While Jim Harbaugh was charming the University of Michigan at his introductory news conference Tuesday morning, the 49ers began the process of finding his replacement.
They started with someone familiar, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose unit finished fifth in the NFL in total defense this season despite having five would-be starters end the year on injured reserve.
According to Fox Sports, that session was followed by a road trip to Seattle to visit with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, whose unit finished first in the NFL. Quinn spent two years as a 49ers defensive assistant under Steve Mariucci and two more as the team’s defensive-line coach under Dennis Erickson before coaching the Dolphins’ defensive line in 2005.
The 49ers also are expected to meet with Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who also has a background with San Francisco. Gase worked under offensive coordinator Mike Martz when Martz ran the 49ers’ offense in 2008. Denver’s offense finished fourth this season. ESPN reported that the interview with Gase will occur on Friday or Saturday.
Gase’s Broncos and Quinn’s Seahawks have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. That means suitors like the 49ers have until Saturday to interview them and then cannot do so again until their teams are out of the playoffs.
The 49ers also are one of several teams that have requested a meeting with Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, a league source said, while the New York Daily News reported that recently fired Jets head coach Rex Ryan would meet with the 49ers next week. Ryan and Fangio worked together on the Ravens’ staff from 2006-08.
Bowles’ Cardinals visit Carolina in the first round of the playoffs, which means he cannot interview until next week at the earliest. The Raiders also would like to interview Bowles.
General manager Trent Baalke said Monday he and CEO Jed York will conduct the interviews and that the process roughly will take seven to 10 days, largely due to the number of interviews they must conduct and because many of the candidates are in the playoffs.
There also is no stampede to land a big-name prospect. One of the hottest names on the market, Jon Gruden, said he wouldn’t leave his analyst job at ESPN while the other, Harbaugh, went back to college.
The 49ers also are believed to be interested in defensive-line coach Jim Tomsula, who served as interim coach for the team for one game – a victory – when Mike Singletary was fired at the end of the 2010 season. Tomsula did not interview Tuesday, a league source said.
Willis wants Justin Smith to return – Add Patrick Willis to the list of 49ers defensive players and coaches who will be urging Justin Smith to return for his 15th season.
“I just want him to get away,” said Willis, who along with Smith was a team captain this season. “I said I don’t care if he gets away all the way until the first week of the season next year, he can come back then. I will be OK with that. But we’re gonna see.
“I don’t know how he’s going to feel with the whole coaching change and all that. I’m sure he’s got a lot to weigh on his mind. But we’ll see. I’m going to talk to his little boys. He’s got three young boys. I’m going to see if I can talk to them and see if they’ll run (Smith) a little ragged so we can get him back.”
Willis highlighted something Baalke and York must consider as they interview head-coaching candidates. A number of players, including two titans on the squad in recent years – Smith and running back Frank Gore – will be closely watching what changes are made for 2015.
Smith, who avoided the media in the team’s Levi’s Stadium locker room Monday, previously said he hasn’t decided if he wants to return. Smith dealt with a torn triceps at the end of the 2012 season, had a shoulder injury in 2013 that required surgery after that season and dealt with a back issue in the second half of the most recent season.
Presumably, Smith would be more interested in returning if Fangio or Tomsula got the rather than an outside coach who would bring in a new staff.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.