Erickson meets with Ole Miss officials

49ers coach Dennis Erickson met Tuesday night with University of Mississippi officials about the school's vacant head-coaching position and indicated he could be leaving the Niners before the end of this season.

Erickson had a two-hour meeting with Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat and athletic director Pete Boone at a Santa Clara hotel just a few blocks away from 49ers headquarters. Khayat said no offer has yet been made to Erickson, and Erickson described the talks as an introductory, getting-to-know you kind of meeting.

Erickson said the meeting does not mean he won't be finishing this season as 49ers coach or be back in that position next season. But when asked later if he planned on leaving the Niners before the end of this season, he responded rather cryptically.

"I'm not planning on it," he said. "But that could change."

It could change as soon as Ole Miss officials make him an offer.

"No offer was made," Khayat said. "We got to know each other. We had a nice visit. (There was) no indication from coach Erickson that he wants to change jobs. We had an opportunity to talk to him. And he wanted to have an opportunity to talk to us, but it's an initial visit. If you review Dennis Erickson's record, you'll see he's a very successful football coach. He's a visionary and creative and a very nice person. From our perspective. … he said all the right things. He's interested in the welfare of the players and wants to do well academically, as well as being competitive on the field."

Kind of sounds like Erickson wants to change jobs.

Erickson admitted that he'd heard enough to investigate further.

"Yes, of course, it's interesting," he said. "I think it's a good situation there. My gut feeling is that our talks are very preliminary. I'd never met them and they'd never met me. It's just more of me wanting to investigate what's there and not do it behind anybody's back. Dr. York and I have talked. I can be the coach here for the next year. We all know the story. I'm going to have to evaluate changes and so forth, but I've never been told that I'm not going to be the coach here so I'm not out lobbying for a job.

"Everybody knew we were going to do this. So we did it, and I didn't want to hide anything. I've talked to John about this, that I was going to meet with these guys and that I had an interest at looking at going back to college. But it doesn't mean (he's not coming back to the 49ers) at all."

When pressed on why the Ole Miss job would be desirable over coaching the 49ers, Erickson said, "More than anything, my interest in maybe getting back to college football. I'm disillusioned with being 2-11. A lot of things have happened, as you know."

What has happened is the 49ers are pointed toward their worst season in the past quarter-century, and rumors of disharmony - and that York will request changes on Erickson's coaching staff in 2005 - have been swirling around the team for weeks.

Erickson, Donahue and York have been frustrated by the Niners' performance this season after the team went 7-9 last year in Erickson's first season. But Donahue has said he won't fire Erickson, and Erickson has said he has no plans to quit. He has three years remaining on the five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed with the 49ers in 2003.

While Erickson has gone just 9-20 with the 49ers and 40-53 in six seasons in the NFL (the first four with the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98), he has been extremely successful as a college coach. He was 63-9 at the University of Miami and won two national championships in six seasons with the Hurricanes before leaving to take the Seattle job. After being fired there, Erickson built the downtrodden program at Oregon State into a power, going 31-17 in four years in Corvallis before taking over the 49ers. Erickson, 57, also was head coach at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State before going to Miami in 1989.

Mississippi has shifted its coaching search to the West Coast in its third week. David Cutcliffe was fired Dec. 1 after going 4-7 this season – his first losing season in Oxford.

Last week, Boone said he wanted to have a new coach in place by the middle of this week. Khayat and Boone are believed to have interviewed Southern California assistant head coach Ed Orgeron and Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon in the past week.

After interviewing Erickson, Khayat said Ole Miss is eager to move forward and hire its new coach.

"Everybody is going to go home and think about each other and how we talked about the things we talked about and see where it goes," said Khayat, who said he and Boone would be returning to Mississippi on Wednesday. "We're looking to do it soon. We don't have a deadline. We want to make a decision. I'm sure we'll be talking (with Erickson) again."

When asked if he'd be willing to wait to hire a coach until after the NFL season is finished, Khayat said, "Well, I'd rather not answer that question. We're in the process of moving forward."

Said Erickson of what's next, "We just kind of left it open right now. I'm going back to work right now - game-planning - and we'll go from there. We'll probably be in contact the next day or so and talk about our meeting tonight. I'm sure they're going to discuss things and I'm going to think about my interest in it. It's a mutual thing."

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