This should be the week

Week 4 of the 49ers' search for a new head coach began Monday with top-flight college coaches pulling their names out of consideration before they were even announced as candidates for the job. But while the Niners now look into the college ranks as their final option, team sources indicate San Francisco will have a new head coach by the end of this week.

It's still possible a hot college prospect could emerge in the 11th hour, and a new name that surfaced in rumors Monday is Oregon State's Dennis Erickson, who won a national title in college with Miami and also has NFL head coaching experience with the Seattle Seahawks.

Another reported top college candidate - Washington's Rick Neuheisel, a former quarterback at UCLA under Niners general manager Terry Donahue two decades ago - officially pulled his name out of consideration on Monday in response to the speculation, even though the Niners never contacted Washington officials about speaking to Neuheisel.

In reports published Sunday, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops also said he wasn't interested in interviewing with the Niners. Iowa's Kirk Ferventz, a rising figure in the college ranks, reportedly declined an invitation to interview with the Niners last week.

That leaves the Niners with three announced finalists still in contention for the job. All three of the pro defensive coordinators - the 49ers' Jim Mora, the New York Jets' Ted Cottrell and Chicago's Greg Blache - were told by the team on Sunday that they remain candidates for the position. Each conducted second interviews with team officials at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara last week.

Other college coaches believed to be possible candidates are Oregon's Mike Bellotti and Ohio State's Jim Tressel. But as of Monday evening, the team had yet to identify any possible college candidates it plans to interview.


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