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49ers to Go After Carroll

Coach Erickson and General Manager Donahue are fired after a 2-14 season, and owner is said to be 'desperate' to get the USC coach at a big price.

January 06, 2005|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

USC Coach Pete Carroll will be the target of an aggressive rush from the San Francisco 49ers, a well-placed NFL source said.

The 49ers cleared the way to make their push Wednesday by firing Coach Dennis Erickson and General Manager Terry Donahue.

Carroll, college football's hottest property after leading the Trojans to consecutive national titles, is a Bay Area native who was the defensive coordinator of 49er division championship teams in 1995-96.

An NFL source very familiar with the 49er situation said owner John York was determined to do something "exciting and dramatic" to bolster his listing franchise. The 49ers, who at 2-14 this season matched the worst record in their history, are losing season-ticket holders at such a pace that next season they may encounter television blackouts for the first time since the 1970s.

"You're dealing with a desperate man," the source said. "I think he's willing to go to the wall for anything that will stop the bleeding."

That would include offering a salary approaching NFL-record proportions, as well as control of all player personnel moves and the direction of the franchise. The source said York wants to "take a page from Daniel Snyder," referring to the Washington Redskin owner who paid Steve Spurrier $5 million a season, then matched that for Joe Gibbs.

After a news conference Wednesday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during which he was presented with several national-championship trophies, Carroll was asked about his interest in returning to the NFL.

"If somebody's going to call you, they're going to call you," said Carroll, 53. "If they want to come after you, they'll come after you. If people are calling about jobs, you have to feel good about the fact they're considering you. That's always nice. But I'm not interested.

"I can't imagine a formula where somebody could get me interested.... At SC, I have so much control and call every shot, and that's such a difference to me. I've seen the other side of it. There aren't very many opportunities that have ever existed in the NFL where you can do all of that the way you want to do everything. That's why I'm not interested.

"I don't see any reason to even think to be interested. I'm having a great time and love being here."

Carroll's comments came hours before the 49ers announced they would be replacing their coach and general manager. Messages left Wednesday evening for Carroll and his agent went unreturned.

York said he plans to hire a coach with NFL experience and a winning record. Asked specifically about Carroll during a news conference at team headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., York did not deny an interest in the Trojan coach.

"I think we all watched the game last night," York said. "That was a tremendous game, and they were very dominant. He's a great coach."

Some league sources suggested Wednesday that a better fit for the charismatic Carroll would be with a Los Angeles NFL franchise, especially if the league decides to renovate the Coliseum, USC's home stadium.

Moreover, people close to Carroll said he's extremely happy where he is and isn't currently pursuing a return to the NFL, where he had a 33-31 record in four seasons as coach of the New England Patriots and New York Jets.

Legendary 49er coach Bill Walsh, a close friend of Carroll, said he can envision Carroll returning to the NFL some time, but not now.

"I think that's logical to think that at some point that would occur," Walsh said. "But I just can't believe he'd leave USC. It's about being happy where you are, and he seems very happy there."

Before the Trojans hired Carroll in 2000, the school first offered the job to Erickson.

A nightmare scenario for USC now would be if the 49ers were to hire not only Carroll but also offensive coordinator Norm Chow, then use their No. 1 pick in this spring's draft to select Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart, a junior who has yet to announce whether he will turn pro a year early.

But any suitors for Carroll can expect USC to pull out all the stops to keep him.

When Carroll was hired by USC in December 2000, he signed a five-year contract that paid him approximately $1 million annually. He is thought to have received a significant raise after leading the Trojans to an 11-2 record in 2002, a season that culminated with a victory over Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

In 2003, USC won a share of the national title by defeating Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Asked Wednesday whether his contract was up for renewal or being rolled over annually, Carroll said, "The university has taken great care of me. Everything is in great shape contract-wise."

Carroll said that he had "a long-term deal," and that he was "covered for quite a while and it's of no concern of mine at all."

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is thought to be one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and will reportedly earn a base salary of $2.4 million this year.

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