The search continues

After 49ers owner John York decided to fire coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue on Jan. 5, he made it known he wanted to hire a head coach first. One week later, York had at least five NFL assistant coaches on his radar screen, with more possibly to come.

Interviews began late last week when New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel met with York and his son, Jed, for dinner in Foxboro, Mass. Crennel then underwent a six-hour interview with John York and other 49ers officials the next morning.

Crennel is one of five offical candidates to be identified so far as the 49ers seek their replacement for Erickson, who compiled a 9-23 record in two seasons as head coach.

The other candidates include: Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who interviewed with 49ers officials Tuesday; Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, who was interviewed Wednesday; Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who met with team officials today; and Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who is scheduled to meet with the 49ers on Friday.

The 49ers are also believed to be high on Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, and there's a chance Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson could emerge as a candidate as soon as his team is out of the AFC playoffs.

After talking to Crennel in the Boston area as the team used the one-week window during which assistants on playoff teams with bye weeks can be interviewed for head-coaching jobs, York and two other members of the 49ers organization were scheduled to hold the remainder of the job interviews in St. Louis.

York returned to his home in Youngstown, Ohio, after the Crennel interview, and he figured it would be more convenient to meet everyone else in St. Louis rather than fly to the San Francisco area.

All has been quiet with two other potential candidates whose names immediately surfaced in connection with the job opening. USC coach Pete Carroll has said he is not interested in the 49ers' opening, and as of Wednesday, neither side had contacted the other about the position, team sources said.

Also, despite another first-round playoff exit, it appeared Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren will return for his seventh season in Seattle. Holmgren, a native San Franciscan and former 49ers assistant, might have been a candidate for the opening if he were not returning to the Seahawks next season.

A lot of the focus during the 49ers' interview process has been on the people doing the interviewing. York was joined in the interviews by NFL newcomers Paraag Marathe, the team's assistant to the general manager, and Terry Tumey, assistant director of football administration.

Marathe just completed his fourth season with the 49ers and his first in his current role. He received his bachelor's degree with high honors from the University of California and earned his masters in business administration from Stanford.

He spent the previous three seasons as a part-time special projects manager in the 49ers' personnel and football operations departments. His focus has been on the business and football sides of the organization, and he will become the team's resident expert on the salary cap. He has also devised some methods for evaluating players for the draft, using numbers and analysis from game-film study.

Tumey is the only person in the interview process who played football. He was a three-time All-Pac-10 first-team choice as a noseguard at UCLA. He received his masters in business administration in 1993. Tumey spent two years as a defensive assistant for the Broncos after coaching the UCLA defensive line for four years.

After spending two years as a personnel assistant, evaluating talent and scouting opponents, Tumey was elevated to his current position in March 2003.

The 49ers' trio began the interview process with Crennel, 57, who was a candidate for the team's opening two years ago. Crennel interviewed with Donahue but was not named a finalist, so he never met York.

Heimerdinger, 52, interviewed six hours for the job Tuesday and showed a vast knowledge of offensive football, a 49ers spokesman said. There was some speculation initially that if the 49ers hired Heimerdinger, he would bring Schwartz, 38, with him off Jeff Fisher's staff to serve as the defensive coordinator.

Lewis, 43, interviewed last year for the Atlanta Falcons job, which eventually went to former 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora. He was also a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh job that recently went to Dave Wannstedt and the Syracuse job that was awarded to Greg Robinson.

Lewis was the first assistant to join Tom Coughlin's staff with the Giants. A defensive back, Lewis was the 11th overall draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1983. He played in 52 games before a neck injury ended his career.

Nolan, 45, joined the Ravens' staff in 2001 and took over as defensive coordinator of one of the league's top units in 2002. He has also been defensive coordinator of the New York Giants (1993 to '96), Washington Redskins ('97 to '99) and Jets (2000). He interviewed for the Cleveland Browns' head-coaching job on Tuesday.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- Niners coaching candidate Mike Nolan has a chance to follow in his father's footsteps. Nolan, 45, was just a youngster when his father was head coach of the 49ers from 1968 to '75. The 49ers asked for and received permission Tuesday to interview Nolan, the Ravens' defensive coordinator, for the head-coaching job.

"He used to sit in the meetings in Santa Barbara, when we had training camp down there," said Dick Nolan, 72, who compiled a 54-53-5 record in eight seasons as coach of the 49ers. "He started learning football from a young age."

Dick Nolan led the 49ers to three consecutive playoff appearances during his stint with the 49ers, including back-to-back losses to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game following the 1970 and '71 seasons. Their season again ended with a playoff loss to the Cowboys in 1972, letting a big lead slip into a 30-28 loss.

"I haven't talked to him about the 49ers job," Nolan said. "But he's been around for a while, so I'll leave all that up to him."

--- One of the more intriguing candidates for the opening is Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who uses a lot of statistical analysis to reinforce a lot of his coaching decisions. Schwartz's philosophy seems to mesh with the 49ers' fascination with the principles examined in the book "Moneyball."

The 49ers have implemented systems -- similar to those used by Athletics general manager Billy Beane and described in the book -- using numbers and research. Paraag Marathe, assistant to the general manager, has developed new methods for evaluating and acquiring players.

Schwartz was a scout for the Cleveland Browns under Bill Belichick and joined the Titans in 1999 as a quality-control coach.

"I started that in 1994 in Cleveland when I did research like that for Bill Belichick," Schwartz said of his reliance on statistics. "With everything I've done, I've tried to take an objective look at things. Numbers don't lie. Numbers are objective. It's not the be-all and end-all, but it's a good tool."

--- If 49ers director of player personnel Bill Rees thought he would be fired shortly after general manager Terry Donahue, he was mistaken, a team source said. Rees is a Donahue loyalist, having served 15 seasons under him at UCLA as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

Reports have surfaced that Rees would like to join Phil Savage's staff with the Cleveland Browns. But the 49ers don't want to be in the position where they have paid their director of player personnel for a year's work when another organization will reap the benefits. Rees is the 49ers' central figure in coordinating the efforts of the organization's scouting department.

Rees' future with the team will undoubtedly be clarified either after the 49ers hire a general manager or after the draft is completed.

--- Jed York, the oldest son of 49ers owners John and Denise York, will come to work for the 49ers, and it seems to be only a matter of when. York, a graduate of Notre Dame in finance and history, is an analyst for a small financial firm in New York that has worked on the financing of five NFL stadiums.

He said his experience with his firm in New York can be put to practical use as the 49ers look for ways to get a stadium built to replace Candlestick Park, which is now known as Monster Park. He has kept up with all the notes on conversations with politicians, architects and financial experts, he said.

"I see things from the banker's view," York said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is absolutely ridiculous. And I'll never be the general manager of the team." -- Jed York, on the suggestion he might be joining the organization soon to serve as team president.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Obviously, all personnel matters are on hold until the 49ers find a head coach to replace Dennis Erickson. This is a huge offseason for the 49ers, who own the No. 1 pick in the draft.

But nobody knows at this point who will be doing the drafting for the 49ers in April. The future of the roster will basically be determined by people who are not yet with the organization.

Among the players who remain in limbo are right tackle Scott Gragg, safety Tony Parrish, linebacker Derek Smith, defensive end Brandon Whiting and running back Kevan Barlow. The 49ers owe Barlow a $6.5 million roster bonus in March, but if they find a taker in a trade, they would be off the hook for any future financial burden.

COACHING CAROUSEL: All of the 49ers' assistant coaches are signed through the coming season, but they are granting permission to other teams to speak with them. The Dolphins are interested in speaking with defensive line coach Dan Quinn, considered the best young coach on the staff and a holdover from the Steve Mariucci days. Quinn is also likely to be a candidate on Jim Mora's staff with the Atlanta Falcons whenever their season ends. Mariucci will interview 49ers offensive coordinator Ted Tollner about the opening on his Lions staff.

FREE-AGENT UPDATE

--- TE Steve Bush (Unrestricted free agent. Signed late in the season to add some blocking strength in the run game, but shouldn't be a big priority to re-sign).

--- WR Curtis Conway (UFA. The 49ers need to get younger and faster at this position).

--- DT Chris Cooper (UFA. Was added in the middle of the season because of all the injuries on the line).

--- C Brock Gutierrez (UFA. The veteran started 15 games after Jeremy Newberry went down, but they'd like to upgrade at this spot).

--- S Ronnie Heard (UFA. New administration should be able to find someone better to take over starting role).

--- RB Terry Jackson (UFA. He's not a bad player on special teams or as a backup but shouldn't be a high priority to re-sign).

--- LB Julian Peterson (UFA. Coming back off torn Achilles, might give 49ers a chance to land him to a long-term deal; if not, they can use the franchise tag on him again).

--- K Todd Peterson (UFA. He was very consistent, but the club might have to carry a kickoff specialist if he comes back).

--- CB Jimmy Williams (UFA. At a minimum price, might be able to get a contract to see if he can win a spot in camp).

--- WR Cedrick Wilson (UFA. Has proved he can play as a No. 3 receiver in this league, but it might not be back here).

--- G Eric Heitmann (RFA. One of the more consistent linemen; might get a one-year, first-round tender if he's not signed to a long term deal).

--- T Kyle Kosier (RFA. Versatile lineman started at left tackle and right guard and might be the right tackle next season).

FEELING A DRAFT: The 49ers hold the No. 1 pick in the draft, so they will have plenty to consider before actually using that pick to select somebody on April 23. With as many needs as they have across the board, the 49ers might be tempted to trade down and get more picks. However, they could decide to select a franchise-type quarterback if they figure Aaron Rodgers (California) or Matt Leinart (USC) fits the bill. Rodgers has already declared for the draft, while Leinart was expected to make an announcement by Friday. However, it is still undetermined who will be making the 49ers' draft decision. The 49ers, of course, need a quarterback, but they also need help on the offensive and defensive lines, at receiver and in the defensive secondary.

MEDICAL WATCH: LT Kwame Harris will undergo right shoulder surgery at some point in the offseason and will require a three- to four-month rehabilitation. Last offseason, Harris had surgery on his left shoulder and lost 15 pounds because he could not keep up with his weight training. LG Eric Heitmann (left ankle) and DE Andrew Williams (right knee) underwent arthroscopic surgery last week. LB Julian Peterson, who sustained a torn left Achilles' tendon on Oct. 10 and underwent surgery two days later, is on course in his rehab program. He said he will remain in California to work out at the team's facility. QB Tim Rattay will rest for a month after having surgery to relieve the pressure from his right forearm. Rattay played in only nine games this season because of injuries and blamed his injury problems on the fact he could not spend the offseason and training camp getting ready because of injuries to his groin and forearm. WR Cedrick Wilson will likely take another five to seven weeks to recover from a left fibula fracture. Wilson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent but does not believe this will have any impact on his market value. CB Jimmy Williams sustained a high ankle sprain in the season finale that would keep him out six to eight weeks.


Niners Digest Top Stories