Trent Baalke met with Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase for the second time this month Tuesday, and then handed him off to his Denver counterpart, John Elway, for an interview with that team.
Baalke, the 49ers’ general manager, first spoke with Gase on Jan. 2, a meeting that also included CEO Jed York and president Paraag Marathe. Because the Broncos still were in the playoffs at that point, the interview was limited to four hours.
That he returned to Denver for a second meeting effectively signaled Gase was at the top of the team’s wish list. A league source said Baalke was expected to return to the Bay area Tuesday night but that a formal offer could be made to Gase within the day.
The 36-year-old offensive coordinator, however, has other suitors, including the Broncos. During his end-of-year news conference Tuesday, Elway said that both Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would be considered as replacements for head coach John Fox, who parted ways with the team Monday. Del Rio is a candidate for the Raiders’ job and met with the team Tuesday.
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The 49ers could offer Gase the job at any time considering they have satisfied the league’s Rooney Rule that requires them to interview at least one minority candidate for the position. The Broncos only began the interview process Tuesday and are not yet in compliance with the Rooney Rule.
The 49ers like Gase because he is known as a precise, detail-oriented coach – something they felt was lacking with ex-coach Jim Harbaugh – and because they think he can help quarterback Colin Kaepernick take another step in his development.
Gase served as the Detroit Lions quarterback coach in 2007 and was in the same position for the Broncos ( 2011-12) before becoming the team’s offensive coordinator in 2013. According to a report from Fox Sports, Gase has told at least one other team that he plans to call his own plays if he becomes head coach.
Gase is the team’s top candidate, but the 49ers have several others they feel comfortable with, including Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, former head coach Mike Shanahan and two internal candidates, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive-line coach Jim Tomsula.
The 49ers met with Quinn on Dec. 30 but may not be able to hire him until after the Super Bowl.
One other candidate, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, met with the 49ers for 61/2 hours Friday, but he agreed Tuesday to be the Jets’ head coach.
Fangio’s interview, which occurred Dec. 30, also lasted more than six hours.
Sources said the team’s defensive coordinator is taking a wait-and-see approach to the 49ers’ situation.
He is under contract for the 2015 season and is scheduled to be the league’s highest-paid defensive coordinator during the upcoming season. He certainly would try to get out of that contract if he is leap-frogged by Tomsula, and he also could do so if the team hires a defensive specialist as head coach.
How he would react if the 49ers hired an offensive-minded coach like Gase is unknown because he’s never met Gase.
If Fangio decided to leave, he’d likely have options. Washington requested to interview him for its vacant defensive coordinator position, but the 49ers turned down the request.
The Cardinals will be looking for a defensive coordinator should reports that Bowles is leaving to coach the Jets come true. Fangio and the head coach there, Bruce Arians, coached together with the Indianapolis Colts, and Arians last month said Fangio deserves a head-coaching job.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.