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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Decision Time for 49ers' Organization

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2005; 4:41 PM

San Francisco 49ers co-owner John York likely will decide within the next day or two whether to retain Coach Dennis Erickson and General Manager Terry Donahue.

An NFL source said this morning that the Ohio-based York was in the Bay Area on Monday and began discussions with his team's top two football decision-makers that are to continue today. The 49ers are one of the league's proudest franchises, with five Super Bowl triumphs, but plummeted to an NFL-worst 2-14, matching the worst mark in club history. They beat the Arizona Cardinals twice but were winless against the rest of the league, and will have the top overall selection in the draft in April.

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York gave Donahue a four-year contract extension through the 2009 season in September, and Erickson has three seasons remaining on a five-year, $12.5-million deal. York is said by people around the league to be contemplating a complete organizational overhaul and a source said this morning, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the matter was at a sensitive stage, that a resolution seemed near.

Erickson interviewed for the University of Mississippi's head-coaching job late in the NFL season but withdrew his name from consideration the following day, and he has said that he hopes and expects to remain with the team. He addressed players Monday. But the 49ers are only 9-23 in the two seasons since making Erickson their surprise choice to replace Steve Mariucci, and Erickson is 40-56 in six seasons as an NFL head coach in Seattle and San Francisco. He never has had a winning season as an NFL head coach. He's had far more success in the college ranks, including a stint at the University of Miami in which he went 63-9 between 1989 and '94.

York previously has indicated that he feels some changes should be made to Erickson's coaching staff, and Erickson has said he doesn't want to make any staff changes.

Browns Moving Ahead

Cleveland Browns President John Collins said when Butch Davis was ousted as the team's coach in late November that the club would wait until after the Super Bowl, if necessary, to land the right coach to take over.

The Browns potentially will put that statement to the test if they decide to hire one of the two head-coaching candidates they plan to interview this week -- each a highly regarded assistant on a team that expects to still be playing Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla. According to an NFL source, the Browns are scheduled to interview Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress today, and are slated to huddle with New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel later in the week.

Both are regarded as strong candidates for the job, said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The Browns' coaching candidates also could include Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel and Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz.

Under the NFL's anti-tampering rules, an assistant on a club that's in the playoffs can interview once with each team interested in him for a head-coaching position, but cannot have a second interview or accept a job until his club is eliminated from the postseason. Those rules perhaps cost Crennel an NFL head-coaching job last winter, when there were seven vacancies league-wide, but he remained tied to the Patriots during their run to a second Super Bowl title in three years. Clubs with coaching vacancies generally are unwilling to wait until after the Super Bowl, wanting to get started as soon as possible on assembling coaching staffs and readying for free agency and the draft.

Crennel and Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis suggested that the rules be re-examined. The NFL's competition committee studied the issue but made no changes, not wanting to potentially penalize playoff teams by enabling their coaches to perhaps focus more on the job market than on postseason games. Weis recently accepted the head-coaching job at Notre Dame but will remain with the Patriots through the end of their season.

Browns officials were in Baltimore on Monday to interview Ravens personnel director Phil Savage for their GM job. Savage, a former Browns assistant coach, is regarded as the front-runner for the job, provided that Cleveland remains unable to get Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome or Patriots front-office chief Scott Pioli. The Browns have been denied permission to interview Newsome, who's under contract to the Ravens and would not be receiving a promotion with a jump to Cleveland.

But the Browns have a long list of GM candidates, and the search is just beginning. They're also scheduled to interview Charles Bailey, the Jacksonville Jaguars' director of pro personnel, this week. Atlanta Falcons assistant GM Tim Ruskell has been mentioned as a candidate, but it's unclear if he will agree to interview for the job. . . .

Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams has informed the Browns and Miami Dolphins that his general manager, Floyd Reese, will not be available to either club. Reese is under contract to Tennessee but apparently has had his differences with Coach Jeff Fisher, and was thought to be a candidate to be the Browns' GM or new coach Nick Saban's front-office chief in Miami. The Dolphins' connection, in particular, made sense because he is friendly with Saban. If Reese remains unavailable, Ruskell could become the front-runner in Miami. The Dolphins might not make a move until after the draft. They could keep their current general manager, Rick Spielman, in place until then, and then dismiss or reassign him after the draft.

Saban is to be formally introduced as the Dolphins' coach today.

Offensive Coordinators Under Fire

No NFL head coaches were fired Monday, but several offensive coordinators became their clubs' fall guys. The Ravens' Matt Cavanaugh resigned under pressure. The Arizona Cardinals fired Alex Wood. Mariucci announced that Sherman Lewis would retire from the Detroit Lions.

The Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and the Chicago Bears fired Terry Shea today. The New York Jets seem likely to dismiss Paul Hackett, and Scott Linehan might not stay with the Minnesota Vikings even if owner Red McCombs doesn't waver in his decision to retain Coach Mike Tice. . . .

Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is to meet with Coach Jack Del Rio in the coming days. The two undoubtedly will discuss Del Rio's handling of the apparent interest that LSU had in him for its head-coaching job. Del Rio was scheduled to interview for the job Friday but pulled out because Weaver had not been informed of the deliberations. LSU hired Oklahoma State Coach Les Miles. . . .

Seattle tailback Shaun Alexander apologized Monday for criticizing a quarterback sneak call by Coach Mike Holmgren during Sunday's win over the Falcons that clinched the NFC West crown for the Seahawks.

Alexander lost the NFL rushing title to the New York Jets' Curtis Martin by one yard, and said after the game that he'd been "stabbed in the back.'' Alexander said during a news conference Monday: "I definitely blurted out stuff I shouldn't have said.''

Seahawks players originally were not to be available to media members Monday, but the club scheduled Alexander's appearance. Alexander said he did not want to detract from the team's division title or create a distraction as the club prepares for Saturday's first-round playoff meeting with the St. Louis Rams. Still, he is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring, and the incident might not be completely forgotten by the time contract negotiations intensify. . . . .

Martin,31, became the oldest rushing champion in NFL history. He also is the first runner ever to top 1,500 rushing yards in a season without a run longer than 25 yards. . . .

Patriots tailback Corey Dillon on Sunday earned a $375,000 incentive in his contract for reaching 1,600 rushing yards for the season. In all, Dillon collected $1.375 million in incentives based on his rushing total this season to go with his $1.75 million salary. He has another $200,00 incentive if he's selected the most valuable player of the Super Bowl and the Patriots win. . . .

Rams Coach Mike Martz passed up an opportunity to gloat Monday about his team's playoff appearance during a season in which he has been widely criticized. Martz was asked during his news conference whether he feels vindicated, and said: "I don't look at things like that. I'm just thrilled for these coaches and these players.''

Martz said he had a message from St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa on Monday informing him that wild-card teams have won the last three World Series titles in baseball, so an underdog like the 8-8 Rams should keep the faith. La Russa's Cardinals, of course, lost last year's World Series to the wild-card Boston Red Sox. . . .

Tom Nutten, the Rams' starting left guard, aggravated a knee injury during last Sunday's overtime win over the Jets, and Martz said Monday it's unclear whether he'll be in the lineup in Seattle.

"We may have him,'' Martz said. "We may not. He's a lot better [Monday] than we thought he would be.'' . . .

Minnesota could be without wide receiver Kelly Campbell this weekend because of a separated shoulder and nickel cornerback Terrance Shaw because of a rib injury. The Vikings know they will be without safety Corey Chavous because of a broken elbow. . . .

Tight end Dallas Clark was among three Indianapolis Colts players tested for concussions Monday, along with wide receiver Troy Walters and linebacker Rob Morris. Clark suffered a helmet-to-helmet blow by Denver safety John Lynch during last Sunday's loss to the Broncos. The two teams meet again this weekend in a first-round playoff game in Indianapolis. . . .

Green Bay Packers Coach Mike Sherman said he expects to have wide receiver Javon Walker and tight end Bubba Franks available this weekend. Walker suffered a mild concussion during the Packers' win over Chicago to close the regular season, and Franks jammed his knee. Sherman said he's also hopeful of having backup tailback Najeh Davenport, who sat out the Bears game because of a strained shoulder. . . .

Quarterback Brett Favre made his 224th straight start for the Packers and threw two touchdown passes against the Bears before exiting the game in the second quarter. He said he'd urged Sherman not to yank the Packers starters too early.

"Mike and I talked [Saturday],'' Favre said after the game. "I said I don't know if we're good enough to just play a few plays and then come out.'' Sherman granted Favre's wish but urged caution, according to the quarterback. "He said to me, 'Hey, don't get hurt,' '' Favre said. "I was thinking to myself, 'It's been 200-something games. Why does he have to say that to me now?' I almost felt like he was jinxing me.'' . . .

Defensive end John Abraham is to return to the Jets' playing rotation this weekend at San Diego after missing the last four games of the regular season because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. The Jets don't expect Abraham, who had 9-1/2 sacks during the regular season, to be available for full-time duties but plan to use him in pass-rushing situations.

Henry Wants Out

Tailback Travis Henry told reporters Monday that he wants out of Buffalo, not surprising after Willis McGahee took over as the Bills' featured runner this season. People around the league have assumed for months that the Bills would try to trade Henry in the offseason for a high-round draft choice. . . .

The Titans are consulting with specialists before they and Billy Volek decide whether the quarterback will undergo surgery for the shoulder separation he suffered in last weekend's season finale. . . .

Eagles kicker David Akers set an NFL record this season with 17 field goals of 40 or more yards. . . . Lynch fractured his thumb last weekend but is to play in Indianapolis this weekend with a cast.

Clarett Asks Supreme Court to Reconsider Case

Former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider his case.

Two Supreme Court justices last year rejected Clarett's requests for emergency relief in his attempt to enter the NFL draft a year earlier than he was eligible to do so under league rules. Clarett won a lawsuit against the league in federal court, but a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court granted the NFL's request for a stay to keep Clarett out of the draft and later overturned the original decision.

The NFL has 30 days to respond to Clarett's latest request, filed Monday by attorney Alan C. Milstein. Clarett is eligible for this year's draft under the NFL's requirement that a player be at least three years removed from high school. Milstein told the Associated Press that Clarett is continuing to challenge the league's draft-eligibility rule for the benefit of other players.

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