A year after interviewing five defensive coordinators for their head-coach opening and ultimately hiring a defensive-line coach, the 49ers are going in a decidedly different direction.
The team has begun setting up interviews to replace Jim Tomsula, and the candidates’ expertise is offense. They range from 63-year-old Mike Shanahan, who hasn’t coached since the end of the 2013 season, to Buffalo Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn, 47, once a running back for Shanahan with the Denver Broncos.
According to the NFL Network, the 49ers also have asked the Cincinnati Bengals for permission to speak with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, 50, whose team plays the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs Saturday. The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns also have scheduled interviews with Jackson, who coached the Raiders in 2011. Those meetings are expected to be Sunday.
The 49ers also are rumored to be interested in trading for New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who has two years left on his contract. Payton, 52, has guided the Saints to back-to-back 7-9 seasons and could be available for draft picks. The 49ers expect to have 12 this year.
Most of the known candidates – more are sure to be revealed later – have worked with quarterbacks during their career. Payton, who was born in San Mateo, once played quarterback, including for the Chicago Bears’ replacement team during the 1987 strike.
The 49ers likely will enter next season with quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the roster. But he’s not signed beyond 2016, and the new coach is expected to add more quarterbacks to the mix – perhaps with the first-round draft pick – and choose and groom a quarterback.
“That’s going to be evaluated,” general manager Trent Baalke said when asked about the state of the team’s quarterbacks. “I think the most important thing we’ve got to do right now is get the head coach in place and then follow that by getting the coaching staff in place. And once we get those pieces together, then myself and the head coach and the rest of the staff can sit down, evaluate the roster, evaluate every player within it, and then determine who we’re moving forward with.”
The 49ers were 31st in total offense, first downs, third-down conversion percentage and sacks allowed.
Team officials visited with Shanahan last year, and ESPN reported the 49ers will at least have a phone conversation with him this week. Jed York, the 49ers’ CEO, is in New York as part of an owners’ meeting related to the Los Angeles market. The first round of coaching interviews may take place there.
The 49ers also want to meet with Lynn, the running backs/assistant head coach in Buffalo who is scheduled to interview for the Dolphins’ opening Wednesday.
Lynn played running back for the 49ers in 1995 and 1996, rushing 26 times for 175 yards. He also played under Shanahan with the Broncos before becoming an NFL running backs coach in 2003.
Shanahan ran the 49ers’ famed West Coast offense as an assistant from 1992 to 1994. He also coached the Raiders (1988-89) before winning two Super Bowls in Denver in the late 1990s.
In his most recent stint, with the Washington Redskins, Shanahan was 24-41, including playoffs, with one postseason trip in four years. He also has interviewed for the Dolphins’ opening.