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NFC WEST 49ers left to reflect after year to forget



Published: Tue, January 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Coach Dennis Erickson has managed a 9-23 record in two seasons.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- From the top brass to the practice squadders, nobody who left the San Francisco 49ers' training complex Monday could be certain they would ever return.

Big changes are all that's certain after the 49ers finished 2-14, matching the worst record in franchise history and securing the top pick in the upcoming draft with perhaps the most humiliating chapter in the franchise's storied history.

John York, the 49ers' owner, will be in town all week to evaluate his team. General manager Terry Donahue, coach Dennis Erickson and their staffs all are in danger of losing their jobs, though York has given no indication when he'll announce his decisions.

Donahue didn't speak to reporters one day after his budget-friendly roster finished the season with a 21-7 loss at New England. But Erickson repeated his cautious optimism that he'll be allowed to preside over the rebuilding of a franchise that has fallen to historic depths under his watch.

Questionable optimism?

"I expect to be back, and yes, I do want to come back," said Erickson, 9-23 in two seasons as Steve Mariucci's successor. "I want to see this thing through. We obviously had some setbacks this year, but we have a plan in place right now that can get us better and better."

If only the 49ers' fans could feel that optimism. Though Donahue and Erickson talk incessantly of their plan, it's hard to find a positives in this big black cloud of a season.

San Francisco allowed an NFL-worst 452 points, just one fewer than the 1999 franchise record. The Niners' offense actually was much more inept than the defense for most of the season -- and they were shut out by the Seattle Seahawks in September, ending their league-record scoring streak stretching back to 1977.

The 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals twice, but couldn't win again. Eleven players went on injured reserve, including linebacker Julian Peterson and quarterback Tim Rattay, who managed to start just nine games while battling three serious injuries.

The Niners' young roster simply seemed overwhelmed and undercoached from the first day of training camp.

Donahue got rid of several important veterans before the season, and the lack of leadership showed.

One player's opinion

"There are some guys on this team that don't understand what it is to be a professional and go out there and give their all every game," linebacker Derek Smith said. "They know who they are. I think this team needs some more players that know what it takes to win."

When Erickson met with his players Monday, he thanked them for their effort. He also told them he had no idea whether he would be back.

The next move is up to York, who expected the 49ers to struggle this season while they followed Donahue's plan for salary cap health, but never expected his club to become a laughingstock.

York has been more visible lately, appearing in the locker room on occasion to offer words of encouragement.

He has spoken privately to several players, including veteran defensive tackle Bryant Young, about his intention to bring them back next season.

"I really do believe Dr. York wants to win," said running back Kevan Barlow, a major disappointment after signing a $20 million contract last summer. "There's a perception out there that he doesn't, but there were some business decisions made last year. He's in there with us, and he wants to win."




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