Handicapping the in-house candidates

It's February 20, and the 49ers suddenly find themselves looking for a new offensive coordinator. Good ones aren't easy to find this late in the game, so Mike Nolan can either make a bold move by bringing in a newcomer, or play it safe and go with somebody already on his offensive staff. There are viable candidates to be found there, and SFI rates what each of the top five can bring to the table.

Jerry Sullivan: The team's senior assistant/wide receivers coach is the most logical candidate to replace Norv Turner, considering his vast experience at the NFL level and the fact he also is the only member of the San Francisco staff that has previous experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. That was in 2003 with the Arizona Cardinals, where his offense was one of the worst statistically in the NFL, finishing 27th overall, including 29th in rushing. The Cardinals finished last in the NFL in scoring that season and 25th or lower in 11 statistical categories recorded by the NFL. But those lousy numbers seem more reflective of the talent Sullivan had to work with in Arizona, which is well below the level of what the Cardinals have now. Sullivan is a cool customer and has the respect of San Francisco's players. The question is if he really has the respect of Nolan - as far as entrusting Sullivan with the offensive controls. Nolan already has said it's playoff or bust for the 49ers in 2007, and that will require continued improvement from an offense that may need to carry the team. Whether Sullivan is innovative enough to keep the offense growing seems to be the biggest question in Nolan's mind. Otherwise, with 15 years of NFL experience as a highly-respected receivers coach (including the one season as Arizona's coordinator), Sullivan would be a solid choice, particularly considering the predicament the 49ers find themselves in.

Bishop Harris: Harris is a strong personality who may not have the demeanor to run an offense, and he seems to have found his NFL niche as a running backs coach, a position he has filled for five teams since entering the league with the Denver Broncos in 1993. But the two seasons prior to that, Harris was the head coach at North Carolina Central, which displays he does have organizational skills and the ability to oversee the operation of a game plan. But he has no experience at any level running an offense, which means Harris isn't likely to be considered by Nolan, even if he was interested in the position.

Jim Hostler: The 49ers' quarterbacks coach may be an intriguing darkhorse for the position. Hostler doesn't get any of the credit for San Francisco's improvement on offense last season - that all went to Turner - but he has been a silent, behind-the-scenes type who appears to know what he's doing. He has filled his current position quite capably under two offensive coordinators in San Francisco. He also has been around a lot of offenses during his seven previous seasons in the NFL, having served as a receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and quality control assistant with four different teams. Hostler may now be ready to meld that experience with some of his ideas to run an offense. Last but not least, Hostler has a year of experience as an offensive coordinator at Indiana University of Pennsylvania before he broke into the NFL. He may still need time before he can fill that role at the game's highest level, and it would be chancy for Nolan to give him the opportunity, but it does not appear Hostler would be in over his head if he did get the call.

George Warhop: Warhop has a lot of respect around the NFL as an offensive line coach, a position he has held with the 49ers the past two seasons. He's also highly regarded by Nolan, and may be ready to take a stab at running an offense at the NFL level after spending two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the London Monarchs in NFL Europe during the early 1990s. Nolan probably would just like to keep Warhop as his offensive line coach, but he certainly will listen to what Warhop has to say when Nolan conducts in-house interviews with his assistants this week.

Pete Hoener: Hoener has done a fine job working with San Francisco's tight ends the past two years, and he's another guy who has experience as an offensive coordinator at the college level. In fact, Hoener has extensive experience as an offensive coordinator at six major colleges - Texas A&M, Iowa State, Texas Christian, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana State. The guy certainly knows how to run an offense, and he knows how to do it well. He has eight years of experience in the NFL coaching tight ends and offensive line, so he may be ready to take the next step up to the position at which he has spent most of his coaching career.

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