- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

NFL Notebook

While Steve Mariucci has taken his track record of four playoff berths in six years to Detroit after being fired by San Francisco, the 49ers' search for his replacement is into its fourth week with its end as murky as a typical morning on the Golden Gate Bridge.
General manager Terry Donahue having already talked to defensive coordinators Monte Kiffin of Tampa Bay, Jim Johnson of Philadelphia and Romeo Crennel of New England, as well as seemingly token offensive coordinator Brad Childress of the Eagles has invited defensive bosses Greg Blache of Chicago, Ted Cottrell of the New York Jets and the 49ers' own Jim Mora Jr. back for further discussions.
However, Donahue, the longtime UCLA coach, is also planning "to turn some of my attention to a limited number of" college coaches as well. Reports out of San Francisco say Donahue wants to talk to University of Washington coach Rich Neuheisel and Oregon State's Dennis Erickson.
"This has been a deliberate and lengthy process because I feel it is the only way to find the best coach," Donahue said.
Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia, while praising Mariucci and terming his firing disruptive, said he likes Donahue's focus on a defensive-minded coach because the eighth-ranked offense is in good shape. However, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield had a different candidate in mind when he was asked who the next coach should be.
"Steve Mariucci," Stubblefield said bluntly before Mariucci jumped to the Lions.
Whoever Donahue selects will be fortunate to compete in the NFC West against St. Louis, coming off a hugely disappointing season and with quarterback Kurt Warner's future in doubt; Seattle, which could use a new defense; and Arizona, floundering as usual. However, the 49ers face tough road tests at Green Bay and Philadelphia next season, along with home dates against the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, the Steelers and Cleveland as well as what promises to be an emotional visit by Mariucci and the Lions.
C'mon now
Prodding by Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri for teams to consider more minority coaching candidates might have helped Marvin Lewis get hired in Cincinnati and made Cottrell and Blache finalists in San Francisco, but criticizing the Lions for signing Mariucci and Dallas for luring Bill Parcells out of retirement is out of line.
To begin with, reports out of Detroit are that minority candidates Cottrell, Dennis Green, Tyrone Willingham, Lovie Smith and Tim Lewis all turned down feelers from the Lions because they knew that the job was Mariucci's all along if he wanted it. It was no coincidence that Detroit GM Matt Millen fired coach Marty Mornhinweg Mariucci's former offensive coordinator with the 49ers almost as soon as the latter became available Jan.15.
Although Jacksonville's hire of 39-year-old Jack Del Rio, with just one year of experience as a coordinator can be questioned, Mariucci and Parcells are proven winners. Among active coaches with at least five seasons, only Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Marty Schottenheimer and Parcells have a higher winning percentage than Mariucci's .583.
NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw had it right last month when he said the focus should be on developing more minority GM candidates. The more black GMs, the more black coaches because right or wrong who you know is half the battle in any business.
Seahawks hunting
GM The Seahawks are looking for a GM because president Bob Whitsitt forced Mike Holmgren to give up that title. Steve Largent, the only Hall of Famer in franchise history and a former Oklahoma congressman, wants the job but has no front office experience. Former GMs Bill Kuharich of the Saints and Bob Ferguson of the Cardinals have been interviewed as has Seahawks vice president of football operations Ted Thompson.
However, the smart money is on Randy Mueller, Thompson's predecessor. After 17 years in Seattle, Mueller became New Orleans' GM in 2000 and turned the Saints overnight from laughingstock into NFC West champions. Incredibly, Mueller was fired after a final month collapse in 2001 that New Orleans repeated without him in 2002.
Is it those Warner and Elway commercials?
Attendance for last week's Arena League openers was 13,064, a 26 percent increase over last year's first weekend and a 31 percent rise from the average for the 2002 season. And that 9,957 average for last year was up 8.8 percent from 2001.
Elway's expansion Colorado Crush sold out 17,843-seat Pepsi Center, and the Chicago Rush did the same at 16,143-seat United Center which the resident NBA franchises, the Nuggets and Bulls, would love to do more often. The pair of sellouts doubled the Arena League's regular-season full houses of 2002.
Arena commissioner David Baker noted that the attendance surge occurred although the season started 75 days earlier to accommodate NBC's coverage of up to 70 games including the June22 Arena Bowl. Of course, the indoor league might have been better off because fans were still excited about football just a week after the Super Bowl.

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