Rave reviews for Romeo

One of the comments emerging from Saturday's interview between 49ers officials and Romeo Crennel, according to an NFL source, was the lack of respect San Francisco's players had for former coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue, who both were fired earlier this week by owner John York. Crennel is the kind of disciplinarian who can take care of that problem.

The New England defensive coordinator had a nearly six-hour interview session Saturday in Foxboro, Mass., with a 49ers contingent of York, Terry Tumey and Paraag Marathe. Tumey is the 49ers' assistant director of football administration and Marathe is San Francisco's assistant to the general manager. The presence of the 28-year-old Marathe, who is heavily involved with crunching the team's salary cap numbers, was requested by Crennel so that he could get a sense of the team's salary cap situation.

A team spokesman indicated that York felt the Crennel interview went well, and the 49ers officials left the East Coast impressed with the long-time assistant. A league source familiar with the talks said there was a significant discussion regarding philosophy, team building and scheme and experience of the game in general.

It also was noted to Crennel by the 49ers' brass that he has a reputation for being the type of coach players play for, which those familiar with Crennel during his previous stints with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants has said is true. Crennel has bolstered that reputation since joining the Patriots as their defensive coordinator in 2001.

That's one of the primary characteristics the 49ers are looking for in their next head coach after players often appeared directionless and unmotivated by the previous coaching regime as this season progressed.

With 24 years of experience as an NFL assistant – the last five as a defensive coordinator with the Browns and Patriots – Crennel has built a solid reputation as a coach who commands respect not only from players and coaches, but for the game itself.

Crennel was highly recommended to the 49ers by New England coach Bill Belichick, who has worked with Crennel for 19 seasons, including two stints in New England and one each with the New York Giants and New York Jets.

The question remains how impressed Crennel was with the 49ers. One of the NFL's hot coaching commodities at the moment, Crennel also had a two-hour interview with the Cleveland Browns on Friday and was reported by ESPN on Sunday to be the leading candidate for the Browns job.

Crennel, however, had dinner with York and his oldest son, Jed, on Friday evening after Crennel's interview with the Browns and before his formal interview with the Niners on Saturday morning. Crennel spent one season with the Browns as their defensive coordinator in 2000.

NFL rules could get in the way of a quick marriage between Crennel and the Niners. League rules stipulate the 49ers can't interview Crennel again until after the Patriots' season ends, which won't happen for another week at the earliest and probably will be later than that – perhaps much later.

The Niners have not formally requested any other interviews at this point, but that will change shortly. Team officials will reconvene at the team's Santa Clara headquarters early this week to chart the next move in the 49ers' coaching search.

It is believed the team finally will make its anticipated pitch for USC coach Pete Carroll this week, and former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren also could enter the picture as a major factor depending on how his situation shakes out the next few days in Seattle.

Like Holmgren, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress also is creating a buzz around the league, though Childress also can't be interviewed now into the Eagles' season is over. The Niners also appear set to ask for an interview with Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the son of former 49ers coach Dick Nolan.

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