No doubt who's driving Niners now

If you believe in the 49ers today, then you believe in Dennis Erickson. And if you believe in Erickson, then you believe in Terry Donahue. Because Erickson's arrival was a production orchestrated and executed by Donahue, and it indisputably establishes the blue-eyed, charismatic GM as the central figurehead and leading character in the organization now. Less than two years into the job, Donahue may have just pulled the trigger on the most important decision he'll ever make with the Niners.

Donahue presided over the team's draft last year for the first time, and that always will be one of the most important things he'll ever do in directing the franchise. He also displayed a keen ability to work the open market despite salary-cap limitations last year, and that also always will be key in keeping the franchise stable among the NFL's upper crust in this era of free agency.

But Donahue was put on the spot when Steve Mariucci was hastily fired as the team's head coach Jan. 15 by team/owner director John York. He had to come up with a plan of action - and do it fast. But ultimately, he had to get it right with limited time and a limited field of candidates from which to choose.

Clearly, Donahue is staking his reputation on Erickson being the right man to replace Mariucci and lead this team on the field. Of course, Donahue already is the man leading the organization in all other areas. Despite his relative success so far in guiding the franchise, Donahue still is viewed in many areas of the NFL as a college coach still learning his way around the intricacies of being an NFL GM. The jury still is out whether he's a shaker and championship maker - or just another faker.

Donahue realizes his legacy may be defined by the Erickson hire, that it might be the biggest personnel decision he'll ever make.

"I knew this would be the most highly scrutinized decision that I made since I've been here," Donahue said after he introduced Erickson as the 14th head coach in team history. "When you're making a number one draft pick, it's going to be scrutinized. And I knew that compared to a number one draft pick, this would be scrutinized even more closely."

The 49ers used to be defined by Mariucci, who stood out as the team's guiding force and most public figure with his handsome youth and energy. But now Mooch is gone, and the man who replaced him isn't the first guy that comes to mind when you think of who's pushing forward the 49ers these days.

It's Terry Donahue.


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