Niners left hanging until after Super Bowl

The 49ers have checked off one important detail from their list of essential things to do. But their coaching staff remains in a state of turmoil, even after Mike Nolan tabbed Greg Manusky as the team's next defensive coordinator. The Dallas Cowboys are responsible for that, and the 49ers are left hanging in the wind until Dallas' head-coaching job is resolved at some point after the Super Bowl.

Norv Turner, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, remains a top candidate for the Cowboys' job after interviewing for the position at the end of last week. And 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary apparently had an impressive interview for the same job earlier this week.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he will not make a decision on his new coach until the week after the Super Bowl, which will be played Sunday in Miami. So that places the 49ers' plans in a holding pattern.

Nolan said he has spoken with Turner several times since Turner returned from his interview in Dallas, where Turner helped guide the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories during his three seasons as the team's offensive coordinator from 1991-1993.

"It's still gray," Nolan said. "It was gray as we spoke about it. I'd love to know one way or the other because then I'll know what I have to do. I would have to guess, and only guess, that he's the leading candidate. I know that Mike Singletary is in the picture, but something tells me Norv is still the leading candidate for the job."

Before he learns if he'll need to hire a new offensive coordinator, Nolan took care of hiring Manusky to replace Billy Davis, who was fired by Nolan on Jan. 2 after two seasons with the team.

Manusky, 40, served as Marty Schottenheimer's linebackers coach for one season with the Redskins and the past five seasons with the San Diego Chargers. Though Nolan was looking for a new defensive coordinator with NFL experience in the role, Manusky will be a first-time defensive coordinator.

"I wanted to get an NFL-experienced guy," Nolan said. "If the guy had coordinated, that would have been good as well, but I wanted someone with NFL experience, someone who had been around it, seen it done the right way. It would have been hard for me to take somebody, no matter how good he was, from a system that I didn't have a lot of respect for. I've got a lot of respect for the system Wade Phillips uses."

Phillips, San Diego's well-traveled defensive coordinator, led the Chargers to another top-10 finish in the NFL's defensive rankings this past season. Manusky was rumored to be promoted to the Chargers' defensive coordinator position if Phillips landed a head-coaching job this offseason. Phillips is among the several candidates who already have interviewed for the Dallas job.

Manusky is well-versed in the 3-4 scheme that Nolan intends for the 49ers to ultimately use as their base defense. In six years as a NFL assistant, he has seen one of his linebackers go to the Pro Bowl five times, including Shawne Merriman the past two seasons. Other Pro Bowl players he has coached are LaVar Arrington, Donnie Edwards and Junior Seau.

Manusky, who spent 12 seasons in the NFL as a player before beginning his coaching career, beat out Donnie Henderson, Dave Campo and Singletary for the job. After retiring from the NFL in 1999, he went to training camp with the Buccaneers as a volunteer assistant coach. The next year, Schottenheimer hired him to tutor linebackers with the Redskins.

If he indeed has to replace Turner, Nolan figures to go the more experienced route with that hire.

When Nolan hired Turner as offensive coordinator a year ago, he figured Turner would be with the club for a long enough time to help develop young quarterback Alex Smith.

As a rookie, Smith was schooled under Mike McCarthy in the West Coast system. When McCarthy left to become the Green Bay Packers' head coach, Nolan hired Turner to install the numbers-based system he learned under Ernie Zampese that was popularized by Don Coryell.

If Turner leaves, Nolan said he is committed to maintaining the same offensive system. Nolan wants to create some stability for Smith, who made tremendous strides in his first season under Turner.

"Right now, I'd think we'll keep the same structure in place for Alex's sake and everybody else's sake," Nolan said. "I hope it doesn't come to that, but that's what I'd try to do. I'm more partial to this offense than I was (to the West Coast system). We have more people in place who understand it and know it."

Nolan could look outside the organization to find a replacement, if one is needed. The top candidate from the staff to replace Turner is wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who served as Cardinals offensive coordinator in 2003.

"I would speak with coaches on our offensive staff about it - probably more than one," Nolan said. "At the same time, I would probably also speak to people on the outside. That's what I would do."

Turner said last season was his most enjoyable year coaching in quite a while. He seemed to be a good fit for the 49ers' coaching staff, and Nolan gave him complete support. When Turner's name surfaced for the Cowboys job, the 49ers approached him about a pay raise, hoping it would entice him to remain with the 49ers.

"We said that we would be proactive in trying to retain Norv Turner," Nolan said. "I never used the 'contract' word or the 'money' word or anything else. Is that possibly a part of it? Sure it is, but my quote was that we would be proactive. That's what we're doing, we're being proactive."

But the Cowboys hold special meaning for Turner. During Turner's time with the Cowboys under head coach Jimmy Johnson, the team won back-to-back Super Bowl championships and recorded a 36-12 regular-season record.

Turner's track record as a head coach, however, has been considerably less impressive. He has been head coach of the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, compiling a 58-82-1 record in nine seasons. His last coaching stint with the Raiders ended with his firing after a 4-12 record in 2005.

Turner has said that he would not attempt to take any 49ers assistant coaches with him to Dallas, if he gets the job, including Singletary.

Although Singletary said last week he wants to be the 49ers' defensive coordinator, Nolan was reluctant to place him in that role for several reasons.

In Singletary's current job as assistant head coach, he has influence over the 49ers' entire roster and speaks to the team once a week during the season. Also, Singletary is seen as a person who will soon be a head coach, thus installing him as a coordinator might be for just one year.

"Mike's got some outstanding, hard-to-replace qualities," Nolan said. "Mike has a very important job on this staff and I've put a lot of emphasis on his job. In fact, if I lost Mike, I would not be able to replace Mike. He's unique in what his strengths are. When you have to replace just a coach, you can replace a coach. But Mike is closer to something else.

"Mike is a good coach, but he's something else first. Some guys are coaches and learn how to be leaders. Some guys are leaders and learn to coach. Mike is a tremendous leader who impacts the team in positive ways."

There were reports that Singletary was interviewed by Dallas merely for the Cowboys to comply with the "Rooney Rule," which legislates that every club must interview at least one minority for a head-coaching vacancy. But Singletary said he wants to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along.

Now the 49ers must sit and wait and hope until next week that an opportunity to leave for a higher position doesn't happen until later for Singletary. They probably feel even stronger about that in regards to Turner.

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