It was a surprising end to a search that stretched nearly four weeks.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Dennis Erickson was hired Tuesday by the San Francisco 49ers to replace Steve Mariucci as coach in a surprising end to a search that stretched nearly four weeks.
Erickson was to be introduced as the 49ers' 14th head coach at a news conference in San Francisco today. The former Seattle Seahawks coach leaves Oregon State, where he went 31-17 over the last four seasons.
"To compete for a world championship, I guess, is the itch I had to scratch," Erickson said Tuesday night in Corvallis, Ore., where he said goodbye to his Oregon State players. "That's basically what it boils down to."
Erickson, who turns 56 next month, is an unexpected choice for San Francisco, which concentrated its search on NFL defensive coaches since owner John York of Canfield surprised his front office by firing Mariucci. Just four days after the 49ers contacted him for an initial interview, Erickson was hired.
"We have found what we were looking for in a new coach: a leader, a motivator, a teacher, an individual with exceptional skills in coaching," general manager Terry Donahue said. "Dennis Erickson has a long history of coaching winning teams, and I'm confident he'll succeed in San Francisco."
Mariucci, fired by York on Jan. 15 despite leading San Francisco to four playoff berths in six seasons, signed a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions last week.
After wowing York and Donahue in a weekend interview, Erickson got a five-year contract worth $12.5 million -- half of what Mariucci will make in Detroit. Erickson is charged with continuing the winning tradition established by Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Mariucci.
"It was very difficult to turn down," Erickson said. "I guess there's a little piece of me missing from my time in Seattle to have the opportunity to win a world championship. Dealing with Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh and John York, it was just the right thing."
The search was praised by the candidates as deliberate and thorough, though Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia called it "embarrassing" for its apparent lack of direction. New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell was the leading candidate until last weekend.
Donahue always said he planned to consider college head coaches. Earlier, several college coaches said they weren't interested, including Washington's Rick Neuheisel and Southern California's Pete Carroll. The 49ers contacted Erickson on Friday, then had another interview in Santa Clara over the weekend.
"A week ago, or four days ago at this time, I had no idea I was going to have the opportunity to be the 49ers' coach -- no idea at all," Erickson said. "It just happened."
Erickson is just the 49ers' fourth coach since 1979, following Walsh and Seifert -- who both won Super Bowls -- and Mariucci. Erickson also is the first coach with prior NFL head coaching experience to take over the 49ers since Norman "Red" Strader in 1955.
Erickson coached the Seahawks from 1995-98, going 31-33 -- the same record of current Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who briefly was thought to be a candidate for the 49ers' job.
Denied in Seattle
Many thought Erickson deserved better in his native Seattle, where he helped rebuild the Seahawks, but couldn't make the playoffs. Seattle was denied a playoff berth in 1998 only by a controversial loss to the New York Jets in which Vinny Testaverde was infamously awarded a touchdown when he never crossed the goal line -- a play that helped spur the reintroduction of instant replay to help officials.
Erickson's greatest success has been in college, where he has turned four schools into winners. Before resurrecting a moribund program at Oregon State, Erickson won national titles at Miami in 1989 and 1991, going 63-9 over six seasons. He also has coached at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State.
Cottrell, Chicago defensive coordinator Greg Blache and San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora interviewed last week. The 49ers also seriously considered Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who re-signed with the Buccaneers after the Super Bowl.
Mariucci was fired despite four 10-win seasons with a remarkably brief rebuilding period in between. York had a difference in philosophy with Mariucci, who led the 49ers to a 10-6 record, the NFC West title and a playoff victory over the New York Giants this past season.
Erickson is unlikely to demand a larger role in the organization, as York claimed Mariucci wanted. York has applied a strictly regimented business plan to the 49ers in which every employee has a clearly defined role. The owner felt Mariucci wanted to breach those boundaries by taking a role in player personnel, though Mariucci flatly denied it.
Three offensive assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, are under contract with the 49ers for next season, and Donahue has said he wants to keep running the West Coast offense in its birthplace. Erickson seems likely to go along with that dictum.
Mora is under contract for next season, but he already interviewed with the Carolina Panthers for their vacant defensive coordinator position. Mariucci also might try to hire Mora in Detroit.