Coaching help on the way

The 49ers added assistant coaches to Mike Nolan's staff Sunday in two areas where coaching failed miserably to get the most out of San Francisco's players in 2004.

Jerry Sullivan has been brought in to coach wide receivers, A.J. Christoff is the team's new secondary coach, and Nolan is expecting both men to shore up two significant areas of the team that both regressed in 2004 under their predecessors.

"We are fortunate to have both these men in the 49ers organization," Nolan said. "You need good personnel to build a winner, and we just added two excellent coaches to our coaching staff."

It has been rumored that Sullivan – considered one of the NFL's elite receivers coaches - would follow Nolan to San Francisco ever since Nolan was named head coach on Jan. 17. But Christoff joins Nolan just nine days after agreeing to be Stanford's defensive coordinator under new Cardinal coach Walt Harris. Christoff – who has coached at 11 different Division I-A colleges, most of them major football powers – was Stanford's co-defensive coordinator this past season.

Sullivan is the plum pick of this duo, since he has been working primarily with wide receivers at the college and pro level since 1976 – the last 13 seasons in the NFL with San Diego, Detroit, Arizona and Miami.

It was rumored Sullivan might be a candidate to become Nolan's offensive coordinator, a position Sullivan held in 2003 with the Arizona Cardinals. That the Niners were able to attract him as a receivers coach is another Nolan coup.

Sullivan said he came to San Francisco to be part of something special that the 49ers are building under Nolan, and he will be in charge of developing perhaps the team's most underachieving unit of 2004.

His first task will be to push and develop 2004 draft picks Rashaun Woods and Derrick Hamilton – the 49ers' first-rounder and third-rounder from last year – who made no impact whatsoever on the team in their first NFL seasons.

Woods never could break into the starting lineup ahead of a mediocre group of receivers in front of him and often seemed unprepared to play at this level. He finished the season with just seven receptions and didn't play at all in three games. Hamilton didn't catch a pass all year and didn't even play until the final quarter of the Jan. 2 season finale at New England.

Young veteran starters Brandon Lloyd (second year) and Cedrick Wilson (fourth year) also displayed little development. The inability of San Francisco's young receiver corps to progress ultimately cost former receivers coach Eric Yarber his job with the team.

Enter Sullivan, whose receiving unit was one of the bright spots on an otherwise lousy Miami offense that ranked 29th in the league. But Miami was 21st in passing yards – the Dolphins' highest finish in any offensive category recorded by the league – and fourth-year veteran Chris Chambers developed into a big-play receiver under Sullivan's tutelage.

The year before, at Arizona, Sullivan helped turn Anquan Boldin into the NFL's rookie of the year and a Pro Bowl receiving star. He did similar things for Arizona's David Boston in 2001, when Sullivan was the Cardinals' receivers coach.

"I have always said my work is my weapon and it has been good for a long time," Sullivan said. "This is just a great opportunity. Mike has so much energy and determination and players just jell under him. There is such a rich tradition with this organization, and I have a real inner desire to help bring it back and build something special."

Christoff's vast coaching experience includes 17 years as a defensive coordinator at Stanford, Notre Dame, Colorado, Cincinnati, Oregon and Idaho. His long coaching career also includes stints at USC, Alabama, UCLA, Georgia Tech and New Mexico. This is his first stop in the NFL.

Christoff's job will be to shape up a secondary that was 19th in the league against the pass in 2004 and failed to make big plays. He'll work to get strong safety Tony Parrish back to his All-Pro standards of 2002 and 2003, while also being responsible for upgrading the team at free safety, one of the 49ers' weakest positions in 2004.

The excitement being created by Nolan also was instrumental in luring Christoff away from Stanford.

"There aren't many places that I would leave Stanford for, but joining the 49ers is one opportunity that I could not pass up," Christoff said. "Mike is a great coach and he's got a great plan to turn things around. I wanted to be a part of that."

Now he is. And so is Sullivan, with plenty more qualified coaches just like them surely to come.


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