San Jose Mercury

Questions on Day 1 of 49ers' search
January 18, 2003

By Tim Kawakami
Mercury News

They had their man selected and they moved at light-speed to make it happen, but the 49ers found out Wednesday night that Mike Holmgren's contract with the Seattle Seahawks can't be broken, escaped or bypassed.

Good idea, the NFL coaching fates decreed. But not gonna happen.

So, even as Steve Mariucci purred to and parried with the media Thursday, a day after his sudden firing, the 49ers' coaching search moved into a slower, more thoughtful, if-not-Holmgren-then-who deliberation.

But the surprising speed and assurance involved in the decision to chase Holmgren had several NFL people wondering:

Wouldn't the next logical choice be Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress, a devotee of the West Coast system and considered next in line after Holmgren and Eagles Coach Andy Reid among blue-collar leaders/offensive innovators?

If Holmgren is unavailable, Dennis Green untenable, Jim Mora unmarketable, and Tyrone Willingham and Bob Stoops unaffordable . . . could Childress, whose offense raked the 49ers 38-17 on Nov. 25 without Donovan McNabb, be the right coach at the right time?

You can learn a lot about a big-time coaching search by the first contact. And for General Manager Terry Donahue, that was Holmgren, who could provide leadership and maintain the treasured link to Bill Walsh.

Wednesday night, a top 49ers official -- believed to be Donahue -- called Holmgren's agent, Bob LaMonte, to inquire about Holmgren's immediate availability. But even though Holmgren recently lost his title as general manager, LaMonte told the 49ers there was no way to pry Holmgren from the Seahawks for the remaining four years of his deal.

``He's locked in,'' said one person close to the situation. ``He can't go to the 49ers.''

So with that door closed -- and with the candidacy of Green, Walsh's top pick, faltering under a wave of questions about his conduct and discipline lapses near the end of his reign with the Minnesota Vikings -- the 49ers' search swung wide open.

This is what Terrell Owens said in October after Green criticized the receiver for his Sharpie incident: ``Dennis Green, out of all the people, I'm probably upset more about some of the things that he said. That's probably why he doesn't have a job. He couldn't get control of Randy'' Moss. . . .

``Here he went out on a limb to give Randy a chance when everybody else turned him down, and look at the respect that Randy showed him.''

The 49ers' interview list will probably include Lovie Smith, Rick Neuheisel, Jim Mora, Childress, Ted Tollner and possibly Stoops. But the job probably won't go to Green.

And I can add this: It won't be anybody who would dream of putting on the exhaustive spin-doctor session Mariucci performed Thursday. (The fact that it came a full day after he stiffed every arm of the media except ESPN, his likely future employer, was a splendid bonus.)

It was a smooth, charming performance by Mariucci, another 40 minutes of amiable babble that meant not very much and shed light on nothing of substance concerning the real reasons his six-year tenure ended so abruptly.

He wanted more power from team director John York, but geez, fellas, not really? He wanted John McVay's title as director of football operations but Terry Donahue's responsibilities?

His new agent was just trying to socialize with York and Donahue, but somehow blockbuster money terms and franchise-restructuring ideas were blurted out?

He was looking out for his assistants, advising them not to sign long-term deals with the 49ers because he would take care of them, but then decides to take a year off -- and oops, that means they might be out of jobs?

He repeatedly met with other teams but can't imagine why York began to lose trust in him? He was happy, but he kept shopping?

``I was offering my services if they wanted me to take on any responsibilities other than what I have already, if it presents itself,'' Mariucci said of his talks with York. ``I told him that I was very willing to do that. Certainly not demanding it. I was just simply being receptive to the idea if they chose to go in that direction.''

I now can guess why York called Mariucci on Monday and started yelling at him. Mariucci's dissembling explanations, piled one atop the other, make your head hurt.

Did he exaggerate the Notre Dame and Tampa Bay situations last winter to gain ground with the 49ers, or not? Did he demand more power and money, in an extension, because he thought York wouldn't dare fire him, or not? No answers here.

He was good for the 49ers for six years. But it was time for him to go, and he has proved that with every gesture and word since the dismissal.

And the 49ers' next coach, whomever it is, looks better every time Mariucci opens his mouth.

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