49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 5, 2009
Taking a long look at Linehan

The 49ers are playing their offensive coordinator search close to the vest. So far, only one name has slipped out - former Rams coach Scott Linehan. Look for the 49ers to interview Linehan and perhaps a couple of other candidates in the coming weeks but to hold off on making a hire until the playoffs are over. That could change if Mike Singletary falls in love with a candidate and the 49ers are worried that another team might snatch him up. But unless that happens, this search promises to be rather methodical.

linehan.jpg

Since Linehan is the only name we know, let's take a closer look. Linehan, 45, seems to hit all the criteria Singletary laid out last week, and he has plenty of ties to the 49ers. Linehan's a former college quarterback, having played under Dennis Erickson at the University of Idaho. He's been both a quarterbacks coach and an offensive coordinator on the college and NFL level. He was the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator for three seasons. One of his pupils in Minnesota was Shaun Hill, who I'm told is very fond of Linehan.

Another 49ers quarterback who might be rooting for Linehan is Alex Smith. Linehan has worked under Smith's uncle, John L. Smith, on three occasions -- twice at Idaho and once at Louisville where he was Smith's offensive coordinator. Alex Smith has said he's known Linehan since Smith was a little boy, and no doubt Uncle John has said many nice things about Linehan at the Smith dining room table.

Would Linehan satisfy Singletary's desire to run the ball? The statistics suggest he would. Before arriving in Minnesota, the Vikings ranked 25th in per-game rushing average. That rank improved to first under Linehan. (See chart below). He performed a similar resurrection in Miami in 2005, taking a rushing attack that ranked 31st the year prior and improving it to 12th. In 2006, Linehan's first as the Rams head coach, Steven Jackson ran the ball 346 times, the most for a St. Louis runner since Eric Dickerson in 1986.

So what's the bad news? Linehan's Rams made marginal gains in 2006 but they regressed badly in an injury-plagued 2007 season. This past season, however, things got even worse. The Rams lost four lopsided games to start the season and Linehan benched QB Marc Bulger, an unpopular move in the locker room. Jackson ripped Linehan on the radio, and Linehan was fired after only one quarter of the season. Linehan also edged Isaac Bruce out of St. Louis. Bruce was a quarterback's best friend this past season and would be a perfect complement to youngsters Josh Morgan and Jason Hill in 2009. Whether he would stay put in a Linehan regime remains to be seen.

Linehan has a calm and reserved demeanor that worked well when nurturing quarterbacks but that wasn't such a good fit as head coach. (See: Turner, Norv). Will Singletary see that as negative or will he view it as a good balance to his sometimes fiery personality? Singletary's sit-down with the OC candidates will be the key.

Linehan became the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2002 and the Dolphins offensive coordinator in 2005. He took over the Rams in 2006.

Year.................total offense............rushing............passing .........Points

Minn. 2001.........12th......................25th...................7th..................290
Minn. 2002..........2nd.......................1st.....................9th..................390
Minn. 2003..........1st.......................4th.....................4th...................416
Minn. 2004..........4th.......................18th....................2nd.................405

Miami 2004.........29th......................31st...................21st.................275
Miami 2005.........14th.....................12th....................16th.................318

St Louis 2005.......9th......................22nd....................4th..................363
St Louis 2006.......6th......................17th.....................4th..................367
St Louis 2007.......24th.....................25th....................19th................263

-- Matt Barrows

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MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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