Erickson calls speculation 'baloney'

When you're the coach of a 1-7 team that has played as poorly as that record, rumors are bound to swirl around you. But Dennis Erickson isn't too happy about suggestions that he doesn't plan to stick around much longer with the 49ers.

A report broadcast by ESPN said that Erickson recently had confided in friends that "maybe getting fired isn't necessarily a bad thing." The report also alluded to the stripped-down condition of the 49ers roster and recent locker-room unrest that broke out last week with fullback Fred Beasley and tailback Kevan Barlow criticizing second-year receiver Brandon Lloyd.

A report out of Los Angeles last week quoted unnamed sources saying that Erickson is interested in the head coaching job at the University of Washington, a position that will be open after this season. Erickson, a native of the Seattle area, previously has been the head coach at both Oregon State and Washington State.

When asked shortly after Sunday's 42-27 loss to Seattle if the frustration of this season had him looking to leave the Niners, Erickson responded, "Isn't anybody frustrated if they are 1-7? Would you be frustrated? No, I'm going to finish this thing and do what I came to do. I see a lot of improvement being made by the organization in the next three years. And hopefully, I'm part of it."

Erickson confirmed during his Monday afternoon media conference that, indeed, he still wants to be part of it.

He also was a bit perturbed about the suggestions he is looking to escape a situation that has gone bad through the first half of the 2004 season.

"That upsets me because there is nothing further from the truth," Erickson said. "I'm like all of us in here. I'm a competitor. I want to compete like a son of a gun. I want to win, and when you are 1-7 and things like that come out, that is totally baloney.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's like I mentioned (after Sunday's game). I hope I have the opportunity to stay here to get this thing turned around. That is my competitive blood. Does it upset me? Yeah, sure. But that is how it is. We've got half the season left now and we got hopefully a lot of time to get this ship straight. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to do it."

Erickson has three years remaining after this season on a five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed in 2003 after being hired to replace the deposed Steve Mariucci. Team management has expressed support for Erickson previously this year, seeming to expect that there would be some hard times for the coaching staff with the team in transition and the roster missing several key veterans from last season.

But this hard? The Niners thought they could remain competitive this year as they rebuild the roster and climb out of salary-cap woes. Instead, they have struggled at times in practically every area and hover near the bottom of the league with 1-7 Carolina and 1-8 Miami. The 49ers, Panthers and Dolphins are the only NFL teams that don't have at least three victories.

In his 23 seasons as a head coach, Erickson has never experienced a losing abyss like both he and the Niners currently find themselves entrenched. He says he continually evaluates himself as a coach to try and determine ways to move the team forward - and isn't thinking instead of seeking better situations elsewhere.

"I'm my own worst critic and you need to be in this business," he said. "That's our responsibility. I try not to be too negative. Again, what can I do better to get us out of this 1-7 slide that we are on? It starts with me. I ask my players and coaches to evaluate themselves, then it better start with me."

In his previous five seasons as a NFL head coach - last year with the 49ers and from 1995-98 with the Seattle Seahawks - Erickson had at least a 5-5 record through 10 games, leaving his teams in position to contend for a playoff berth down the stretch. He never got there in Seattle, finishing 8-8 three times and 7-9 once - the same disappointing record his first team in San Francisco finished with last year.

He won't come close to even that mediocrity this season. But Erickson said he learned from his previous NFL experience, and he is determined to salvage something out of this season, beginning with Sunday's game against the equally downtrodden Panthers.

"Did I learn anything (from his time in Seattle)?" Erickson said. "Yeah, nobody likes to get fired. Sure you would like to have that opportunity (to have the time it takes to rebuild and turn the team into a winner). As far as this thing is concerned, all I can think about now really is the last half of the season and see where we're at and evaluate where we're at as a football team, then go from there when the season is over with. Right now, it would be nice to go 2-7. Just win another game, go from there and try to make progress."

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