No superstar candidates on horizon

Scrap that Monte Kiffin option before it even became an option. Kiffin parlayed the 49ers' recent interest in him into a whopping new contract with Tampa Bay, reportedly the most lucrative ever for an NFL coordinator. There was legitimate concern whether Kiffin would be a good head coach anyway, and his decision to stay put leaves the Niners scrambling again for quality candidates to become their head coach, and adds credibility to the notion GM Terry Donahue might just do it himself in 2003.

The Niners still are looking defensive for their next head coach, and NFL sources have indicated that Donahue plans to interview Chicago defensive coordinator Greg Blache, though the team has not confirmed that as of yet.

But the team clearly has not identified anybody so far that appears to be a superstar candidate, and that may have the Niners giving serious consideration to Plan B - going with someone already within the organization for a season, giving the team the time it needs to find that superstar candidate.

It won't be an assistant coach, unless it's quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner, who would be willing to take the role on an interim basis. And it won't be George Stewart - who would be an intriguing choice, if only for a year - because he has become the latest assistant to bolt the organization, signing on Thursday to become receivers coach with the Atlanta Falcons.

Draw your own conclusions, but the Niners have lost some quality coaches in the past two weeks - head coach Steve Mariucci, receivers coach Stewart, defensive line coach Dwaine Board and special teams coach Bruce DeHaven. The people running the team obviously didn't want any of them back, but it might say something about those people that respected coaches such as Board and Stewart - who both have put in a lot of time with the Niners - would jet so quickly before at least seeing how the head coaching situation shakes out.

Considering the choices we've seen trotted out so far, we like the idea of Donahue for a year, giving the Niners plenty of time to find the Jon Gruden-like candidate they really covet, and ultimately work an advance deal to have that guy in place for 2004. Donahue says that's not going to happen - and, certainly, there's a ton of reasons for him to be saying that - but he would have no problem handling the role for a year, and that's a heck of a lot better than the Niners sticking themselves with a head coach they really don't want.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and all we're hearing is there's no timetable for hiring a coach. We don't believe that - the Niners would have liked to have had their man in place by this week - but there simply is slim pickings out there right now. And while we're waiting, the organization rots with uncertainty. Yes, you could say Donahue's a man with some mammoth decisions to make - and soon. Of course, we knew that already.



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