Anatomy of a 49er Look-See (Mar. 29, 2000)

As I wrote in the March 15 paper, this reporter and Logger Head Coach Jerry Philbrick and Logger defensive coordinator Dan Kuny had phoned our beloved SF 49ers in an attempt to get the pro football team to scout brilliant NorCal Loggers’ quarterback Albert Higgs.

And, at the same time, 49ers General Manager Bill Walsh, Head Coach Steve Mariucci and Director of Scouting Bill McPherson were all at the college scouting confab in Indianapolis, Indiana, preparing for the important April 15th pro draft of college players. The 49ers need a quarterback and they need skilled, inexpensive players to help them with their salary cap problems. This reporter and Boonville’s Dan Kuny believe Albert Higgs is the potential solution to the 49er quarterback problem, and since Higgs is off the major radar of pro football intelligence, he would be an invaluable but inexpensive addition to the Niner’s roster relative to the salaries of NFL football players. And Higgs is the most versatile kicker in the game — bar none. So, Jerry, Danny, and this reporter have been spreading the word to 49ers answering machines with messages.

But on Thursday, April 16, at 9:10am, I phoned the SF 49ers headquarters at their Santa Clara compound and asked to speak to G.M. Bill Walsh. I was connected to Mr. Walsh immediately. He said, “This is Bill Walsh.” The phone voice was sad, soft, and stressed. I thought this guy wasn’t Walsh and said, “This isn’t Walsh. I want to speak to Bill Walsh.”

"This is Bill Walsh.” I then realized it was Mr. Walsh and I began to tell him about Albert Higgs. Mr. Walsh said, “Ken, this is Bill McPherson’s area. Give me your phone number and I’ll have him phone you.”

Then I drove to Boonville and read the Chronicle and Press Democrat over coffee at the Redwood Drive-In. Norm Clow was there and he told me that Bobb McKittrick, the long-time 49er line coach, had died of cancer the night before. I looked at the newspaper and, yes, McKittrick had died of bile duct cancer Wednesday evening.

I was ashamed immediately that (possibly) Walsh may have thought I knew about McKittrick’s death but had pressed on about a comparatively mundane personnel matter as all the people who knew the late coach were deep in mourning.

I returned home and immediately called Walsh and left a message on his machine telling him how sorry I was about the death of McKittrick — that I hadn’t known he had died when I’d called earlier that morning and that McKittrick’s death was a tragedy for the 49ers and all football fans and sportsmen everywhere.

I then wrote a note to G.M. Walsh saying, “You and Bobb McKittrick and Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott were the 49ers to me and many of my friends. You were the creator. Bobb McKittrick was the tough, intelligent technician. Joe Montana was the athletic grace and Ronnie Lott was the intense impact and the fire. Together you four men melded together all the elements to realize your vision of a new brand of beautiful football in which intelligence and technique can defeat bulk and power. Bobb McKittrick will be missed forever.” I also sent the March 15th AVA to McPherson.

The 49er offices were closed down all day Friday, March 17th through Monday March 20th at 1pm to honor Bobb McKittrick. I didn’t receive a phone call from Bill McPherson on Monday. I told Dan Kuny that probably he should call McPherson too.

But first Kuny called Jim Lynch, a previous AVHS coach 30 years ago, and assistant coach at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa to get his take on Higgs. Lynch said, “I remember you, Kuny. You’re the guy who screwed up all my offensive plays during your freshman year at AVHS.” They laughed together. Then Lynch said, “I agree with Jason (Franci). He is the best athlete physically I have seen. And he’s smart. The question is, Can he stand up to the challenge of being evaluated by the pros?”

Unknown to me (at the time) Kuny began to call the 49ers headquarters saying he would phone every two hours until he talked to a 49er honcho.

After a trip to Fort Bragg Tuesday, March 21st, I arrived home to find a wonderful message from Bill McPherson saying, “Ken, the article about Higgs is terrific, awesome really. We want to scout Higgs but March 25th at Boonville will be difficult for us because we are having our largest college try-out camp of the year trying to get intelligence on the players we want to draft. But call me, ASAP.”

First I phoned Kuny. Kuny said that he had spoken to McPherson and after McPherson’s initial enthusiasm, “he got condescending toward me.”

“He was telling me ‘Man, this’ and ‘man that’ and ‘Oh baby this’ and ‘Oh baby that’.”

And Kuny said McPherson also said, “Hey, man, tell Ken to quit bugging Bill Walsh.” Kuny said, “If he had called me ‘dude’ I would have gone down and kicked his ass because I hate to be called ‘dude’ and for people to be condescending to me.” I was pissed off too, now. I said, “How the hell can Walsh tell me not to bug him when he drafted a guy in the first round with a bum leg?”

Then I said, “Tell me precisely what you told McPherson.”

Kuny replied, “I told him Albert was great. McPherson asked, ‘What is his time in the 40-yard dash?’ I said, ‘4.8 forty’.”

I said, “Danny, dammit. They think we are two backwoods rednecks pushing a slow, fat man who waddles up to the damned center! I think I can run a 4.8 forty with a ruptured Achilles tendon. That 4.8 forty shit is the problem.”

Kuny said, “I knew as soon as I said 4.8 I screwed up. But man, Ken, I got a 40-foot extension on our phone and I was trotting around the house while I was talking to him, I could just as well have told him he ran the 40 in 3.4. I was nervous. The 49ers are at the top of the food chain for people who love football.”

I said, “Danny, you’ve got to call back and correct that 40-yard dash error.” Higgs had run a 4.55 at the beginning of season when he was out of shape. I’m sure he is as fast as 4.5 by now after losing 25 pounds.

So Danny phoned back to McPherson and found McPherson to be a fine gentleman after imparting the new 40 yard dash number. But Danny had gotten through to McPherson only by threatening McPherson’s secretary to phone every two minutes until McPherson spoke to him again.

So when I phoned McPherson’s secretary myself, she asked with good humor if I was a friend of Danny Kuny and would I phone every two minutes until I talked to Mr. McPherson? I replied, “No. I’ll just press redial every two seconds.” She laughed and put me through. I sent the AVA issue covering Kuny’s retirement from high school coaching to her and McPherson.

On the phone McPherson was nice, pleasant and knowledgeable. He said that the 25th of March would be a very difficult day to scout Albert Higgs because they were conducting drills for all their potential draft choices for the upcoming April 15th, but they would try to get someone up there if they could. But if the Loggers win, “We will certainly scout the Logger game April 1st at Rio Vista. We’ll give Higgs a good look.”

Of course Kuny and this reporter were delighted. We had done our jobs. A gifted young black athlete had some early bad breaks but had gone to Europe and had matured into a stand-up guy. Danny and this reporter had uneasily put our credibility on the line and now the future is up to Albert Higgs and the 49ers.

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