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Erickson hopes to put Niners over the top - ESPN - 6/18/03


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Erickson hopes to put Niners over the top

By Ryan Early

Wednesday, June 18

Updated: June 18

12:05 PM ET

New head coach Dennis Erickson has been very successful at the college level, but wanted another opportunity to prove himself in the pros. While he says he is proud of going 31-33 in his four years with the Seattle Seahawks in the late '90s after taking over a franchise that had been averaging less than 5 wins a season, he is aware that his tenure in Seattle is generally viewed as a failure. Because of that, he agreed to some unusual requirements by the 49ers front office in order to take their head coaching position. Both offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. were retained, unheard of when a head coach is fired.

The 49ers have long had their own set of criteria, holding themselves to a much higher standard than the rest of the league. Winning the NFC West and going to the second round of the playoffs would be considered a great season by most teams. For the 49ers, it wasn't just the results but how the results were achieved. The players and front office both were frustrated by Steve Mariucci's conservative approach to the game. Quarterback Jeff Garcia was voted to the Pro Bowl, but had the lowest yards per completion stat since the Bill Walsh-era began in '79. With Erickson, they get a new head coach with the exact opposite philosophy. He views his job is to take what the 49ers were already doing successfully, and add an aggressive attitude to put the team over the top.

The 49ers do feel a strong sense of urgency to make a push for the Super Bowl this year as they have a large number of starters scheduled to become free agents following the season, headlined by wide receiver Terrell Owens, and there is no way the team can re-sign all of them.

After barely getting a peep from the team in early free agency, the 49ers are finally starting to sign a few veterans to league minimum salaries to shore up depth. Cornerback has been an especially needy position. Their third down defense was the worst in the league last year, and the position was decimated by injuries that have extended into the offseason. At the most recent minicamp, the 49ers were missing three corners as they sat out rehabbing old injuries. Fred Weary, the former Falcon and Saint, was just brought in and could challenge Jason Webster for a starting job.

Dennis Erickson is hoping to experience joy in San Francisco.

As a college head coach, Erickson won two national championships at the University of Miami, is the third fastest coach in NCAA history to 100 victories, and won a conference Coach of the Year honor four times and in three different NCAA conferences. He instills confidence and loyalty in his players by utilizing popular strategies. On defense, Erickson's teams always aggressively attack the quarterback, calling blitzes frequently. On offense, Erickson is a believer in spreading the field and attacking defenses with three wide receivers and quick, high percentage passing. While that sounds a lot like the 49ers philosophy and their West Coast offense, former 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci was too often content to run the ball thirty times a game.

While both of the team's coordinators were retained, Erickson brought in a large number of position coaches, including linebackers coach / assistant head coach Greg McMackin, his old defensive coordinator from his days with the Seahawks. Erickson and the rest of the new offensive assistants started out their new jobs as students of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, learning the terminology and reasoning behind the West Coast offense. Only now are they trying to innovate new or revised plays that still work within what the 49ers have been running for the past 23 seasons.

A real sign that Dennis Erickson is a good coach is that he does not rigidly adhere to his strategies but adapts to his personnel. While he prefers to use extra wide receivers often, he realizes that the 49ers have one of the best fullbacks in the league in Fred Beasley and will make sure he is on the field often. Likewise on defense, the team is deep at linebacker but thin at defensive tackle. So in the team's recent minicamp, the defense tried out a 3-4 defensive formation to get their best eleven players on the field.

The team is looking forward to their first season under Erickson, but is there such a thing in the NFL as being too aggressive? Despite having loyal, hard working players and a deep pockets owner in Paul Allen that gave the coach any free agent he wanted, Erickson's Seahawks teams are remembered as underachievers that lost many key players to injury each season. Now Erickson has to deal with a 49ers team whose free spending days are behind them.

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Look for the Forty Whiners to drop to 8-8 or 9-7 under Erickson. Getting a team with the program under a new HC isn't something that happens overnight.

There isn't a team in the league that I can think of that would be much more deserving of mediocrity than the Whiners.

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The Raiders come to mind.

I think Erickson will win 10 or 11 games this year. I really dont see a drop off from one second rate coach to another.

IMHO, the Niners have enough talent on O and D (I do watch their games - since its the only games on w/out satellite)...to win their division just like last year. Now, lets see if the Rams show up this year.

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