Board jumps 49ers ship

With uncertain waters ahead, a longtime 49ers family member jumped ship on Wednesday. Defensive line coach Dwaine Board, who has spent 23 of the past 24 seasons with the team, opted to make a lateral move to the Seattle Seahawks instead of taking a chance that he'd be drowned by the changes that are taking place as the Niners revamp their coaching structure.

Board was hired as defensive line coach in Seattle, a position he has held the last nine years in San Francisco. With his contract set to expire with the 49ers, Board didn't wait around to see if he'd be offered a new deal by a team that looks as though it's ready to shake up its defensive staff. Instead, he signed to coach with Mike Holmgren, who was San Francisco's offensive coordinator when Board became a defensive line assistant with the Niners in 1990.

That followed a stellar 10-year playing career with the Niners during which Board led the team in sacks in 1979, 1984 and 1985. He finished his career third in team history with 61 sacks. He still ranks fifth in that category on San Francisco's career list.

But Board decided to get while the getting was good in the wake of the Jan. 15 firing of head coach Steve Mariucci. Board was one of eight Mariucci assistants who were at the end of their contract. The team recently signed one of those assistants - offensive coordinator Greg Knapp - to a new one-year deal. Another - special teams coach Bruce DeHaven - already signed earlier this month with the Dallas Cowboys.

The other unsigned assistants remain in limbo while the team searches for its new head coach. Most - and perhaps all - are unlikely to be back. Board fits into that category, particularly since there figures to be wholesale changes in the defensive staff, especially if the new head coach is one of the several current NFL defensive coordinators who have interviewed with Niners general manager Terry Donahue.

While Board has had a solid career developing players since he became the team's defensive line coach in 1994 - his linemen have earned eight Pro Bowl berths and tackle Dana Stubblefield was named 1997 NFL defensive player of the year - the team's pass rush has lagged in recent years. The 49ers finished with just 32 sacks in each of the past two seasons, ranking 27th in the NFL in sacks per play last year and 22nd this year.

Starting ends Andre Carter (12.5 sacks) and Chike Okeafor (six sacks) each had their best NFL seasons under Board's tutelage this year, but tackle Bryant Young (two sacks) had the lowest sack total of his distinguished career and Stubblefield has just three. After a strong start early in the season, the effectiveness of the pass rush fell of considerably during the stretch run, leaving a beleaguered and banged-up secondary further exposed.

Though the Niners have said that secondary Brett Maxie will be back with the team next year - he's already under contract for 2003 - it's likely he will be surrounded by a new set of defensive assistants and will be working for a new coordinator.

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