49ers Come Close To Losing Terry Donahue And Greg Knapp

Jan 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Shortly after The San Francisco 49er’s left Mile High Stadium in their last game of the season and set their eyes on what was to happen in the off-season. Many other professional football organizations and front office personnel began to look at the people responsible for making the San Francisco 49er’s so unique among the others.

In a 48-hour marathon flirtation with the Washington Redskins 49er Director of Player Personnel/Assistant General Manager Terry Donahue considered an offer from Redskin owner/operator Daniel Snyder.

Donahue reiterated that he is not a candidate for any other coaching job, and he’s still on the path he set for himself two years ago, to succeed Bill Walsh as the 49er’s General Manager. Since that flirtation the Washington Redskins did hire a head coach in the name of Ex-Kansas City Chief Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Terry Donahue joined the San Francisco front office in 1999 as Director of Player Personnel. Among his many duties are managing the 49er’s scouting and drafting activities in addition to coordinating the team’s pro personnel department.

Donahue has since then been a soul mate and partner to General Manager Bill Walsh a master guru in himself, and they have provided valuable and irreplaceable leadership and organization within the front office and it’s managing abilities.

Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue are credited with the remarkable draft in 2000 that landed some very talented and inspirational rookie player personnel that were able to come in and start right away and provide a franchise with hope and inner respect.

Terry Donahue’s credentials are well documented and vast; he comes with a complete understanding and immeasurable knowledge of the game of football and injects that into a rebuilding process that we are currently under taking.

Donahue joined the San Francisco 49er’s after spending the last three years (1996-98) as the lead college football analyst for CBS Sports. Prior to going into broadcasting, Donahue became the most successful coach in Pac 10 history. Posting a 151-74-8 (.665) record during a 20-year (1976-95) head-coaching career at UCLA.

I can remember the many triumphs and spectacular moments in college history with Head Coach Terry Donahue at the helm of UCLA. A team that struck fear inside the college ranks all around the nation and breathed respect from many other head coach’s at the time, some envious to be what Donahue was able to accomplish in such a span of time.

During his two-decade reign, Donahue built UCLA into one of the top programs in the country. The Bruins finished in the Top 20 12 times and cracked the Top 10 in five times under his direction.

The legacy that Terry leaves behind at UCLA is insurmountable, as he has established a standard that is very hard to live by and certainly to duplicate. Terry has given enormous amounts of time and effort towards working hands on with athletes from all facets of society and from different parts of the country.

He registered a 98-51-5 (.653) conference record and guided the Bruins to 13 bowl games, including among them four Rose Bowls and five Pac 10 championships. The 98 wins are most in conference history, and he posted a winning record against every Pac 10 opponent. Donahue had an 8-4-1 record in bowl games and is only one of two coaches’ in NCAA history to win eight consecutive bowl appearances.

So goes the resume of Terry Donahue a man of tremendous football experience and high moral character as he has set the standard for what a college team is expected to become. In a world full of promising young athletes destined to one day join the professional ranks of not only the National Football League but a modern society as well.

UCLA produced under his guidance and direction 34 first-team All-Americans and had 14 players selected in the first round of the NFL draft. This is an amazing testament of what he has been able to accomplish as a player’s coach and mentor the same can be expected in his tenure with us.

“Coaching is like a drug,” Donahue said. “You never completely get it out of your blood. When you’re out of it, you forget all the bad times and remember all the good times. So I talked to Pepper Rodgers a long time friend and consultant to Washington Redskin owner Dan Snyder. I wasn’t offered the job. He was just trying to see if I’d be interested. After we talked I decided I wouldn’t be.”

“I came here with the idea that I’d prepare myself to be a general manager in the NFL. I think this is a great place and a great organization. I like all the people in the organization, and so does my wife.”

Bill Walsh has indicated and made no excuses about it that Donahue will eventually replace him, as general manager someday when is that someday? Probably very soon due to the fact that so many football franchises have him as a potential target to hire.

When could this happen? The transition could take place as soon as one week following the NFL draft, Walsh would be expected to step down and hand over the general manager title to Terry Donahue and become a consultant to the franchise.

Bill Walsh signed a three-year contract this year being his final year of that contract signing in January of 1999, Walsh has the option to either full-fill that contract right to the letter or step down and allow Donahue to take over. The process would be very simple, as Walsh has already just a few months ago named him Assistant General Manager.

“Nothing is set in stone,” Donahue said in a candid conversation. “Bill and I talk every day, but he’s never said exactly when he wants to step down. It’s not an uncomfortable situation because he’s the one who brought me in to be his successor.”

Walsh has even indicated and gone to the extreme acknowledging that if Donahue was offered something else and he was seriously considering taking it, he would step aside even sooner and allow Donahue to become the general manager.

“It sounds tempting when you first start talking about a job on the other side of the country; until you get there,” Donahue said. “There are East Coast guys and West Coast guys. I’m a West Coast guy.”

Donahue has a history of studded episodes of where he has been offered numerous jobs in various parts of the country but he never followed through with any of them. He is by far not a man who has jumped from job to job; seeing he has spent 20 years as head coach at UCLA. And having spent almost his whole life on the West Coast he prefers to stay here.

Now Donahue faces a different kind of challenge after coming on at San Francisco, a challenge that is shared by Bill Walsh and Head Coach Steve Mariucci: building the team while still under the burden of the salary cap.

“We overspent and now we’re paying for it,” he said. “We’re on the right track and we will get it done, but it will take time.”

With the encouraging signs in the second half of the season, fans abroad believe the 49er’s are on a steady road upward. But in reality, they are at least another year away from championship contention. It would be a miracle next year to duplicate this season’s (6-10) season. Because the 49er’s will likely lose many veterans some very key veterans because of the salary cap.

“We’re agonizing over that because we know we’re going to lose players we don’t have replacements for,” he said “John McVay said to me, “You guys don’t want to lose any of these players; and he’s right. But we have to.”

What has set Donahue apart from so many other front offices executives is the fact that he involves all the coaching staff and hears their input, this evaluation process seems to have helped us particularly in last years draft process.

Donahue has promised to jump in head first and tackle the precarious details of whom should we keep and whom should we cut, the very thought of all this has got to be a dead weight you have to carry around with you for a very long time.

In my opinion Donahue is the best man for the job to eventually replace Bill Walsh, I have nothing but the utmost respect and highest regard for Walsh and I hope and pray he will continue to be a part of this front office for years to come. Donahue is being groomed and detailed under Walsh’s supervision and he will prosper.

The San Francisco 49er’s came very close to losing a most valued member of the coaching staff in Quarterback’s coach Greg Knapp, He fortunately resigned with us on a three-year contract extension.

Knapp was considered one of the leading candidates for the vacant offensive coordinator job with the Arizona Cardinals, who fired Marc Trestman. Arizona coach Dave McGinnis apparently had contact with former 49er Quarterback Steve Young, who gave Knapp a ringing endorsement, as he was vital to Young as a counselor and mentor.

Young credited Knapp’s daily tutelage as the main reason he was able to produce career-best passing numbers in 1998. Their relationship runs deep and the mutual respect they had for one another remains ironclad.

McGinnis faxed a form requesting permission to speak with Knapp. Before granting that permission 49er’s coach Steve Mariucci requested to speak with both McGinnis and Greg Knapp.

In conversation McGinnis told Mariucci that Knapp was indeed a strong candidate for the job. Up to that point, the Cardinals had interviewed only former Washington coach Norv Turner, who already accepted the offensive coordinator position with the San Diego Chargers.

Mariucci in a whirlwind looked for a way to retain Knapp long term to continue the fabulous work he had already accomplished with new starting quarterback Jeff Garcia. The Cardinals were told that the only way the 49er’s would grant permission to speak with Knapp was if they agreed to surrender draft picks as compensation if he was hired.

“We gave Greg the opportunity to consider interviewing for the position with the Arizona Cardinals,” Mariucci said. “But he decided he wanted to stay with us. Obviously, we’re thrilled with this decision. It was very important for us to hang onto him. He’s a great coach and has done a terrific job here.”

Quarterback’s coach Greg Knapp accepted the 49er extension offer of three years and with a substantial raise in pay to go along with it. Knapp is most valuable to us in many aspects, as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is becoming a solid candidate to leave for a head-coaching position.

With Chris Palmer out in Cleveland, Mornhinweg would appear to have a realistic shot at replacing him. Mike McCarthy, the Saints coordinator, also has been mentioned. And if not Cleveland he could definitely be looking at other possibilities.

If Mornhinweg were to leave the 49er’s, Greg Knapp would be the leading replacement for his position within the ranks of the 49er coaching staff, the offensive coordinator position is a vital position to the franchise’s prosperity.

Knapp handles most of the on field coaching of the team’s quarterbacks. He regularly remained long after practice sessions to work with the team’s four quarterbacks. He spent an extra two days a week trying to groom third-round draft choice Giovanni Carmazzi.

In the last off-season, Knapp worked almost daily at the team’s practice facility with Jeff Garcia. Who was coming off an uneven first year as a starter for the 49er’s. Garcia developed into a NFC Pro Bowl performer, breaking the team record in passing yardage along the way.

Greg Knapp was offensive coordinator at Sacramento State for four seasons before joining George Seifert’s staff with the 49er’s in 1995 as offensive quality control coach. He has spent the last three season’s as quarterbacks coach, a position in which he works closely with Mariucci and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

In 1998, Knapp was instrumental in Steve Young reaching career-highs in touchdown passes (36) and passing yards (4,170). Young also finished the season with a 101.1 quarterback rating, ranking over 100 for the sixth time in his career.

Now the same can be said of his work with Quarterback Jeff Garcia and his improvement will only continue with Knapp at his side with his instructions and teachings. Jeff is off to his very first Pro Bowl and broke a team record with (4,278) passing yards. Along with (355) completions and a career high 31 touchdowns (third best single-season total).

Jeff also had a career high (414) yards rushing the football and was named Most Improved NFL Player by Pro Football Weekly Magazine.

Jeff Garcia had only 10 interceptions all season and accomplished a passer rating of (97.6) in quarterback ranking. This was even more impressive then Joe Montana’s first year as a starter as in (1981) he threw for (3,565) yards, (19) touchdowns and (12) interceptions for a passer rating of (88.2) in his first starting year.

By comparison Steve Young in his first year as a starter threw for (2,517) yards, (17) touchdowns and eight interceptions for a passer rating of (101.5). This only goes to prove that the work of Coach Greg Knapp is most invaluable to the long-term success of 49er quarterbacks as a whole.

A year ago, the 49er’s placed the “supervisory” tag on Knapp, which meant that the 49er’s could block him from joining another organization unless it was for a head coaching position. The NFL no longer has the rule where a team can lock up an assistant coach. Instead, now every coach under contract can be denied an opportunity to interview for other higher-ranking jobs, with the exception of head coach.

In my opinion Greg Knapp is a very hot commodity to have on our coaching staff and his future with this organization can only continue to prosper, for what he has accomplished and can take credit for is his ability and talent to mold very productive quarterbacks.

Besides Knapp’s six years with the San Francisco 49er’s he spent nine years with the coaching staff at Sacramento State University, serving as running backs coach (1986-89), receivers coach (1989-90), and offensive coordinator/assistant head coach (1991-94).

Greg Knapp was a collegiate quarterback at Sacramento State; he was one of the most prolific signal callers in that school’s history. He ranks among the Hornet’s career leaders with better than 3,800 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes. He participated in training camps of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1986, the Los Angeles Raiders from 1987-90 and the San Francisco 49er’s from 1992-94.

The fragile network of front office and coaching personnel is real in every professional football organization. The San Francisco 49er’s have been the strength of the National Football League in this area, we have fielded more talent in this area of expertise more then any other organization that is currently operating today.

We have a real family tree in General Manager Bill Walsh as so many head coach’s and assistants today either preach and follow his philosophies or have taken them with them after working in this organization itself and indoctrinated them into their manuscripts today.

Terry Donahue and Greg Knapp are the quality personnel we want in this franchise today, they represent the greatest football franchise in history and we require that they continue to uphold all we have done and achieved.

To that end we can continue to grow and mature become strengthened once again to be competitive and challenging, to reach milestones that have slipped away but for a brief moment in our midst of rebuilding. We can again accomplish so very much with this quality in personnel.
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.


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