49er's Problems are Deeper than Coaching
September 29, 2004 at 12:00 AM
Let me begin by telling you what this column is not. This article is not an Erickson bash session, nor it is a ringing endorsement. Erickson does some good things, and he does some bad things. But I refuse to capitulate to the fan pressure that says that Erickson is the cause of all the 49er's troubles. He had the team ready to play against two teams and should have at least been 1 and 1 going into last week's game. He has taken defensive lineman no one else wanted and put them on the field a few days later to field the league's 5th best rushing defense. Sure, he may not be the next great coach, but the fact is, from the beginning, Erickson got a raw deal.
He came into a franchise last year as a figurehead. By all accounts, Jim Mora Jr. and Gregg Knapp ran the team last year. Erickson didn't have his staff in place; he was still working with the remnants of Mariucci's old regime. Erickson didn't even figure into much of the play calling until the final 4 or 5 weeks. Maybe it was just a coincidence that the offense exploded in the month of December averaging 34 points and 425 total yards per game. Oh yeah, and they beat a team, Philadelphia, that was a game away from the Big Dance.
In order for any team to be successful they have to have the right personnel. In eight years as the 49er head coach, George Seifert amassed a 76.5% win percentage (at the time it was the best winning percentage in NFL history), six NFC West titles, two Super Bowl wins, five NFC Championship appearances, and 108 total wins (including the playoffs). In three years as the coach of the Carolina Panthers he managed a total record of 16 and 24, going 1 and 15 in his last year. He never made the playoffs, and was fired after three years making way for John Fox. What was the difference? One word: Personnel.
There should be no doubts about it now; Bill Walsh was one of the best evaluators of talent ever. While he was coach he drafted people like Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Guy McIntyre, Jerry Rice, Jesse, Sapolu, Bill Romanowski, Jerry Rice...I could go on but you get the picture. While a GM or consultant with the 49ers from 1999 to 2003 he was heavily involved in each draft the 49ers had. These drafts produced Chike Okefor, Julian Peterson, Ahmmed Plummer, Jeff Ulbrich, Tim Rattay, Brian Jennings, Andre Carter, Jaime Winborn, Eric Johnson, Kevan Barlow, Eric Heitman, Kyle Koser and Mike Rumph; all starters on this team, or in Okefor's case, another team. Is it a surprise that in 2001 the 49ers went from a "rebuilding" team to a 12-4 team that lost in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champions?
What exactly has the front office done since Walsh's role diminished in 2002? They fired then head coach Steve Mariucci with one year left on his contract. Worse than the firing was the fact that there was no replacement lined up. They cut players like Ron Stone and Derrick Deese, both players that still had some years left in them. With the troubles on the offensive line, those releases proved costly. They let players like Travis Kirshke and Jed Weaver go. In sum, the front office made some questionable decisions with only one goal in mind: get under the cap.
So the 49ers will be under the cap next year, then what? Terry Donahue will still be calling the shots. Almost all of the successful draft picks that still play for the 49ers were drafted while Walsh was involved. TD has not shown that he can evaluate talent in order to get quality players in here. Yet, he was given a four-year extension.
The problems this franchise is facing go deeper than coaching, they go to the heart of how this franchise is and was run. Donahue has not shown much in order to get an extension. Bill Walsh and John McVay, two people instrumental in the resurgence of the 49ers in 2001 were pushed out. The owner, John York is penny pinching in the wrong places (coaching). And all this is supposed to be Erickson's fault?
Fans need to look a little deeper before they call for the head of the head coach. The management of this franchise has been poor. The salary cap was an after thought until it was too late. And even then, restructured contracts were the norm in San Francisco. Terry Donahue has not shown that he can evaluate talent or produce NFL level starters through the draft. The depth of the team has been neglected, especially on the defensive and offensive lines. The secondary (an area of concern since 1998) is still suspect. Yet all of these problems aren't traced back to the head coach. All indicators point towards the 49er's brass.
So next time you want to rant and rave about how Dorsey makes poor decisions and how Joselio Hansen (Joselio who?) has no place on an active NFL roster don't lobby to fire the coach. Lobby to fire the root of the problem. Look a little deeper. The answers are there.
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