The final days?

As Dennis Erickson addressed a large media contingent Monday afternoon at his season-ending news conference, he wore a red sweatshirt with the words 49ERS FOOTBALL running across the middle of his chest. Erickson ended the day still employed as the team's head coach, but it appears that status could change at any moment.

A few hours earlier, Erickson couldn't tell his players during the season-ending team meeting that he will be back as their coach in 2005, because he doesn't really know if that will be the case. Those and other issues vital to the organization's future won't be decided until a series of meetings take place between Erickson, team owner John York and general manager Terry Donahue later this week.

"We're going to sit down and we're going to talk about this thing," Erickson said. "We're not going to do anything overnight. We're going to sit down and look at where we are at. Too many important decisions have to be made to do what we need to get done here."

Erickson did not waver when asked if he wants to be back to begin digging through the rubble left in the wake of this devastating 2-14 season. During recent weeks, he has had the look of an embattled coach who's on the way out, but Erickson appeared relaxed and more resolute about the issue Monday, though team insiders still indicate it's a longshot that he'll be back to coach the team in 2005.

"I expect to be back," Erickson said without hesitation. "And, yes, I want to come back. I want to see this thing through."

And then Erickson plugged forward the rest of his long conversation with reports as though he'll be doing exactly that.

But Erickson has been saying the same thing – and, several times, using the exact same words to say it – for the past two months. Monday's briefing did little to shed any new light on if it really means anything.

If the 49ers are going to make changes – and that might be more of a when than an if – they are likely to come in the next few days. What's the point in waiting any longer? Why leave grown men hanging?

Erickson said York will be in town all week, and that he will "sit down with him at some point and talk about different things. We'll talk about players, we'll talk about coaches, we'll talk about me … and just talk about the organization in general."

That makes it sound like Erickson doesn't expect any telltale decisions to come quickly. He may be fooling himself if that's what he really believes.

But Erickson is no fool when it comes to what's needed to fix the 49ers. He was matter-of-fact on what has to be done if he indeed is sticking around as coach.

"The biggest thing that we've got to decide as an organization is what is it going to take for us to not go through what we just went through," Erickson said. "Nobody wants to go 2-14. Anytime you go 2-14, there's a lot of things involved. A lot of things that didn't succeed. Whether it was how we coached, how we played - all kinds of different things. I don't believe you can just point at one thing. We need to sit down and evaluate and see what we need to do to get better. I sure in heck don't want to go through another season like that. I don't think anybody that has ever been in coaching or that has ever played would want to go through anything like that again. I could use a lot of four-letter words on that. It's the hardest season I've ever been around"

What areas need to be improved?

Erickson answer to that was, "A lot of areas." But then he got specific.

"We need to become faster in my opinion in some skill areas, whether it is in the secondary or at receiver," Erickson said. "Then, we've got to become better in the trenches, too. We've got to become more physical. We've got some young guys playing and we've got to become a little bit bigger on defense in the trenches. When you are 2-14, there is a hell of a lot of areas that you need to improve on and that is basically it. That's pretty obvious."

Erickson said he has seen no indications there may be imminent changes in the front office, and he still buys into York's plan for rebuilding the organization. But Erickson realizes that if he remains as coach, other changes will have to be made to let everybody know the franchise is doing things to hastily correct the 2004 debacle.

"We have to show (fans) that we are going in the right direction, no question about that," Erickson said. "Something has got to happen, and winning would help."

The something that has got to happen obviously will come first.


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