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Article Title: A New Era Begins
Article Date: Feb 17 2003
By Bryan Hersh

The news that the 49ers had signed a new head coach was not so surprising after nearly a month. That the coach was from the collegiate ranks, again was not so surprising. That the team signed Dennis Erickson who busted his way out of the NFL with the Seahawks, however, was also not as surprising as it was puzzling.

The coaching search, which began with the ugly firing of Steve Mariucci (who was quickly picked up to coach the Detroit Lions) was a long drawn out process with many candidates being paraded around. At one point it appeared that Ted Cottrell a NFL defensive coordinator would get the job. That rumor was squashed quickly by the signing of Erickson however. The process, which can be described as half hazard at best, hopefully taught owner John York that in the NFL, you need to have a plan; you canít simply fire a coach and hope for the best. Yorkís actions also significantly reduced the desires of many candidates to coach the 49ers. At least three different coaches used the 49ers as leverage to get contract extensions with their own team, turning down more power and money, not to join the 49ers organization. For those of us who have been around for a while, this is the antithesis of what the 49ers are all about.

A new era thus begins, with the 49ers fourth coach since 1980. Continuity seems less important with Bill Walsh moving back into the shadows. And so many 49ers have begun questioning the motives of the organization. So far, Dennis Erickson who was named coach about a week ago, has done little to ease the fears of the fans. Meanwhile fans of the NFC West rival Seahawks are encouraged to face their former coach twice a year.

There is no questioning Dennis Erickson has the coaching experiencing. Thereís no question he has an impressive offensive mind, and likes to be aggressive with the ball. He has the desire to with the Super Bowl. And yet the move still puzzles me. Why?

The first reason is that coach Erickson is not only not from the Walsh family tree of coaches, but heís never even run the West Coast Offense that has been a staple of the 49ers organization for over two decades. Erickson is a good offensive mind, that has become famous for three receiver sets, and a single back, yet the 49ers have just one play making receiver, and a great fullback. And so Erickson was brought into the organization to boost the offense, without changing the system. He will rely heavily on Gregg Knapp, as Erickson does not intend to change the offensive terminology, nor does he intend to change the philosophy. So what exactly will he do? Erickson will likely use some of the more aggressive plays in the 49ers current playbook more often than Mariucci, but his lack of knowledge in the West Coat Offense makes him a peculiar choice for the head coaching position.

The team keeps saying that Erickson will have the ability to make any changes he sees necessary, but if that were so, the offensive system would likely be thrown completely out the window. The reality of the matter is that the team wonít put forth a much different offense than in the past, they will likely stress different plays, but the philosophy will remain the same. If Erickson canít leave his mark on the team, what was the point in hiring him? Wouldnít an offensive coach who knows the system, and has seen it run better, ala offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak (Denver) have been a more logical choice?

Erickson further makes for a peculiar coach, because he is not defensive minded. While Erickson is very well versed in defenses, having been a defensive coordinator in the past too, there is no doubt he is regarded as an offensive coach. Had he been a defensive coach, it would be easy to overlook that he came from outside the umbrella of the Walsh coaching tree.

No matter how puzzling a decision it may have been to bring in Erickson, the fact of the matter is itís a done deal now. Iíve been a long time believer that the 49ers were an over achieving team under Steve Mariucci, and Iím hoping Erickson proves me wrong. I have no problem giving the guy my full support and watching to see if he changes the team for the better or worse, but I canít say that Iím encouraged by his signing.

Erickson has begun to assemble his coaching staff, and the two offensive coordinator will remain Gregg Knapp and Jim Mora Jr. While Knapp was still very young and under the influence this past season, his offenses werenít very impressive, but given that Erickson isnít familiar with the West Coast Offense, it makes sense to keep him around. Jim Mora Jr on the other hand has had quite some time to prove to us what he can do on the defensive side of the ball. To date, itís been less than impressive. I was surprised Mora was a candidate for the head coaching position, and further surprised that he was retained by Erickson. It does appear that both Knapp and Mora will have a reduced role though. The team has already signed Greg McMackin, who was Ericksonís defensive coordinator with the Seahawks and at the University of Miami, his role will be the associate head coach of defense and linebackers coach. The team hasnít formerly added Gregg Smith, but providing Smith doesnít land a head coaching position, he will likely be given the associate offensive head coach and tight end coaching position. Smith has followed Erickson through Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami, the Seahawks, and Oregon State. Smith would likely reduce the role of Gregg Knapp.

Erickson has decided to retain quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner. Offensive line coach Pat Morris, who is regarded as one of the best in the business will also be retained. Chris Beake will move from defensive assistant to offensive assistant, and Dan Quin will take over as the defensive assistant. Jason Tarver will remain the offensive quality control coach.

Morris still must find a special teams coach, a receivers coach, and find a way to replace Tom Rathman as the running backs coach. Rathman was a great coach to lose, he signed with Steve Mariucci and the Detroit Lions.

Eric Yarber the receivers coach from Oregon and Tip Lappano of Oregon are candidates for the running backs and receivers coaching positions in San Francisco.