The 49ers ended a week-long general manager search on Tuesday by naming in-house candidate Trent Baalke to the position. Now attention turns to their top head-coaching coaching target: Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, who arrived in California Tuesday after Monday's decisive Orange Bowl victory.
A week ago, team president Jed York said he would first hire a general manger who would then conduct the team's coaching search. The general-manager search was expected to end on Sunday. As York began interviewing outside candidates, however, he zeroed in on one, ex-Raiders executive Michael Lombardi who is now an analyst and columnist for the NFL Network. York spoke with Lombardi for two hours last week, then had another interview with him Tuesday.
York winnowed his list of candidates to two, Baalke and Lombardi, on Tuesday afternoon before finally settling on Baalke around 6 p.m. It's not known whether York offered Lombardi a position in the team's personnel department. Lombardi was a scout for the 49ers from 1984-1987.
"I have had the benefit of watching Trent closely in the recent months and have been very impressed with his knowledge and leadership," York said in a statement. "I am confident that Trent will find the 49ers an excellent head coach who will lead us to great success in the coming years." The other known candidates for general manager were former Rams executive Tony Softli, ex-Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist and former Saints executive Rick Mueller.
The 49ers' coaching search actually began well before Baalke had been promoted. The team asked for, and was granted, permission to interview Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Both Jackson and Fewell are African American. The 49ers must interview at least one minority candidate under the NFL's "Rooney Rule" policy.
Jackson is considered the top candidate to replace Tom Cable as Oakland's next head coach. The Raiders announced on Tuesday that Cable's contract would not be renewed. Fewell, meanwhile, is being pursued by two other teams and may not be able to interview with the 49ers until next week, according to a league source.
At the same time, the 49ers gave the Carolina Panthers permission to interview defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for Carolina's head-coaching job. If the 49ers hire Harbaugh, he is expected to bring Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who has 23 years of NFL experience.
Baalke, 46, has been considered the leading general-manager candidate since the 49ers' search began last week, and he has been conducting business in recent days - exit interviews with players and coaches - as if he were in that position already. In a press release, Baalke thanked York for the opportunity and said, "My entire focus is now dedicated to finding the next head coach of the 49ers."
Baalke was in South Florida last week while Stanford was preparing for the Orange Bowl. Baalke, however, has said he didn't meet with Harbaugh at the time but has met with him at Stanford - 15 miles from 49ers headquarters - when he was scouting Stanford players earlier this year. When Baalke took over for general manager Scot McCloughan in March, York said he would pay close attention to how Baalke handled the team's personnel department. Baalke has characterized the period as a "nine-month job interview."
During that time, Baalke acquired receiver Ted Ginn, outside linebacker Travis LaBoy, running back Brian Westbrook and special teams standout C.J. Spillman. He also ran a draft in which the 49ers used two first-round picks on offensive linemen, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati.
One of Baalke's mentors is Bill Parcells, who hired Baalke as a scout with the Jets in 1998. Baalke also has been heavily influenced by McCloughan, who brought Baalke to the 49ers in 2005 as the team's western region scout. Prior to that, Baalke spent four years with the Redskins scouting department.
-- Matt Barrows