2001 Coach Review
February 16th 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
Despite recodring a 12-4 season the 49ers coaches were a hot topic of debate this season. From Steve Mariucci to Brett Maxie, this review will cover it all. An indepth review that will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of perhaps the most important part of any football team. There the men behind the scenes, in charge of x's and o's of the game, controlling the flow, and essentially winning or losing the games for the team. Thankfully the 49ers are in pretty good shape behind the scenes.
There's no better place to start when evaluating coaches than at the top. Steve Mariucci the 49ers head coach has just completed his fifthe season with the team. Mariucci is among the best coaches in the league. He's dealt with the loss of multiple future hall of famers, a complete change in the teams administration and has taken a team from a salary cap death sentence to the playoffs with only two seasons of droubt. This season he had to deal with his biggest star on the team, Terrell Owens, constantly bashing him, as well as the media and many fans calling him conservative. Truth is Mariucci a smart coach, and while the Owens issue wont be easy to deal with, being called conservative - did not effect him on his way to the teams 12-4 record. Mariucci did not open up the offense this year, but he game planned magnificently, exposing faults in the opposition and making use of all the talent he had on the roster. Mariucci is a great leader for the staff and the team, and the 49ers should lock him up long term in his final year of his contract. [In the past day, Mariucci has been granted permission to speak with Tampa Bay about a GM and head coaching position]
The natural progression down from head coach is offensive and defensive coordinators. Here we have Greg Knapp calling the offense and Jim Mora Jr. in charge of the defense. Knapp, the 49ers former quarterback coach was promoted this past season. In his first year he continued his great rapor with quarterback Jeff Garcia and was very effective in working along side of Mariucci in game planning and play calling. It is expected that Knapp will assume a greater role this coming season, perhaps taking over all of the play calling. Jim Mora Jr. was not very well liked by most 49ers fans until this past season. Mora originally a defensive back coach, took a young 49ers defensive squad this season, from the slums of the NFL to being rated among the middle of the pack. However if you evaluate the last half of the season, the defense was among the leagues best. It posted a team record three shutouts - half the total shutouts in the league this past season. Mora also did a very good job working with the defensive backs, helping the tandem of Bronson, Schulters, Plummer and Webster to become top quality players. Mora should have even more to work with next season as the defense will have an extra year's experience together and likely a few new and improved faces.
The 49ers have two very special assistants on their staff, Andy Sugarman the offensive assitant, and Chris Beake the defensive assistant. These two have contless responsibilities. From the assembly of scout teams, to the inputting of game plans and plays into computer databases and assisting all of the coaches in the development of players, and game plans, these two really do it all. Always looking to help and make a difference in the team, Sugarman and Beake are very talented at what they do. They are great at evaluating talent and helping the 49ers put the best players on the field. To evaluate them, one simply has to look at the development of the young stars on this team, and how many undrafted free agents make the roster. These two have an eye for talent and are very well rounded coaches that have brought the 49ers some good talents that include players like Vinny Sutherland, Al Blades, Jonas Lewis and Rashad Holman, while still being involved in the improvement of players like Julian Peterson, Jamie Winborn, Terry Jackson and Terry Killens.
Working very closely with the assitants on the team are the quality coaches. Jason Tarver the offensive quality coach and Dan Quinn the defensive quality coaches are very talented at what they do. Both just completed their first season with the 49ers and are big assets in evaluating the talent that the 49ers bring in for 'try outs' as well as keeping an eye out for players who need extra work in the fundamentals of football. These two work very closely with the young talent on the team and their work has been very productive. Look no farther than the strides the defense made over the last season to understand just how important these two are to the team.
The 49ers offensive line is coached by Patt Morris, while Dwaine Board is in charge of the defensive line. Patt Morris is a truly special coach who has moved into his position since Bobb McKittrick's passing, and has done so perfectly. Morris had a year of learning directly from McKittrick and employs many of the same drills and tactics that McKittrick uses. Morris is an incredible coach at his position, the offensive line has been on top of its game the past two seasons, keeping Jeff Garcia healthy, and the 49ers on top of the league in rushing statistics. Dwaine Board is a veteran coach at this position and a former defensive lineman for the 49ers. He has put together some of the best defensive lines the 49ers have ever seen, but lately has had limited talent to work with. Board has helped develop players like Andre Carter, John Engelberger and Chike Okeafor as well as Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield and Brenston Buckner during his tenure as defensive line coach. Board has had a tough time the past two seasons getting consistent pressure on the opposition from his squad, but is likely to have a much better year this comming season, with the line having an extra year together, and the likely addition of another skilled player.
Tight end coach Tom Batta fits in very nicely after the offensive and defensive lines. Batta is a gifted coach that was with three other teams before coming to the 49ers three season's ago. Since then, Greg Clark has put up some of the best numbers of his career. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment with the team though happened this year when he took a former college receiver from Yale, drafted in the seventh round, by the name of Eric Johnson and made him one of offenses most important weapons. Johnson's development as a player, in making such a great transition between positions, has been so smooth and great, that Greg Clark has become expendable. Batta is likely to continue his great work with Johnson this off-season, and as such, Johnson should see more play time with improved blocking technique.
Tom Rathman in charge of running backs, and Richard Smith at linebacker are another two very solid coaches. Rathman a former 49er star himself has been absolutely awesome in the development of talent and in keeping the 49ers among the top rushing teams in the league. Rathman has groomed players such as Fred Beasley, Terry Jackson, Paul Smith, Jonas Lewis, Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow into legitamite threats and in some cases league leaders at their position. Along with those players he was also repsonsible for the emergence of Charlie Garner and, Marc Edwards. One of the best coaches the 49ers have, Rathman has proven to be a key part of the staff in closing out five years with the club. Richard Smith in his fifth season with the team was responsible for a key part of the defense. He took a linebacking core that had 66% of its starters change over from the season before and made the group a solid part of the defense. It took about half a season for the group to start making big plays, but you never saw them making bad errors either. Smith has been responsible for the development of players like Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich and Jamie Winborn, and helped former 49ers like Lee Woodall, Ken Norton Jr and Winfred Tubbs reach high points of their careers under his tutelage. Smith will likely look even better this coming season with his core players starting to make some big plays.
Wide Receiver coach George Stewart and assistant defensive back coach Brett Maxie are two very talented individuals. Stewart is one of the most knowledgable and versatile coaches on the 49ers staff. It is for this reason that I believe he would be a better offensive assitant coach or assitant coordinator than a skill position coach. As receiver coach, Stewart has seen the development of Terrell Owens continue smoothly but has done very little to help JJ Stokes and Tai Streets improve their position within the offense. He also has been unable to really keep Terrell Owens ego in check. This is one area that the 49ers may look to change up in the near future - not necesarily eliminating Stewart from the team, but shuffling him to a more general role could be helpful. Brett Maxie a former 49ers player himself has done an excellent job working along side Jim Mora Jr. Maxie has been responsible in a large way for the development of a very solid 49ers defensive backfield. At the time of writing this I predicted that Maxie would receive a promotion - I was write, by the time I was done editting the article and posting it on my site, Maxie has indeed received that promotion.
Greg Olson in his first year with the 49ers did an oustanding job as quarterback coach. Although Greg Knapp was still very much involved with the development of the quarterbacks, Olson helped Garcia post another great year, and helped Garcia adjust to being a pocket passer, after Garcia sustained a knee injury. He furthered the development of Tim Ratty who saw his first NFL action this past season, and the movement to second string quarterback. Olson will have a tough decision this off-season in helping the 49ers decide what to do with Tim Ratty, Rick Mirer, Giovanni Carmazzi and Aaron Garcia for the two backup positions on the roster.
Special Teams coach Bruce DeHaven did an outstanding job with the special teams this season. Having to deal with injuries to key special teamers, DeHaven put together a squad that was very capable. He also helped place kicker Jose Cortez go from XFL player, to a legitamite NFL kicker. Cortez started the season with a perfect 11 straight field goals before he dropped off his production. DeHaven will in all likelihood have a much better set of special teams next year, possibly with new kickers and definately with some new players.
Jerry Attaway the Physical Development Coordinator and Terrell Jones the Strength Development Coordinator are two of the best at what they do. Along with training every athlete, they have been awesome in rehabbing such players as Bryant Young and Garrison Hearst back from career ending injuries. Attaway also played a big role in Jerry Rice's return from his lone injury. These two simply work miracles with the players. They had the players in top knotch all year, and rarely get the credit that they should.
As you can all likely tell, the 49ers coaching staff is flat out awesome. I don't anticipate any major changes in this group for quite some time, though I would like to see George Stewart become more of an all around coach with the team bringing in a specialist for the receivers. I'd love to see Larry Kirskey return to coach the receivers but I highly doubt that will happen. In any case the 49ers are clearly in good shape with their coaching staff. Talk about it in the 49ers Paradise Forum