The San Francisco 49ers' descent to the NFL's worst record cost Coach Dennis Erickson and General Manager Terry Donahue their jobs. John York, the team's co-owner, fired Erickson yesterday and reached a financial settlement by which Donahue departed.
The 49ers will join the Cleveland Browns in looking for a new coach. The Browns began retooling yesterday by reaching a tentative agreement to hire Phil Savage, the Baltimore Ravens' director of player personnel, as general manager. Officials were completing contract details with Savage last night and, barring last-minute snags, planned to make his hiring official today. His hiring increases the chances that Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be named Browns coach.
The 49ers became the third NFL team to make a coaching change since midseason. The Miami Dolphins have hired Nick Saban to replace Dave Wannstedt, who resigned nine games into the season. Butch Davis exited as Cleveland's coach in late November as part of a settlement with Browns owner Randy Lerner.
Erickson had three seasons remaining on a five-year, $12.5 million contract. Donahue received a four-year contract extension through the 2009 season in September. But the 49ers went 2-14, matching the worst record in franchise history, and were 9-23 in the two seasons since making Erickson their surprise choice to replace Steve Mariucci.
Browns officials met with Savage yesterday for the third time this week. They offered Savage the job and he accepted, according to sources familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team had not yet announced the hiring. Savage emerged as the front-runner for the position after the top two choices, New England Patriots front-office chief Scott Pioli and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, were unavailable.
Other general manager candidates also were prevented from interviewing or declined to interview with the Browns, including Tennessee Titans GM Floyd Reese, Atlanta Falcons assistant GM Tim Ruskell, Philadelphia Eagles vice president of player personnel Tom Heckert and Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert. The Browns did interview Charles Bailey, the Jacksonville Jaguars' pro personnel director, this week.
Savage is a former Browns assistant coach and is widely respected as a talent evaluator. He gets the final say over the club's player-related decisions -- which formerly belonged to Davis -- and will join Lerner and team president John Collins in selecting the Browns' coach.
The Browns interviewed Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress on Tuesday and are scheduled to interview Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Steelers assistant head coach Russ Grimm and Cleveland interim coach Terry Robiskie in the coming days. They have received permission to interview Falcons defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and their list of candidates also could include former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, who served as a Ravens consultant this season, and Kirk Ferentz, the University of Iowa coach who formerly was the Browns' offensive line coach on the same staff as Savage.
Around the League
The Cincinnati Bengals fired defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. . . . The Associated Press named Peyton Manning offensive player of the year and Ben Roethlisberger offensive rookie of the year. . . . The league set an attendance record for a second straight season, selling more than 17 million tickets. . . . The Patriots are making as many as 200 tickets to their Jan. 16 playoff game available to people who donate at least $1,000 to aid tsunami victims in South Asia through the team's charitable foundation by Wednesday.