Atlanta gets OK to court Mora

Others apparently already are finding virtue in the 49ers' disappointing 7-9 season. Less than 24 hours after it was over, the Atlanta Falcons came calling Sunday morning, asking for permission to speak with Niners defensive coordinator Jim Mora about the Falcons' head-coaching position. "Obviously, we gave them permission," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. But Mora said at mid-afternoon Sunday that he still is waiting to hear from Atlanta management.

"There's so many rumors that are floated out there this time of year," said Mora, who's in his seventh year with the Niners and fifth as defensive coordinator. "But until you actually hear from the organization, it's all fairly meaningless.

"It's just all happened within the last couple of hours. Obviously, my focus this year up until this point right here has been the San Francisco 49ers and trying to have as much success as we could have. When I hear from Atlanta, if I do hear from Atlanta, then obviously I would start to prepare now to talk to them. But until I hear from them, and something is set in stone, it's all speculation still."

But it's highly unlikely the Falcons would ask for permission to speak with Mora and then decline to do so after permission was granted.

The Falcons, looking for a replacement for the deposed Dan Reeves, recently hired former Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay to be their president/GM. Mora said he does not have a personal relationship with McKay, but Mora knows McKay through the NFL grapevine and says he would be confident in an interview after undergoing the process last year with the 49ers.

Mora was among at least five known finalists interviewed by Niners owner John York and GM Terry Donahue last year for the team's head coaching position after Steve Mariucci was fired in January.

It was Mora's first experience interviewing to be an NFL head coach, and he said it was invaluable as far as developing structure and ideas on how he would organize and run a team. Both York and Donahue said they were impressed by Mora's ideas, but they opted to sign Erickson instead, then retained Mora as their defensive coordinator.

"Going through the process I went through last year with Dr. York and Terry, it was so thorough and so consuming," Mora said. "There was obviously some criticisms of it because it took so long, but for a candidate going through it, it was just a great learning experience. So I was in that environment 11 months ago. And so, I just feel like that allowed me to get my thoughts organized. "You've always got feelings about how you'd want to do something. But until you get a chance to sit there and explain them to somebody that's in a position to make decisions, you're never sure if you're going to say it the right way. Just having gone through that last year with Dr. York and Terry makes me feel a little bit more comfortable the second time around."

Mora's stock rose in 2003 even as the Niners' plummeted as a team. San Francisco spent most of the season among the NFL's top 10 in total defense, and Mora's game plans - both aggressive and innovative on occasion - were given credit several times when that defense shut down and stifled opponents.

He also has the personality, leadership and media savvy that NFL teams usually are looking for in young head coaches.

"I don't know the timetable, but we assume that he is going to be one of the guys that will interview for that job," Erickson said. "Obviously, if Jim gets an offer to become a head football coach and he is goofy enough to do that, then he should take the opportunity."

Erickson said Sunday that - depending on what happens with Mora - he plans to retain his entire coaching staff.

Offensive line coach Pat Morris is the only assistant who is not signed for 2004, Erickson said, but the coach indicated the team will offer Morris a new deal.

"We're going to have the whole staff back," Erickson said. "Hopefully, Pat is part of that. Pat's contract is up. Everybody else has time on their contracts. Obviously, we would like to re-sign him and have him with us."

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