49ers Hire Dennis Erickson From Ore. St.
Wed Feb 12, 2:46 AM ET
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers surprised everybody by choosing Dennis Erickson to be their next coach — even Erickson himself.
After a whirlwind weekend courtship, Erickson was hired by the 49ers on Tuesday to succeed Steve Mariucci. The former Seattle Seahawks coach leaves Oregon State, where he went 31-17 over the last four seasons.
He said he wouldn't have left a comfortable college existence for any job except the one in San Francisco, where Bill Walsh and George Seifert won Super Bowls and established a winning tradition that was irresistible.
"A week ago, or four days ago at this time, I had no idea I was going to have the opportunity to be the 49ers' coach — no idea at all," Erickson said Tuesday night in Corvallis, Ore., where he said goodbye to his Oregon State players. "It just happened."
"To compete for a world championship, I guess, is the itch I had to scratch. That's basically what it boils down to."
Erickson spent much of last week persuading high school players to sign with Oregon State. At the time, the veteran coach said, he had no idea he was a strong candidate to replace Mariucci.
Erickson got the job even though San Francisco had concentrated its search on NFL defensive coaches since owner John York surprised his front office by firing Mariucci. Erickson has a background as an offensive guru on a series of successful college teams, and he's expected to retain three of Mariucci's offensive assistants next season.
"We have found what we were looking for in a new coach: a leader, a motivator, a teacher, an individual with exceptional skills in coaching," Donahue said. "Dennis Erickson has a long history of coaching winning teams, and I'm confident he'll succeed in San Francisco."
Mariucci, fired by York on Jan. 15 despite leading San Francisco to four playoff berths in six seasons, signed a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions last week.
After wowing York and general manager Terry Donahue in a weekend interview, Erickson got a five-year contract worth $12.5 million — half of what Mariucci will make in Detroit. Erickson is charged with continuing a winning tradition that includes five Super Bowl victories.
"It was very difficult to turn down," Erickson said. "I guess there's a little piece of me missing from my time in Seattle to have the opportunity to win a world championship. Dealing with Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh and John York, it was just the right thing."
The search was praised by the candidates as deliberate and thorough, though Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia called it "embarrassing" for its apparent lack of direction. New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell was the leading candidate until last weekend.
Donahue always said he planned to consider college head coaches. Earlier, several college coaches said they weren't interested, including Washington's Rick Neuheisel and Southern California's Pete Carroll. The 49ers contacted Erickson on Friday, then had another interview in Santa Clara over the weekend.
Erickson is just the 49ers' fourth coach since 1979. Erickson also is the first coach with prior NFL head coaching experience to take over the 49ers since Norman "Red" Strader in 1955.
Erickson coached the Seahawks from 1995-98, going 31-33 — the same record of current Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who briefly was thought to be a candidate for the 49ers' job.
Many thought Erickson deserved better in his native Seattle, where he helped rebuild the Seahawks, but couldn't make the playoffs. Seattle was denied a playoff berth in 1998 only by a controversial loss to the New York Jets in which Vinny Testaverde was infamously awarded a touchdown when he never crossed the goal line — a play that helped spur the reintroduction of instant replay to help officials.
Erickson's greatest success has been in college, where he has turned a series of schools into winners. Before resurrecting a moribund program at Oregon State, Erickson won national titles at Miami in 1989 and `91, going 63-9 over six seasons. He also has coached at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State.
Cottrell, Chicago defensive coordinator Greg Blache and San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora interviewed last week. The 49ers also seriously considered Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who re-signed with the Buccaneers after the Super Bowl.
Cottrell, who signed a two-year extension to remain the Jets' defensive coordinator if he did not get the 49ers' job, felt he was treated fairly by the 49ers.
"I was informed today by Terry Donahue that they decided to hire Dennis Erickson as the next 49ers head coach," Cottrell said. "While it's obviously disappointing, I'd like to thank Dr. York, Terry Donahue and the entire 49ers staff for their professionalism throughout the interviewing process."
Mariucci was fired despite four 10-win seasons with a remarkably brief rebuilding period in between. York had a difference in philosophy with Mariucci, who led the 49ers to a 10-6 record, the NFC West title and a playoff victory over the New York Giants this past season.