49ers Erickson sees better luck next year


Dennis Erickson's first season with the San Francisco 49ers didn't go quite as he envisioned it Ñ 7-9 and out of the playoffs. A 1-7 road record proved fatal, along with losses in six games by a total of 17 points.

'We lost a lot of close games early, dug ourselves a hole and couldn't climb out of it,' Erickson says. 'We will be a lot better next year, but there are some changes we are going to have to make as we get into the offseason.'

There was a quarterback controversy, the continued antics of receiver Terrell Owens and a lousy kicking-punting game to make Erickson's year harrowing. But the former Oregon State coach's biggest problem, if you ask the team's critics, is owner John York, who didn't give General Manager Terry Donahue enough money to re-sign free agents or extend the contracts of key players such as defensive end Julian Peterson.

'I don't agree with that,' Erickson says, 'but we do have a lot of (salary) cap issues that were there before I got here that we continue to deal with.'

San Francisco has 14 unrestricted free agents. Erickson wants to try to re-sign free agent Owens, but Owens probably will leave, which is not a bad thing for team chemistry. Then there is the issue of the quarterback position, with people's choice Tim Rattay against veteran Jeff Garcia. Erickson is loyal to Garcia but likes Rattay's potential, too.

'Tim is a lot different player than Jeff,' Erickson says. 'Tim has a stronger arm and can throw it down the field a little better, but he doesn't move around and isn't as athletic as Jeff. And Jeff has all that experience.'

Erickson may lose defensive coordinator Jim Mora, who has interviewed for head coaching jobs with Atlanta and Chicago. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp should return, but Erickson plans to take a larger role in the San Francisco offense next season.

'We are going to spread it out a little bit more, use a little more one-back and some empty backfield, and air it out a little more,' he says. 'I'm excited about what is coming up next year and the years after that, but it's hard to win in this league.'

It's a long season, he says. 'And this one wasn't much fun. It's never fun when you lose, no matter where you are. I wouldn't have had fun at Oregon State going 8-5, either.'

Erickson says he followed the Beavers religiously.

'They had some ups and downs. Had they beaten the Huskies and Cougars, they would have been playing Texas in the Holiday Bowl,' he says. 'They played good in the Las Vegas Bowl, but New Mexico was terrible. Much as I love the Beavers, I got tired of watching by the fourth quarter.'

Erickson says he expects a half-dozen Beavers Ñ Steven Jackson, Richard Seigler, James Newson, Dwan Edwards, Kirk Yliniemi and Tim Euhus Ñ to be selected in April's NFL draft. San Francisco owns the 16th choice in the first round.

'Jackson, Seigler, Newson and Edwards should go in the first three or four rounds,' Erickson says. 'Steven might not be there when we pick (in the first round). If he does what he can do and works out like he can at the (NFL) combine, he might be the first back to go.'

• The first coach for the renewed Oregon State women's cross country and track program will be Willamette coach Kelly Sullivan, once the coach of Olympic distance runner Brian Abshire at Clackamas CC and Auburn. Sullivan spent a dozen years as head cross country and assistant track coach at Auburn. The Beavers, who dropped track and field in 1988, will restart their program, on the women's side only, in order to meet Title IX guidelines.

• Aloha High's Nic Costa will stay at Arizona at least through spring ball to see how it goes under new coach Mike Stoops, who was defensive coordinator for his brother, Bob, at Oklahoma. Costa, the sprinter-fast left-hander who was second-string quarterback this past fall as a sophomore, believes his talents will be well-suited for Stoops' offense. If it doesn't work out, Costa might consider a switch to the secondary or a transfer to a different school.

nWhile in Los Angeles last weekend, members of Oregon's coaching staff watched signee Bryce Taylor go for 31 points for north Hollywood's Harvard-Westlake in an overtime loss to Lincoln High of Brooklyn. The -6-5 shooting guard, son of ex-ABA great Brian Taylor, scored 17 in the third quarter Ñ 13 in a row Ñ as Harvard-Westlake roared back from a 20-point halftime deficit to force the extra session. Taylor's coach is Beaverton native Greg Hilliard, brother of ex-OSU guard Brian Hilliard.

'Bryce can really shoot it,' Oregon TV analyst Rob Closs says. 'Great range, very quick, and a good defensive player. He made a couple of steals and turned them into dunks.'

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