Donahue delves into blame

The blame for a season of mass deterioration was flinging in manifold directions again Monday at 49erland, but in a new twist on the theme, general manager Terry Donahue pointed the finger at himself before including others. "I'm at fault," Donahue said. "Everybody in this building is at fault."

During a Monday morning radio interview, Donahue accepted some of the blame for the ongoing debacle that has become San Francisco's 2004season.

"I don't think anybody in this building is getting the job done," Donahue said. "I'll be honest with you. I don't think you can be 1-10 and feel you're getting the job done. This is painful for all of us. I'm certainly involved in this up to my neck. I don't shirk that responsibility. I have to stand up. I'm the general manager of the team and this is a very, very disturbing circumstance."

In losing ugly again on Sunday, 24-17 to the Miami Dolphins, the Niners frittered away what figures to be perhaps their best opportunity to get another victory this season.

With the team playing so poorly on a regular basis, San Francisco's losing threatens to reach historic proportions. At 1-10, there is the very real possibility the 49ers could become the eighth team in NFL history to finish 1-15.

They need one win the rest of the way just to match the franchise's worst record of 2-14, established during back-to-back seasons in 1978-79. They need at least two victories to avoid the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.

While there are losing teams remaining on their schedule, none of the five games looks eminently winnable unless the Niners get significantly better, something they have failed to do since returning from their mid-October bye week.

That has caused the natives to get restless, both in the San Francisco Bay Area and among 49ers fans throughout America and the world.

"The people here love this football team," Donahue said. "It's apparent the fans love this football team because of the past successes. It's very painful to see that. Nobody's enjoying going through this. There's so much disappointment in all of us right now. You've got to sit down and be critical of yourself and others and figure why in the hell can't we win a game. Are we really this bad? That question is being asked by everybody in this building. Why can't we win?"

That question also is being asked by everybody outside the building. And the obvious answer is, yes, the 49ers really are this bad. They've proven it over and over this season, particularly during their current six-game losing streak, and especially during their past month of forgettable, regrettable efforts.

But the reasons for the poor play are many, as Donahue was quick to point out.

"I don't believe there's one answer," he said. There's a combination of things. When the team's having trouble, generally it's multi-faceted."

As he has done in the past, Donahue pointed out the salary-cap problems the team faces now – along with the ones that existed before he arrived on the scene in 1999. Donahue said the 49ers spent $70 million over the NFL's salary cap between 1994-2002, a situation the team is finally facing head-on this year after gutting its roster of 10 veteran starters from 2003.

"Of course, it's related to the cap," he said. "But it's also related to a bad personnel decision we made, a bad call we made in the game, a bad play a player made in the game. It's all of that."

For the first time, Donahue also questioned some of the draft picks he has made in recent seasons who are not living up to where they were selected in the college lottery. That has had a definite impact on how the team is performing on the field.

"A guy like Kwame Harris is an example," Donahue said. "(He) was a No. 1 pick two years ago. Last year, he looked like a promising player. This year he's really struggling, and you have to ask yourself, ‘Why? What happened? Why is this particular athlete not getting it done?' Why isn't Rashaun Woods getting it done? He's healthy. He's either getting it done or he's not. And right now, he's not."

Which means, since Donahue had final say on those picks, that he's not getting it done either, correct?

"It's multi-faceted," Donahue said. "Certainly, you've got to look at the personnel department and say, ‘Hey, if these guys aren't really good players by now…' The personnel department is involved up to their necks, just like I am."

Will there be massive changes in personnel during 2005 to correct the problem? Donahue said evaluations still are taking place, and he and others will sit down after the season and comb over the roster player by player to decide what changes must be made.

Using certain players as examples, Donahue said he wouldn't agree if he was told linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith weren't getting the job done, or that rookie Shawntae Spencer wasn't a good second-round draft pick who will become a fine NFL cornerback.

But, referring to some of the team's glaring underachievers this year, Donahue said, "If somebody tells me Kwame Harris isn't able to play left tackle, or Kevan Barlow – who we extended his contract and last year is a 1,000-yard rusher, and this year isn't playing in certain games and having to give up his time to Maurice Hicks, who is a free agent – we've got to find out why and what happened.

"If that means we invested in the wrong players, we've got to stand up and say we invested in the wrong players, if that's the case."

Donahue said he can't give a timetable of how soon the 49ers can turn around their fortunes, but he said "sometimes it only takes one or two players to turn a team around," and pointed at the considerable progress made by San Diego and Pittsburgh this season as examples.

"I don't know what the time frame is, but I know sooner is better than later," Donahue said.

Just don't expect much in the now.

After his team struggled mightily on offense for the second consecutive week, coach Dennis Erickson said Monday that he plans no personnel changes for Sunday's game at St. Louis. Erickson also said the Niners "need to simplify" a few things on offense to be more effective.

When asked if, at this point in the season, the Niners would be regressing by simplifying their offense, Erickson had a rather cryptic reply that pretty well summarized where San Francisco finds itself entering December.

"When you're 1-10, you've been going backwards," he said.

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