Mooch hits jackpot while 49ers focus on finalists

On the three-week anniversary of Steve Mariucci's firing as 49ers head coach, he officially became one of the richest coaches in NFL history on Wednesday, signing a 5-year, $25 million deal with the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile, the Niners - not spending any time worrying about the worth of the coach they dumped - had Ted Cottrell visit team headquarters for a second interview. But nobody's talking about a $5 million-a-year deal for him. In fact, there was no talk of a deal for Cottrell at all.

Not yet, at least.

Cottrell's visit is part of the "deliberate and lengthy process" that general manager Terry Donahue's assuring everybody is a well-thought out plan that will yield the Niners the best coach possible after owner/director John York's hasty decision to fire Mariucci on Jan. 15.

As the weeks have passed, it appeared the Niners had no plan to replace Mariucci. Donahue, in his first public statement in almost two weeks, assured everyone that is not the case.

"When we began our search for a new head coach, we established a strategy and are proceeding as planned," Donahue said in a statement released by the team.

The plan is to interview several NFL coordinators and then determine a list of finalists from that goup that would visit the 49ers facility for second interviews. Cottrell - defensive coordinator for the New York Jets - was the first to do that on Wednesday, coming away impressed and saying Wednesday evening, "I'm just thankful that I survived the survivor series and I'm in pretty good shape. I'm one of the guys, near the end, that they are talking to."

The Niners will talk to their own defensive coordinator, Jim Mora, again today, but he'll hardly need a tour of the team facility since he still works there. For the time being, at least.

Next in will be the third and final finalist - Chicago defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who is scheduled to visit over the weekend.

But it wouldn't be at all surprising if none of those "finalists" ends up with the job. Because, as Donahue indicated in his statement, he now will begin interviewing a selection of college head coaches as part of his pre-conceived plan. Donahue had been waiting until Wednesday's national letter-of-intent college signing day to begin publicly considering the college possibilities.

"As I stated before, I am very familiar with the college head coaches and expect to turn some of my attention to a limited number of viable candidates in that area as well," Donahue said. "The addition of potential candidates from college football along with Greg, Ted and Jim will give us a deep and talented pool from which to choose our head coach.

"We have been talking to many highly respected football people around the league about our candidates. We have been and will continue to be thorough in our approach because I feel it is the only way to find the best coach for our players, our fans and our organization."

Meanwhile, Mariucci is counting his money in Detroit. That's one process that might even take longer than it's taking the Niners to replace him.


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