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For any team within the NFL the most drastic change a team can undertake is the changing of the guard so to speak in replacing a head coach. That is where we find the San Francisco 49ers going into March still processing all that data. Many still are stunned at the long drawn out process that entailed the 49er coaching search and even more stunned at the candidate that came forth from that search in Dennis Erickson.
But General Manager Terry Donahue did everything in a manner that involved detail and not leaving anything remotely even unturned. Donahue knew that the eyes of ownership and the entire media world were upon him in this process, he wanted to deliver the very best candidate at delivering this franchise a championship. Dennis Erickson will bring a new philosophy and doctrine to our team and he will demand a "killer instinct" as described as very necessary to succeed in this league.
As Erickson continued to adjust to the San Francisco climate and it's surroundings he continued to establish a coaching staff that brought out the identity of the team and added a few faces that have been to battle with him over the years. He retained from the 49er staff four key assistants to continue their fine service to the franchise first starting with Chris Beake.
Beake has been on board with the 49ers since 1999, and for the first time is switching from defense to offense. He will in effect become an offensive assistant after being a defensive one for three seasons.
He began his career in San Francisco as a defensive quality control coach. And then there is Brett Maxie who was widely considered a casualty as several clubs began to attain interest in Maxie's services as a secondary coach, one of which was Arizona.
Brett Maxie has done an outstanding job in getting the 49er secondary up to par with the rest of the league and molding it into a legitimate weapon. He was also retained by Erickson and has been on board with the 49ers since 1999.
Dan Quinn is yet another holdover as he has been named as a defensive assistant. He joined the 49ers just prior to the 2001 season after coaching for five seasons at Hofstra University (1996-00).
And finally Jason Tarver will continue to stay on as offensive quality control coach. Tarver like Quinn has been with the 49ers since 2001. The one coach that was lost though was all time popular fullback and running backs coach Tom Rathman who left San Francisco to join Steve Mariucci and his staff in Detroit.
Stability within the organization will be maintained in both Erickson's eyes and the front office as well. Erickson was thought to be planning sweeping changes on the staff and transforming it into his own likeliness as an offensive-minded coach.
But the only real casualty on the staff was running backs coach Tom Rathman. Rathman was originally notified that he could stay on with the 49ers only if Erickson's offensive coordinator at Oregon State, Tim Lappano, was named head coach in Corvallis.
Well that never happened so Lappano now joins the staff as the new running backs coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Upon hearing that news Rathman rather than playing second fiddle to someone else looked to familiar faces for a way out and found it in long time friend and colleague Steve Mariucci.
What I must say was the most surprising was the retaining of defensive coordinator Jim Mora by Dennis Erickson. Jim was a leading candidate for the head coaching vacancy once Steve Mariucci was suddenly axed almost without warning. Mora brings a stable and soothing hand to a defense that is greatly molded in his image. He will continue balance as the 49er defense had already lost two great defensive assistant coaches in Dwaine Board and Richard Smith.
Optimism is another bright spotlight that has illuminated the San Francisco 49ers as both Dennis Erickson and Terry Donahue look at the team as competing for a Super Bowl title again almost immediately right out of the gate. The talent level on this team dictates that we can make a run at the title should the injury plague be finally purged from the rank and file of the 49er roster.
"I think we have outstanding personnel," Donahue said. "When you look at our team, we have a Pro Bowl quarterback; we have a Pro Bowl receiver, arguably the best receiver in the game; we've got two interior offensive linemen that are in the Pro Bowl. You can argue that (fullback) Fred Beasley should certainly have been in the Pro Bowl. I think that our football team has talent, and we believe in our players." "I think we hired the right person to lead us to the world championship," Donahue said.
What Erickson is so fortunate to have is a talented roster, something he totally did not have when named head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 1995. Erickson went on to have a 31-33 record in four years with the Seahawks and no playoff appearance although a league official robbed him of one in his final year due to a controversial call.
Prior to his arrival as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks they had three seasons of struggles in going 2-14, 6-10 and 6-10. "He didn't inherit what we have here when he went to the Seahawks," 49ers consultant Bill Walsh said.
What really landed Erickson the job in San Francisco was his great successes since leaving the Seahawks and proving himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is one of the most sought after college coaches in history. His successes in Miami and winning two national titles and turning around a doormat of a college football club in Oregon State speaks all for themselves.
So we have a coach that is well diversified in many flavors on the college circuit and has been baptized in the NFL for four long seasons of mediocrity. I can really think of a lot worse to be honest with you as I analyze where we are at with Dennis Erickson. Out of all the defensive assistants and college head coaches thought-to-be candidates I believe Dennis Erickson was the right choice.
I was not sold on Romeo Crennel, Greg Blache, Ted Cottrell or even Jim Mora our current defensive coordinator. I believe that aggressiveness was the formula that the San Francisco 49ers were in need of and found with Dennis Erickson. As much as I loved Steve Mariucci and wished him a contract extension I always disagreed with how a game was left so unfinished scoring-wise on so many occasions in so many seasons.
I did have great interest in bringing former Minnesota Vikings head coach and former assistant in San Francisco Dennis Green back as our next head coach, but something tells me that there were defining reasons as to why he was never seriously considered. He carried a lot of baggage from the past in his mishandling of the Randy Moss incident to just plain being lazy when it came to demanding excellence on and off the field.
It was all of this and more that contributed to us ignoring him as a legitimate candidate in the long run. Dennis Erickson in all likeliness was the best man for the job and we did the next best thing in retaining Jim Mora as our defensive coordinator. So when you add up all the pluses and minuses in this search you will find you come out fairly cleanly with Erickson at the helm in the pool of contenders that were out there.
"I would like to believe we can compete for a world championship this year," Erickson said. "I'm getting older. We've got to get it going."
Expect more changes under Erickson this season, as he will look to get faster in the receiving category of our football team. He demands speed from this position and will find it in Terrell Owens and up and coming star Tai Streets. Thanks to a ruling by the league Tai Streets has been tendered as a restricted free agent at $1.318 million with first-round compensation. He was thought to be an unrestricted free agent until the record showed that injuries prevented that from happening back in 1999.
You can bet that the 49ers will look to the draft for another speedy wide receiver. J.J. Stokes seems to be the odd man out in this fast venture as he lacks the speed to find separation from defensive backs and has not proven himself anything more than a third or fourth receiving option at best. Stokes in effect is scheduled to earn $2.25 million, and the lowest his salary can go is $665,000.
Erickson has a set offensive mind-set and paramount on that set is throwing the ball down the field, Stokes has not proven capable of being that breakaway threat at anytime in his career since 1997.
When you look at Erickson's offensive philosophy: "We like to get the ball up the football field, along with throwing it underneath." You have to look no further than three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia does does; he is a master at throwing underneath routes. But there are members from last years coaching staff that question rather Jeff has the arm strength to throw the ball long down the field.
But confidence is not lacking from General Manager Terry Donahue, he believes and it is his contention that Jeff will thrive even more under Dennis Erickson then he did under Steve Mariucci. Based on the mere fact that Erickson will call most of the plays and that he will open up the passing attack in a more diversified way.
"Throwing it down the field is not always related to arm strength," Donahue said. "It is related to timing and the kind of routes you run." "When you look at Jeff Garcia and you look at his talent, he went to the 'Quarterbacks Challenge' two years ago and won it. One of the events was how far you can throw the ball. I believe, if you check, he finished second in that event."
What we do know about the University of the Pacific is that the 49ers have complained about the lack of office space and what has been perceived as a lack of cooperation between the university and the team. Concerns have also been expressed about the condition of the fields, logistical problems associated with providing for player security on an open campus as well.
On would think that the university would be very open to keeping the 49ers in town and reaping from advertisement and the rewards of having visitors to their facilities. But the roadblock that exists between the parties seems to have widened into something that could spell the end for a summer 49er home there in Stockton.
"We're not looking for a better deal to go elsewhere," Donahue said. "If we don't go back to Stockton, we're going to have training camp at our place."
So the future of San Francisco's training facility holds in the balance. I must say that I enjoyed being a part of that experience and encourage all of you that have not visited to go rather it be in Stockton or back in Santa Clara. It is an experience you'll never want to forget and want to keep on going back, I know that I will thanks to my friend in Julie Bedford.
Dennis Erickson continued to bring in rank and file members for his coaching staff from his past at Oregon State. He added Al Simmons as assistant secondary coach and will work primarily with present secondary coach Brett Maxie. Simmons is a graduate of Cal State-Hayward, when he earned degrees in physical education. Simmons was also a player and was a two-time first team All-NorCal Conference selection at strong safety in 1983-84.
His first coaching opportunity came at Cal State-Hayward when he was named secondary/linebacker coach in 1986. He made defensive coordinator in 1988 and stayed there till spring of 1994 when he joined San Francisco State as the defensive coordinator/secondary coach. From 1995-97 he served as the secondary coach at Montana State University before joining Idaho State for two seasons.
In 1998 he joined Tom Holmoe's staff at the University of California where he assisted in turning Deltha O'Neal from a back-up tailback to the first cornerback chosen in the 2000 NFL draft.
In 2001 he left California to join Erickson at Oregon State. Simmons was also was a prime subject in the NFL's Minority Fellowship Coaching program four times. He went from the Los Angeles Raiders to Arizona, San Diego and Dallas as a defensive assistant. He comes with great qualifications and in my opinion can only help Maxie better a secondary that is in need to establish an identity of it's own.
I believe that the coaches Erickson has brought in to the original staff can only compliment what is already here. I expect a lot of renewed energy on the terms of the coaching staff in getting more from the talent that is evident on our roster. We can only hope and pray that this coaching staff assembled will make this team into a more competitive one, that is equal to or greater than the ones that are poised against us.
In other news rookie cornerback Mike Rumph was acquitted of driving under the influence of alcohol in Miami Beach after leaving a South Beach nightclub. He was just over the limit at .09 as the limit in Florida is .08. The incident was a media grabber as Mike is a high profile athlete out of the University of Miami and was the first round draft pick selection of the San Francisco 49ers.
Terrell Owens also received yet another distinguished honor in being inducted into the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Athletics Hall of Fame. He completed 144 receptions and 2,320 receiving yards with 19 touchdowns during his college career there. He ranks second in school history in both catches and receiving yardage. Owens was an All-Southern Conference selection who caught at least one pass in 20 consecutive games from 1994-95.
The San Francisco 49ers also released two players from their Reserve/Injured list in cornerback Anthony Parker and linebacker Alex Lincoln. Parker once considered a tall and dominating cornerback has been hampered by injuries throughout his stay as a 49er and Alex Lincoln never even made it past draft day as he was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease.
One thing is most certain and that is Dennis Erickson is determined to assemble the most complete and experienced staff as possible to help make him successful. Now more than ever it looks like the top 49er brass are pulling out all the stops to put the brains behind the brawn. Quality coaching will breed a better overall athlete, and that direction will accomplish a lot as critical months go by and talent is trained and evaluated.