Sunday, February 2, 2003

Garcia frustrated by 49ers' coaching conundrum

By Greg Beacham
The Associated Press

HONOLULU - As the San Francisco 49ers' coaching search stretches into a third week with no clear favorite and no clear direction, fan/quarterback Jeff Garcia has seen enough.

"It's like we don't even have a plan now," Garcia told The Associated Press after practice Saturday at Aloha Stadium, where he's preparing for his third straight Pro Bowl appearance. "To me, it's embarrassing.

"We're almost pulling names out of a hat right now. I don't know where we're going with it."

Garcia grew up in Gilroy, Calif., rooting for the 49ers' championship teams under Bill Walsh and George Seifert. But Garcia is distinctly underwhelmed by the candidates interviewed for the job so far - and by the 49ers' haphazard, seemingly halfhearted search for the next coach in a proud lineage.

When told the next interview will be on Monday with Chicago defensive coordinator Greg Blache, Garcia sighed.

"I don't even know who he is, and I don't know much about Chicago's defense," he said. "That's just another candidate that probably doesn't do a lot for our fans."

Though Garcia supports general manager Terry Donahue's apparent interest in hiring a defensive guru, the quarterback would like to see decisive or compelling action taken by the 49ers - and soon.

"It's just something that doesn't seem real organized right now," he said. "It's frustrating. Hopefully, it'll be resolved in the next couple of weeks, but the way it's going, I won't be surprised by whatever happens."

Though he didn't always get along perfectly with Steve Mariucci, Garcia rose from CFL anonymity to NFL prominence during the past four seasons under the former coach's guidance. Three key offensive assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, are under contract for next season.

Garcia still doesn't understand why owner John York fired Mariucci three days after the 49ers finished their fourth winning season in the coach's six years. San Francisco went 10-6 and won the NFC West before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the NFC playoffs.

York's move obviously caught Donahue and others in the organization by surprise as well. In the weeks since Mariucci's abrupt departure, the 49ers have spoken to several NFL coordinators, but none with eye-popping resumes - and none who were in high demand by other teams.

Other than a rumored inquiry about Seattle's Mike Holmgren, the 49ers haven't been linked to any current NFL head coaches, either. Last season, Tampa Bay nearly pried Mariucci away from the 49ers before taking Jon Gruden from the Raiders for $8 million and four high draft picks. This year, a new NFL rule prevents such transactions until March.

Except for Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who dropped out earlier this week, none of the candidates have prompted more than a flicker of interest from the six 49ers at the Pro Bowl.

"It doesn't seem like something that was planned out too well beforehand," said center Jeremy Newberry, another lifelong 49ers fans playing in his second straight Pro Bowl. "They're definitely making it up as they go along, but hopefully they'll find somebody good.

"I'm not worried about it, honestly. My offensive line coach (Pat Morris) is coming back, and that's who I deal with on a daily basis. I think our offense is going to be fine."

New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress and 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora have interviewed with Donahue.

Kiffin and Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson briefly showed interest in the job, but both signed contract extensions with their old clubs - as did Childress, who was removed from contention on Thursday.

The 49ers say there is no timetable for finishing their search, which might indicate that Donahue's most desirable candidates are in the college ranks.

Donahue has said he plans to interview candidates from universities, but he might be waiting until after Wednesday - the national letter-of-intent signing day for college recruiting. The longtime UCLA coach might be trying to avoid causing problems for coaches during their recruiting battles.

Donahue couldn't be reached for comment on Saturday.

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