49ers GM expected to step down after NFL Draft
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- The decades haven't changed Bill Walsh's Draft Day optimism. Even on his last weekend in charge, he remains cautiously certain the San Francisco 49ers will get their men once again.
Walsh, the general manager and former coach who built the 49ers into an NFL dynasty during the 1980s, is overseeing San Francisco's draft preparations for the final time. He expects to turn over his GM duties to top assistant Terry Donahue in the days following Saturday's draft.
It's a difficult but necessary transition for Walsh, 69. He will take on an amorphous consulting role after Donahue takes over, but he'll miss the thrill of "getting the men we want," he said.
"We've known since I got this job that I wouldn't have it forever," said Walsh, who returned to the organization in 1999. "We're going to enjoy this [draft], and then we'll decide when and where to make the change."
But Walsh and Donahue still have an important job to do together this weekend -- with help from head coach Steve Mariucci, of course. If the 49ers are to keep their rebuilding process on schedule despite a painful salary-cap pinch, they'll need another daring, intelligent draft from Walsh and company.
"You can't say enough about Bill's work in the draft," Donahue said. "He's the consummate hard worker, and he has an incredible amount of knowledge you simply can't get except through experience."
Donahue is quick to point out that Walsh will still be heavily involved in future drafts from his consultant role, but not even Walsh is sure what his new job entails.
Last season, Walsh erased any notion he was past his prime as a talent evaluator. All of the 49ers' 11 selections made the roster, and five started at some point in the season. The 49ers' painfully young roster gained invaluable experience during San Francisco's encouraging 6-10 season, which gave the 49ers the ninth overall pick Saturday.
How good is Walsh? Mariucci said San Francisco probably won't trade down because it's difficult for the 49ers to talk to other teams about draft trades -- since many teams are afraid of being fleeced by Walsh.
"He's energized. He's very into this draft, and he's working hard at it," Mariucci said. "He's been very involved. He's been terrific."
With a shopping list last spring that included practically every position, Walsh seemingly filled a need with each of his 11 picks. But San Francisco still has plenty of holes, particularly on a defense that finished 29th overall last season.
Walsh would never tip his hand, but it's clear the 49ers could use another player at just about every defensive position, particularly in the front seven. They would love a pass rusher such as California's Andre Carter, but a hard-hitting linebacker such as Miami's Dan Morgan also is tempting.
Mariucci loves Morgan, but he's got a soft spot for Carter, who's familiar with the 49ers through workouts at their training complex in Santa Clara.
"A year ago, [Carter] had the opportunity to come out early. He had people tugging on him, believe me," said Mariucci, a former Cal coach. "Another year was very beneficial for him. He's ready to step into this league now."
But the 49ers' difficult selection among several talented defensive players could be obviated if one of the draft's two marquee running backs is available at No. 9. The 49ers almost certainly would grab Deuce McAllister of Mississippi or TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson to replace Charlie Garner.
Garner, the team's leading rusher the last two seasons, signed with the Oakland Raiders last week after San Francisco said it couldn't pay him what both sides admitted he was worth.
McAllister visited the 49ers' headquarters earlier this month. A big back with pass-catching abilities, he seems to fit the preferred profile for running backs in the West Coast offense, but the 49ers share most teams' durability concerns.
"We know how many practices and games he's missed, and that's one of the things we've been discussing," Mariucci said. "But he would fit in our system very well."
The 49ers expect to invest a high pick on an offensive lineman, preferably a tackle, who can be brought along slowly. They also would like to find a receiver who could double as their kick returner. They might even gamble a late-round pick on a kicker to replace Wade Richey.
"We don't have a lot of anything on this team," Mariucci said. "We've got a little quality group, and we're trying to add to it."