The San Francisco 49ers fired coach Dennis Erickson and dismissed general manager Terry Donahue on Wednesday.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers fired coach Dennis Erickson and dismissed general manager Terry Donahue on Wednesday, cleaning house just three days after the once-proud franchise finished with the NFL’s worst record.
Owner John York announced the changes to his team, which went 2-14 to match the worst record in San Francisco history.
Erickson went 9-23 in two seasons as Steve Mariucci’s successor, never reaching the postseason. He won two national championships at the University of Miami during a successful college coaching career, but is 40-56 in six seasons as an NFL head coach in San Francisco and Seattle.
Donahue, the longtime UCLA coach, was the hand-picked successor to Bill Walsh, who returned to the team five years ago to rebuild from a similar funk. Since taking over from Walsh in 2001, Donahue has been criticized for mediocre drafts and unorthodox strategies, from his difficult salary cap relief plan to his reliance on unusual player evaluation methods.
After last Sunday’s 21-7 loss to New England, York spent the past two days interviewing Erickson and Donahue while he mulled his decision.
The 49ers won five championships from 1981-94, but since York and his wife took over the team in 1999, they’ve had just two winning seasons and won just one playoff game.
Erickson has three years and $7.5 million remaining on the contract he signed in 2003, while Donahue received a four-year contract extension last September worth an estimated $5 million. The hefty financial packages were thought to be the biggest obstacle to York’s desire to make changes, but the owner decided to shoulder the expense.
Last month, York said he was extremely disappointed with the 49ers’ season, and he expected to make big changes to the organization. Erickson will be the second coach fired by York in slightly less than two years, following his abrupt dismissal of Mariucci just days after a second-round playoff loss at Tampa Bay.
While Erickson took much of the heat for the 49ers’ record, many of their shortcomings were due to a stripped-down roster assembled by Donahue, who waived several veterans and pared the payroll last summer in an effort to rid the 49ers of the “dead money” — being paid to players no longer with the team — on their salary cap.
The 49ers knew they would struggle this season with that young, inexpensive roster, but few expected them to match the 2-14 marks set by the club in 1978 and 1979.
Many of San Francisco’s best players missed much of the year with injuries, including center Jeremy Newberry, linebacker Julian Peterson and quarterback Tim Rattay, who started just nine games. Eleven players finished the season on injured reserve, and San Francisco won’t have a representative in the Pro Bowl.
Erickson, the 14th coach in San Francisco history, is 144-57-1 as a head coach at five universities, most recently presiding over the dramatic revival of Oregon State from 1999-02. But he never had a winning season in six years in the NFL, missing the playoffs every year.
Erickson said this season was the toughest year of his life, and though he expressed his desire to return to San Francisco, he probably isn’t heartbroken to be leaving an organization that seemed to get more dysfunctional with each loss. Last month, Erickson even met with officials from the University of Mississippi about their vacant head coaching position, which went to USC assistant Ed Orgeron.