Jamie Winborn and a lot to do with coaching. Schemes can help take away what an offense does best when it needs it most.

How can York sell a candidate whose 49ers defense gave up 38 points -- nearly 42 -- in two and a half quarters of a playoff game at Candlestick Park to the same New York Giants who needed overtime at home to score 10 against Philadelphia the previous week?

How can York sell a coordinator who fought so hard for the drafting of a cover cornerback who can't cover -- Mike Rumph? How can York sell Mora after he blew up at Donahue for cutting a former first-round pick, Reggie McGrew, who clearly was a bust? How can York sell Mora after defensive leader Dana Stubblefield said he had a hard time envisioning Mora as head coach?

York can't.

But this we now know: Mora can sell himself.

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