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Tuesday, February 11
Updated: March 25, 4:42 PM ET
49ers comfortable with Erickson hiring

By Len Pasquarelli

While critics will rail that the San Francisco 49ers' marathon search for a successor to Steve Mariucci concluded with the hiring of a candidate who had flown below the radar, and one who in a previous four-season stint in the NFL led his team to zero playoff berths, team officials are more than comfortable with Dennis Erickson and what he will mean to the franchise.

The former Oregon State coach, who resurrected that moribund program in four years at Corvallis, edged out New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell on Tuesday morning. Erickson agreed to a five-year contract at $2.5 million per year.

Schlereth's Take
Mark Schlereth
Dennis Erickson has had success everywhere he has coached. With the support staff he will be surrounded by in San Francisco, he has a great chance to be successful there as well. He had the opportunity to get his feet wet in the NFL in Seattle, and with all Erickson learned in the past, he will be receptive to help from the likes of Bill Walsh.

I played for Erickson in the mid-'80s, and he has always been on the cutting edge at the collegiate level. He has a good offensive mind, is confident in his knowledge of the game, and will embrace the opportunity he has. He is intense and committed, and the 49ers players will see that desire and ability.

That is likely something the San Francisco front office saw as well. Like any job in America, coaches are judged on the philosophies they adhere to and how they carry themselves during interviews. That is a huge part of the process, and Erickson obviously impressed the 49ers brass.

Add up all that experience, confidence and support and Dennis Erickson could very well see things go his way in San Francisco.

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth played guard for 12 seasons in the NFL.

"To compete for a world championship, I guess, is the itch I had to scratch," Erickson said Tuesday night in Corvallis, Ore., where he said goodbye to his Oregon State players. "That's basically what it boils down to."

Former Oregon State football coach Mike Riley has contacted OSU to express an interest replacing Erickson, ESPN's Neil Everett reported. Riley, currently assistant head coach/secondary coach with the Saints, left Oregon State in 1999 after two seasons in Corvallis to become head coach of the Chargers, where he lasted two seasons.

While the conspiracy theorists will have a field day conjuring up reasons for why Erickson ultimately got the 49ers' job, team officials offered up two significant elements in their decision.

Both, it should be noted, are germane to any hiring process.

First, the 49ers' front office brain trust, and in particular general manager Terry Donahue, simply believed Erickson was the best coach available. And second, in a matter more relative to team director John York, he was the man who represented the best fit for the front-office direction and philosophy that the franchise is attempting to establish.

"We have found what we were looking for in a new coach: a leader, a motivator, a teacher, an individual with exceptional skills in coaching," Donahue said. "Dennis Erickson has a long history of coaching winning teams, and I'm confident he'll succeed in San Francisco."

There were, club officials insisted Tuesday in conversations with that were not for attribution, no real agendas beyond those. In fact, Monday night, Donahue spoke at length with Jets coach Herm Edwards and received a glowing recommendation.

"For both the on-field stuff and the off-field issues," said one team official, "he was the best fit. And that is taking absolutely nothing away from any of the other candidates with whom we spoke."

The 49ers' brain trust interviewed Erickson, confirmed, over the weekend. At that point the field of candidates stood at three -- with defensive coordinators Jim Mora of San Francisco, the New York Jets' Ted Cottrell and Greg Blache of Chicago -- and many outsiders prematurely assumed that there might be no more contenders.

But in his remarks last week, Donahue acknowledged that the search likely would be expanded to included a "limited" pool of current college coaches. Erickson's name was among those leaked to the local media.

"It was very difficult to turn down," Erickson said. "I guess there's a little piece of me missing from my time in Seattle to have the opportunity to win a world championship. Dealing with Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh and John York, it was just the right thing."

Just because the 49ers didn't trot those college coaches out for the media, as they had with other candidates, didn't mean they didn't exist. Just because the same degree of opening didn't exist should not have suggested the pool of viable candidates was limited to three.

In virtually every story authored on this site about the 49ers search, the term "known candidates" was diligently used to describe the men interviewed by San Francisco officials. The reason: There was always too much smoke that surrounded the process to believe, somewhat naively, that there weren't at least a few men involved who possessed prior head-coach experience.

In the end, most head-coaching searches are conducted amid subterfuge and with a degree of surreptitiousness, real or imagined. For several reasons, not the least of which was potential ramification on recruiting classes, Donahue opted to wait until after national signing day to meet with college coaches.

Having coached against Erickson at the college level, Donahue had a sense of familiarity with him, felt he possessed the kind of aggressiveness on both offense and defense that the 49ers wanted as part of their job description. It became clear to team hierarchy, officials said Tuesday, that Erickson was at his best -- aggressive, innovative, calculating -- when permitted to be just a football coach, with few of the inherent distractions.

Dennis Erickson's Career Coaching Record
Year Team Record
1982 Idaho 9-4
1983 Idaho 8-3
1984 Idaho 6-5
1985 Idaho 9-3
1986 Wyoming 6-6
1987 Washigton State 3-7-1
1988 Washington State 9-3
1989 Miami 11-1
1990 Miami 10-2
1991 Miami 12-0
1992 Miami 11-1
1993 Miami 9-3
1994 Miami 10-2
1995 Seattle (NFL) 8-8
1996 Seattle (NFL) 7-9
1997 Seattle (NFL) 8-8
1998 Seattle (NFL) 8-8
1999 Oregon State 7-5
2000 Oregon State 11-1
2001 Oregon State 5-6
2002 Oregon State 8-5
Career Totals 175-90-1

And as they have intimated since Steve Mariucci was jettisoned on Jan. 15, the 49ers were seeking a man who just wants to be a football coach, and who does not come with aspirations beyond that. "Cut away all the (crap)," said a 49ers source, "and this guy is a good coach. If, indeed, you just allow him to be a coach and ask him to be just a coach."

Whether the 49ers concluded their lengthy search with the right man will be, as with all such hires, a decision better judged three or four years from now.

"Trust me, we could not have done wrong with any of the other (candidates), either," said a San Francisco source. "But we did right with this guy."

One telling item from a 49ers official, which should (but won't) halt pending rhetoric about how the minority candidates were simply window dressing, is that there was considerable debate between Erickson and Cottrell, an African-American. There is a deep feeling of respect for the other three candidates, Cottrell in particular, and the final call was a difficult one. Of the five vacancies this offseason, one went to a minority when Cincinnati hired former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who became the NFL's third African-American head coach.

"I was informed today by Terry Donahue that they decided to hire Dennis Erickson as the next 49ers head coach," Cottrell said. "While it's obviously disappointing, I'd like to thank Dr. York, Terry Donahue and the entire 49ers staff for their professionalism throughout the interviewing process."

Blache said while he was disappointed he did not get the job, he believed the 49ers gave him a fair shot.

"I feel good about the process," he said, also dismissing the suggestion he was interviewed simply because he is black. "For me to say I was paraded around, used, I can't believe that. I walk away from it feeling like they did things in good faith."

Just as he had with the earliest identified candidates, Donahue did more than due diligence on Erickson, whose past problems with alcohol have been well documented. And Donahue, who is actually catching more flak than if he had hurried through the process, satisfied himself and others that Erickson has straightened out his off-field indiscretions.

"A week ago, or four days ago at this time, I had no idea I was going to have the opportunity to be the 49ers' coach -- no idea at all," Erickson said. "It just happened."

They are further convinced that some of the shortcomings Erickson was alleged to have had during his Seattle tenure -- lack of discipline and even preparation, a subpar staff, sloppy play, poor in-game decision making -- are no longer a factor. And even if they were, the 49ers contend, a stronger surrounding support group and a more well-designed management flow chart will help enhance his coaching abilities. Hopefully for the 49ers, those elements will enhance his record, too.

Erickson will keep Greg Knapp on staff as the offensive coordinator and play-caller. Ted Tollner will also remain and work with the quarterbacks. Contacted shortly after the news broke and before he had arrived at the 49ers offices Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. told ESPN's Andrea Kremer he had not made a decision about his future. Mora also has offers to become the defensive coordinator with the Lions and Panthers.

In his Seattle tenure, Erickson posted a 31-33 mark. He never took the Seahawks to the playoffs (although he nearly did in 1998, when a memorably poor call by official Phil Luckett, who ruled that New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde had scored a controversial touchdown) and never finished with a record better than .500.

In his defense, Erickson took over a team whose cupboard was left all but bare by predecessor Tom Flores. In the three previous seasons, the club had totaled but 14 victories. And, remember, most of his uneven tenure with the Seahawks came before billionaire owner Paul Allen bought the team. In fact, previous owner Ken Behring had attempted to relocate the franchise to Los Angeles during Erickson's stint.

"Some of the bad things that happened," said one former Seattle staffer, "were not of Dennis' making."

There is certainly no denying Erickson's abilities to resurrect floundering college programs, although he inherits a playoff team in San Francisco, and he has rebuilt campus teams and also maintained them. At Oregon State, he took over a team that had suffered through 28 consecutive losing seasons, the worst record in the NCAA at that point.

In his debut season, the Beavers were 7-5 and went to the Oahu Bowl. Over four seasons, he compiled a 31-17 mark and appeared in three bowl games. His college coaching mark, including stints at Idaho (1982-85), Wyoming (1986), Washington State (1987-88) and Miami (1989-94), in addition to Oregon State is 144-57-1.

Notable is that, while his record with the Seahawks was subpar, it is the same regular-season record that Mike Holmgren has posted in his four years at Seattle.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Dennis Erickson press conference (ESPNEWS, 3 ET):
The new 49ers coach answers questions for the first time.

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