San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson hopes to put a turbulent week behind him when the 49ers host the Washington Redskins in a matchup of teams that will miss the playoffs.
Erickson, who is enduring his second straight disappointing season in San Francisco, was told Monday by team owner John York that he would be able to coach the Niners for the final three weeks of the campaign, but was not given a vote of confidence beyond that.
The meeting may have spurred Erickson to meet with Mississippi’s athletic director and chancellor for two hours Tuesday night to discuss the school’s vacant head coaching position. But Erickson said Wednesday he withdrew from consideration for the job, and is recommitting himself to helping the Niners close out the season on a high note.
“I feel like I want to finish this thing, if I have the opportunity,” Erickson said. “It was more of an interest in looking into the college situation. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the San Francisco 49ers. I just wanted to look into it, and I did.”
Erickson has three seasons and $7.5 million remaining on his contract with the Niners, but his future has been in question during a difficult season. He is 9-20 overall since joining San Francisco last season.
General manager Terry Donahue, who granted permission to Ole Miss to speak to Erickson, still plans to evaluate Erickson and his staff after the season.
“It’s been a very tough season on everybody,” Donahue said. “It’s been a hard year on players and coaches and the management team to go through this, and it’s been most difficult on the head coach.”
Ironically, all the speculation regarding Erickson’s future gained momentum after San Francisco won its second game of the season, 31-28 in overtime over Arizona last Sunday behind quarterback Ken Dorsey and running back Maurice Hicks.
Dorsey, starting in place of the injured Tim Rattay, threw for the first three touchdowns of his two-year NFL career. Hicks, who went undrafted and was with the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe last season, carried 34 times for 139 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL start.
Erickson said Hicks will start again this week, even though Kevan Barlow is ready to return to action. Barlow was angered by the coach’s decision.
“I was very disappointed. I didn’t agree with that,” Barlow said Tuesday. “I think I deserve to be the starter, but I’ve said from day one I support coach Erickson, and do whatever he wants to do.”
Barlow repeatedly cited the organization’s commitment to him—in the form of a $20 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money—as one reason he should keep the job.
“They invested in me,” Barlow said. “They want me to be the guy out there … and I want to do the job. I’m 25. I ain’t going nowhere no time soon. I’m happy to be here.”
Erickson said both Barlow and Hicks will get a chance to show what they can do against the Redskins.
“They are both going to play,” Erickson said. “And then when (Barlow) gets an opportunity to play, go out and earn the position back. In my book, that’s just how I look at it right now at this part of the season.”
In his first year back on the sidelines after winning three Super Bowls during his first tenure with Washington, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs isn’t having much more fun than Erickson.
The Redskins squandered any chance of getting back into the NFC wild-card race with a tough 17-14 loss to the conference-leading Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday night.
Patrick Ramsey, making his fifth straight start since replacing Mark Brunell, went 29-for-42 for 251 yards but threw a costly interception in the back of the end zone with 1:46 to play that kept Washington from at least forcing overtime.
“I’m proud of our guys for the way they fight. They’ve done that all year,” Gibbs said. “I feel like they played with a lot of heart. We were right there to make a play, but we couldn’t get it done.”
Penalties again played a factor in the loss. The Redskins committed 12, including four false starts, for 137 yards. In less than a minute, the offense had three flags—two false starts and a holding call—that stifled a drive and forced a long field-goal attempt that missed just before halftime.
Washington has had three double-figure penalty games this season. The total for the season is 93 penalties for 872 yards, a 1,073-yard pace that would exceed last year’s 1,038 by coach Steve Spurrier’s undisciplined team. The team record is 1,110, set in 1948.
“In a close game, penalties can really cost you,” Gibbs said. “It’s something we put a lot into at practice. We have referees out here every day. We try and stress it. You’ve got to play error-free up here. If you don’t, it’s going to cost you.”
Washington will probably be without cornerback Shawn Springs for this contest after he suffered a concussion last Sunday. Springs, who leads the Redskins with four interceptions, will be re-evaluated next week.
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