Erickson got the shaft

Dennis Erickson got the shaft. Let there be no doubt about that. But his departure from the 49ers was both necessary and inevitable.

It wasn't a matter of if he was going to be fired by John York. It was a matter of when. And after leaving Erickson hanging through two days of meetings and re-meetings, the 49ers owner finally brought down the hatchet on his embattled head coach Wednesday in a move York really could have and should have made two days ago.

And so ends the Erickson era in 49ers history, a most awkward and forgettable two-year span in team lore if there ever was one. Say what you want about Erickson. He's a good man and good coach who deserved better.

To be sure, he no longer was the right coach to inspire this team and lead it forward. But that's not his fault. He was hired less than two years ago to coach a veteran team and lead it deeper into the playoffs, not to lead a massive rebuilding project with a gutted roster just two seasons into the five-year contract he signed two Februarys ago.

"It's a divorce. It's final now," Erickson said to a huddle of reporters who follow the team closely, speaking about an hour after York had announced to a large media gathering that Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue no longer are employed by the team.

Erickson's voice began to crack as those words slipped out, and it was genuine. This was not how it was supposed to be for Erickson in 49erland. He came here with Super Bowl dreams. It all ended so quickly as an anguished nightmare.

It also ended with Erickson's reputation thrashed. With a 9-23 record in two seasons with San Francisco – which followed a 31-33 stint from 1995-98 with the Seattle Seahawks – Erickson, 57, may never coach in the NFL again.

"I mean, the reason I got back in was that I felt an opportunity to come back in (the NFL) and have an opportunity to win a Super Bowl," Erickson said. "That's why I left Oregon State, and that's why I left college football and that's why I came here. I wanted to come in and have the opportunity to have the biggest prize of them all in the game. And, obviously, that didn't happen."

It wasn't even close. But, as has been well-chronicled over the past 10 months, that has a lot to do with the hand Erickson was dealt in San Francisco.

His first 49ers team last year would have made the playoffs if Erickson had been provided with an experienced, reliable kicker. Instead, a defending NFC West champion imploded to a 7-9 finish.

Erickson never had a chance this season. Not after Donahue sent away or allowed to leave 10 veteran starters from the season before. But 2-14 is 2-14. As York said, that's unacceptable. While most players still believed in Erickson and supported him to the end, they didn't perform for him, especially the younger players who needed a kick-ass coach to keep them in line.

The thing is, Erickson never would have even come to San Francisco if he'd been given any indication what transpired during the 2004 offseason was the plan for the organization.

"Of course not," he said. "We all know that. That's not anything that is new news. We've talked about that. To me, that's all besides the point."

The point is, Erickson had lost the confidence of his owner. And, perhaps more significantly, he had lost the confidence of much of the team's fan base. That certainly was a huge factor in York's decision, as the owner seemed to indicate several times during his 25-minute media conference.

"I think Dennis worked hard day in and day out," York said. "He worked with players. He did everything he could for them. In the final (analysis), we still came out 2-14. 2-14 is just unacceptable. Nobody expected to be at 2-14 – no one. We decided that Dennis is going to go his separate way and we are going to look for a head coach and get back to winning. That is the direction we are looking in."

And Erickson? Well, he'll land somewhere. Probably another high-profile college job, where he can repair a program – and his reputation – and ride into the sunset as a winner in his coaching twilight. But we'll never know what he really could have done with the 49ers. And he'll probably never know what he could have done in the NFL.

When asked if he was the fall guy for a bad situation in San Francisco, Erickson held his chin high and proud.

"I don't even want to get into that," he said. "It's been a hard two years on all of us. It's been a very hard two years on me. But that's how it goes. (York) decided he wanted to make a change, he felt that the organization needed a change, they wanted to start all over. They wanted to go their direction. I've got to go my direction."

And where might that be?

"I don't know. I don't know," Erickson repeated. "I don't want to get out of coaching. There are a lot of things that aren't available right now, so we'll just sit and wait and see what happens. I'm a football coach. That's what I've been all my life."

He's no longer one with the 49ers. And that's more an indictment of others in the organization than it is of Erickson.

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