Erickson's the right fit for 49ers

When the 49ers called Tuesday morning to tell me they were hiring Dennis Erickson as their new head coach, the first thing that went through my mind was, "They could have done worse." The second thing was, "Could they have done better?" After giving the latter some thought, and considering the timing and circumstances, I came to the conclusion: Maybe not. Dennis Erickson, bless his bearish soul, might just be the right man for this sticky San Francisco situation.

He comes in knowing he's the coach. He comes in knowing he works for John York and Terry Donahue - and not with them. And he comes in with a chip on his shoulder that the only place he hasn't made it big in big-time football is the NFL.

Nobody gets too many chances to do that. Erickson had one previously with the Seattle Seahawks. It didn't work out, but the Seahawks were embroiled in ownership turmoil at the time. And it wasn't as though any of Erickson's four Seattle teams turned out to be dogs. Only one finished with a losing record - 7-9 at that - and the other three were on the edge of playoff contention.

None of that ever was enough for Erickson, who had reached the Super Bowl of college football and won it twice in Miami. He also resurrected the programs at Washington State and - after being dumped in Seattle after Paul Allen bought the team - Oregon State. He's a winner.

He also knows what he's getting in to. As much as we liked Jim Mora and respected the other two NFL defensive coordinators the Niners identified as "finalists" for the job after a lengthy and sometimes loony interview process, neither was the right man for the job. Mora might have been close, but he suffers from the same kind of "Nice Guy" syndrome that helped get Steve Mariucci fired.

It will be no more Mr. Nice Guy with Erickson as the new head hoss in town. He will bust some, well, tails. He'll demand discipline and several other attributes that fall into that specific category. And he'll help make the Niners mean. Mean teams win Super Bowls.

And, perhaps most importantly, he'll be aggressive on both sides of the ball. Erickson has proven that he knows how to go for the kill. You won't find San Francisco's Pro Bowl quarterback and All-Pro receiver griping about "killer instinct" in 2003 and beyond. Trust us on that one.

The Niners need a jolt on offense, and Erickson is the kind of proven offensive mastermind that can provide that. You won't hear fans and media griping about conservative tendencies in 2003 and beyond. Trust us on that one, too.

While Erickson has made his name on offense, he also has presided over some defensive turnarounds during several of his coaching stops. With all their young talent, the 49ers are a budding superpower on that side of the ball. Maybe the Niners will start going for the throat a little more on defense, too. They certainly have the ingredients to do so.

We're not proclaiming Erickson a savior or anything like that. He will have to prove worthy and earn that distinction. But he's a guy who has made a name for himself as a head coach, and from this vantage point he looks a whole lot better than anything it appeared the Niners would finally come up with during the month of ridiculous uncertainty following Mariucci's dismissal.

In a strange sort of way, Dennis Erickson fits. One of the greatest college coaches of this era, Erickson finally gets a second chance to get it right in the NFL. He knows he won't get another. Can he get the Niners to the Super Bowl? Like the coach before him, that's how Erickson ultimately will be judged. And that's a chance, most definitely, the Niners are willing to take.


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