49er’s Coach Selection Like a Game of Darts

Feb 1, 2003 at 12:00 AM

With Monte Kiffin, Brad Childress, and Jim Johnson all out of the running for the 49ers head coaching job, only two candidates remain. The third candidate, Jim Mora Jr., seems to be a long shot for the head coach position because he hasn't enjoyed the type of success that the other coordinators on the list have. Under Mora, the Niner's defense has finished no better than 13th in the league, due in large part to the strong rush defense-a defense that only allowed 103.3 rush yards per game. For Mora, the coaching change is all or nothing. A situation where the offensive and defensive staff is already in place would be a tough sell for any organization to any coach. When a new head coach is hired he is going to want his staff, and Mora doesn't seem to fit into that scheme. The question remains however, are the remaining candidates actually qualified for the job?

Other than the long-shot names being thrown out here, such as Bill Walsh and Dennis Green, the viable options seem to be Ted Cottrell of the New York Jets, and Romeo Crennel of the New England Patriots. There have been analysts that believe Bill Walsh should come back for one season in order to buy the team more time to acquire a big name coach. This seems far-fetched for two reasons. First, although Walsh is a consultant he doesn't have too much clout in the decision making process for a coach. Walsh is really pushing for Dennis Green and at last word; Green wasn't even contacted for an interview-even though Green has expressed interest in the job. Secondly, Walsh even said that his body wouldn't be able to endure the 8 month marathon that is an NFL season. Moreover, having an "Interim Coach" wouldn't be good for the organization. The transition period would be doubled, being as there would be, in effect, two head coaching changes. Having the players get adjusted to Walsh, and then having them get used to another coach would surely cause more harm then would normally be associated with a coaching transfer. And what if Walsh fails? What if he takes the team, and ends up 4-12 instead of 12-4? It would irreparably tarnish Bill Walsh's reputation as a coach and as a legend within the organization. It would place a shroud over the team of the 80's that would hurt the organization more than this aimless search for a replacement.

Romeo Crennel is an interesting choice for a head coach. We have to think how much of his candidacy comes from the Super Bowl XXXVI win over St. Louis. Although the Rams were not much of a factor this year, they are still the number one challengers to the Niners NFC West title. This year, however, the Patriots defense finished 21st in total defense, a big drop off from last year's Super Bowl run.  But the Patriots defense allowed only 198.7 passing yards per game; compared to the Niner's 219.1. Their biggest deficiency was the run stopping, a strength of the 49ers.  Crennel often used very exotic coverages and schemes. One only has to look at the November game against the Bills to see how bizarre his schemes are. In the game against the Bills Crennel often used 4 lineman and 7 defensive backs. Sometimes all of the front 7 were in two point stances and other times there was just one linemen.

His "Big nickel" scheme might also be a good fit for the 49ers. In this coverage he plays 3 safeties in the middle of the field and hides the cornerbacks in a zone. This may seem like a good scheme because the 49ers are deeper at safety than they are at the corner position. But throughout the season the 49ers' zone coverages were torn apart by teams like Seattle, San Diego, and Arizona. Mora tried to hide Mike Rumph in zone coverage, but we saw how effective that was when teams would come roaring back after they should have been put away. This analysis does have some merit though, as many have said that Rumph would be a better safety than he would corner. If that as the case we cold see Bronson, Parrish, and Rumph matching up with receivers in the middle of the field while Webster and Plummer cover the edges of the field. I can just hear the safeties punishing receivers over the middle just like the Patriots did in last year's Super Bowl.

The biggest concern is whether or not Crennel was the source of these schemes, or if the brain behind the operation was Bill Belichik. Belichik is always heralded as the defensive genius and received much of the credit for the Super Bowl victory. Nevertheless, Crennel implemented the various schemes and will take much of that knowledge with him wherever he goes.

Despite Crennel's resume, Ted Cottrell is believed to be the front-runner for the head coaching position. Cottrell Joined Herm Edward's squad in New York for the 2001 season and since then has reversed the fortunes of a defense that entered this season with 6 new starters. Although his defense started slow, over the last 10 games they were ranked 2nd in total points allowed and 3rd in rushing defense. The final defensive rankings are a bit misleading because of the slow start, but the progress of their defense was plainly seen in the 42-0 thumping of the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild-Card Playoff game.  Cottrell likes to run as aggressive cover-2 scheme, much like the Tampa Bay Bucs. The scheme involves big physical corners that can jam receivers at the line in order to disrupt timing. He is aggressive with the blitz and as a result often uses man-to-man coverages.

The 49ers obvious strength on defense was man-to-man coverage. The Niners used a comparable scheme against the Seahawks in their second meeting. Early in the game, Rumph was brought off the corner to get pressure on Hasselback. It worked for 3 quarters, then the team backed off and the 'Hawks almost pulled out a victory in the final minutes. The scheme could work well with the 49er personnel.

Neither Cottrell nor Crennel have head coaching experience, which is worrisome. But either one will do away with what hurt the Niners the most, a vanilla game plan that was kept simple because of inexperience. It seemed like all the 49er defense did this year was react to what teams did, rather than establish the tempo of the game and dominate teams. It is true that defenses win championships in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Bucs are the prime examples. Cottrell seems to be the candidate with the edge, but frankly, none of the prospective coaches jump out; each has his deficiencies. While Donahue keeps handing out interviews like candy to assistants such as Gary Blanche of the Bears, it seems like the "plan" to hire a new coach is nothing more than drawing names out of a hat. Even Jeff Garcia has criticized the way the organization is going about the search. Owner John York and GM Terry Donahue seem to have their own agendas directing the search for the new coach. It is becoming apparent that the new head coach of the 49ers will be either a career assistant with no head coaching experience, or a college coach plucked out of anonymity. Either way, the Niners seem hard pressed to find a guy right for the job. The dartboard in John York's office is quickly being filled with second-rate assistant coaches. Lets just hope that when he throws the dart it lands one of the few remaining first-rate coaches.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • No Comments

Facebook Comments

More San Francisco 49ers News

Ex-49ers coach Jim Tomsula named Coach of the Year after guiding Rhein Fire to European championship

By David Bonilla
Sep 25

Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula has guided the Rhein Fire to a European League of Football championship. The 49ers named Tomsula their head coach in 2015 after the firing of Jim Harbaugh. His tenure lasted just one season as San Francisco went 5-11 that season. Chip Kelly replaced Tomsula in 2016, who also lasted just one season. Kyle Shanahan has been the 49ers head coach since 2017. Tomsula went on to serve as the defensive line coach for Washington (2017-19) and the Dallas Cowboys (2020) before being named the new Rhein Fire head coach last year. It was a reunion with the team he coached in 2006, when the Rhein Fire were a part of NFL Europe. Tomsula guided his European team to a 7-5 record last year. This year, he went 12-0

"49ers look like the NFL's most complete team": Where San Francisco stands in Week 4 power rankings

By David Bonilla
Sep 26

The undefeated Miami Dolphins' 70-20 win over the winless Denver Broncos has shot them to the top of multiple power rankings. However, for most, the San Francisco 49ers sit in the top spot. Also undefeated and sitting atop the NFC West standings, the 49ers are coming off a 30-12 win over the New York Giants. The team is so well-rounded, and Brock Purdy continues to rack up the wins as the starting quarterback. San Francisco has started the regular season 3-0 for the ninth time in franchise history and has now won 13 consecutive regular-season games dating back to Week 8 of last season. It's the longest active streak in the NFL and the second-longest winning streak in franchise

Baldy: 49ers QB Brock Purdy has Montana-like poise

By David Bonilla
Sep 26

Brock Purdy's statistics from last Thursday night's game against the New York Giants don't paint the whole picture. Yes, Purdy threw for a career-high 310 yards, but the Giants defense was getting pressure on the San Francisco 49ers' second-year quarterback. That didn't phase Purdy, though. He wasn't rattled. And that is just one of many traits that has one NFL analyst impressed with the 23-year-old. "Obviously, the best that ever did it right there, Joe Montana, he had that. You couldn't rattle him," Brian Baldinger said Tuesday morning on 95.7 The Game's "The Morning Roast" show. "I'm not comparing him to Joe Montana. I'm not doing anything like that, but he does have that composure. He does have that poise." Some passes have come close, but

Steve Wilks on 49ers defense: "I've never been around an elite group like this before"

By David Bonilla
Sep 29

Steve Wilks took over as the San Francisco 49ers defense coordinator after DeMeco Ryans departed to be the head coach of the Houston Texans. The unit was the top-ranked defense last season, so Wilks was tasked with continuing what worked well but putting his stamp on it. The 49ers defense has looked formidable in its first three games and could once again end up being one of the league's best. While his players have been impressed with Wilks as a coach, Wilks has been equally impressed with those he is coaching. And it's not just because of the on-field talent level. "So, I told you guys back in the spring, I've never been around an elite group like this before," Wilks said on Thursday. "And it's not just so much the talent; it's about how we work.


More by Oscar Aparicio

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone