In search of 49ers’ next head coach

This is my Saturday column.

In ascending order, these are the top five people the 49ers should interview before hiring a new head coach this offseason.

DISCLAIMER: These are not necessarily the best head-coaching candidates out there. These are the guys the Niners can get, guys who are relatively inexperienced and won’t demand much money or power. Guys NOT named David Shaw, Sean Payton or Chip Kelly. Get real.

These are up-and-comers who can develop a young quarterback, or work around a few bad ones.

UP-AND-COMER No. 5: Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Pros: Coaches Russell Wilson. Oversees an offense that has ranked top 10 in points scored every season since 2012. Works for the Niners’ biggest rival. Hiring Bevell would weaken the Seahawks and give the 49ers insight into how Seattle’s organization works.

Cons: Can’t bring Seattle’s defense with him. Can’t bring Wilson with him. And, can’t take total credit for Wilson’s success, since it often comes outside the structure of Bevell’s offense — think Wilson scrambling in circles like a third-grader on a playground.

Verdict: The Niners can do better.

UP-AND-COMER No. 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Pros: Seems to know how to coach a young quarterback. Coaches Jameis Winston, a rookie who has thrown 20 touchdown passes and run for five through 14 games this season. Previously coached Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whose numbers peaked under Koetter,

Cons: Winston and Ryan were two of the more ready-made quarterback prospects to come out of college the past 10 years — Koetter didn’t have to do much developing. He may not be a quarterback guru. And he may not be that good of an offensive coordinator — his offenses have ranked top 10 in yards just twice in nine seasons. He may not be head-coach material, either. He hasn’t been once since 2006 when he coached Arizona State.

Verdict: The Niners can do better.

UP-AND-COMER No. 3: Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

Pros: A terrific coordinator whose offense ranks fourth in points and sixth in yards this season. Excelled as a coordinator on two teams—the Oakland Raiders, and now the Cincinnati Bengals. Turned Andy Dalton, a mediocre quarterback, into an MVP candidate with a passer rating of 106.2.

Cons: May not be a leader. Fired after his first season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders when he finished with a record of 8-8. Lost the final game of the season and lost his mind at his postgame press conference, committing the ultimate head-coaching sin by blaming his players for the loss. “I’m pissed at my team,” he infamously said. Even the worst head coach in the NFL, the guy the Niners haven’t fired just yet, wouldn’t do that.

Verdict: The Niners can do better.

UP-AND-COMER No. 2: UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr.

Pros: Eight years of head-coaching experience — three with the Falcons, one with the Seahawks and four with UCLA. Turned around the Bruins’ football program and made UCLA one of the top teams in the Pac-12. Has a winning percentage of .712 in college.

Cons: Seems paranoid and wound tight. Personality might grate on professional football players. Hasn’t developed a quarterback.

Verdict: The Niners need an intense coach like Mora, but the Niners can do even better than him.

UP-AND-COMER No. 1: Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Pros: Wins. Took over a five-win Michigan team and won nine games his first season coaching the team. Before Michigan, turned Stanford into one of the best teams in the college football — something even Bill Walsh couldn’t do. Developed Andrew Luck. Grew up in Palo Alto. Probably would love to live in the Bay Area again. Probably wouldn’t ask for power over personnel. Probably just wants to coach.

Cons: Wears the same clothes every day. Misses social cues. Occasionally chews with his mouth open. Has almost zero interest in anything that doesn’t involve coaching, although that might not be the worst thing.

Verdict: If the Niners are looking for a team spokesman, Harbaugh isn’t the guy. But, they’re not looking for a team spokesman. They’re looking for a head coach, and Harbaugh’s a good one. The Niners really should consider hiring him. I think he’d be perfect.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 89 Comments

  1. You might recall that outside of Del Rio, Koetter was my #1 pick before the Tomusla thing happened. Pro ready or not the point is that both QB’s have flourished and succeeded while under his tutelage and that’s more then what most OC’s in this league can say.

    If we’re looking for a head coach I hope it’s along with a new GM and if so the GM needs to come first. Either way Koetter will likely again be my top choice to fill the head coaching vacancy.

    1. Well, Iggy, you had fun with this one. In truth, I enjoyed reading it. Good practice for taking ovr as Daily Bruin Sports Editor.

  2. I know some aren’t crazy about Hue Jackson as a HC, but that would probably be my choice of the candidates listed. He’s just a guy who really knows offense (which is one of the things this team desperately needs) and like Grant mentioned he’s done well with helping to develop Dalton.

    Question for you Grant. You mentioned Jackson may not be a leader. What makes you feel that way? Is there something from his time in Oakland other than the quote you provided that makes you believe he’s not HC material?

    1. TomD’s TakeAways on New Coach: The York’s could go either way, cheap or expensive. The following article demonstrates a 12 year trend toward the cheap coaches until Harbaugh was used to shove a new stadium past voters, and now back to cheap again with Coach Tomsula…Three things fans know they can bank on with the York’s: 1. An affinity toward cheapness, arrogance to build a dynasty their way only to the point of despising any Uncle Eddie ex-coaches; 2. Never, and I mean never take power away from Trent Baalke.

      The following demonstrates this trend by a well respected NFL journalist:

      For 49er Fans Hoping for coaching changes next year:

      This move was applauded by almost no one, according to Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole.
      “It’s not going to be (Mike) Shanahan. He’s not going to do that. Geep Chryst? I’m lost on this one. I really don’t know what they’re going to do at this point,” said Cole, who went on to explain why the team might be experiencing so much difficulties in filling its staff.

      “If you’re only paying Tomsula three (million dollars), that gives you an indication of where you are in paying assistants. And I heard this before they hired Tomsula, that they’re going on the cheap on the assistant coaching staff,” said Cole, who was on top of the Jim Harbaugh-to-Michigan story several hours before it was confirmed by CSN Bay Area’s Dave Feldman.

      “They don’t believe in paying coaches right now. The word around the league in talking to people who are both coaches and who represent coaches, San Francisco is not the place to go to make money.”

      Here’s more from Cole:

      “In talking to three players, including two guys on offense, basically they were dismayed by this hiring and were disgusted in certain ways because they believe that this is a sign that management has chosen to go incredibly cheap in terms of replacing the coaches that left.”

      Well, no one except Colin Kaepernick (according to Breer).

  3. Grant,

    That was funny!!!

    Reality: The Yorks can continue to pay Tomsula pennies on the dollar for his teaching acumen and sterling leadership, or they can spend a boat load of money on a quality head coach.

    I suggest that the Yorks will take the cheap option. Always.

  4. One coach I like is Anthony Lynn, Assistant HC and RBs coach for the Jets. He has been coaching for 15 years and is a former 49er. Thought he should have gotten the OC job.
    I like Tomsula, but he is in over his head, and should have been a Coordinator before assuming a HC job.
    Another coach I like is Vic Fangio. He would do well.

    1. Here’s a decent list from the sportster. Order worst to best.
      Dan Cambpell
      Mike Mularkey
      Terry Austin
      Matt Patricia
      Mike Smith
      Jim Mora
      Ben McAdoo
      Adam Gase
      Jim Schwartz
      Kevin Sumlin
      David Shaw
      Sean McDermott
      Kyle Shanahan
      Hue Jackson
      Josh McDaniels

      College options beyond what listed:

      What’s your wish?
      What’s most likely?

  5. Grant ..

    though I like your #1 .. I wonder ..
    what size carrot would you need … to
    even get The Harbs to consider
    the offer ?

  6. Jed will only hire someone who will not challenge him and will maintain harmony in the building. When he said “winning with class” what he really meant was “winning without challenging my a**”. Leaders who value harmony over results should be in charge of cub scout troops, not NFL teams.

    Then there’s Baalke, who values disabled players more than anything else. He really should be coaching in the Special Olympics. He’ll be in his element, totally.

    And then our coaches are all has-beens or people who’ve been promoted beyond their capability, in either case giving them motivation to work for Jimmy T, the guy who should be the neighborhood butcher and not an NFL coach. Then when he cuts the prime rib wrong, he can say “It’s all on me, Madam.”

    I really have no hope that this mess is going to end up well. A fish stinks from the head on down. As long as we have a pre-pubescent owner whose only discernible skill is the ability to surround himself with under-qualified sycophants, we are in big trouble as a franchise.

  7. Grant, I realize that in your position you have to write articles like this. Nevertheless, because I am not you and because I do not live in a fantasy land, I have to remind myself that under the current ownership this franchise appears doomed to mediocrity or worse. They will not pay good coaches what they are worth, and no good coach would come here anyway due to what the Yorks showed the world when they undermined and fired Harbaugh. The guys who comment optimistically about next year, God bless them, are dreaming, in my opinion. To succeed, the owner has to want to succeed. This owner treats the team like a business, and I’m pretty sure he measures his success in dollars, not victories. As long as the turnstiles move, nothing will change. Think Eddie DeBartolo making money no object. Think the Warriors over all those bleak seasons until Joe Lacob.

    1. As long as the Yorks are in charge we will get bargain basement coaches and bargain basement players

      Maybe we should look at some possible options for new owners for the Niners:

      1) Joe Lacob – After what he has done with the Warriors would absolutely love for him to take over the Niners. But unlikely to happen

      2) Larry Ellison. He certainly has the bucks dont know how he will do as a owner. More likely than 1)

      3) Eddie D. Was a great owner. May provide a face saving way for the Yorks to get out of this mess. But not sure if he will be interested in taking the reigns of the niners back.

      4) Some mystery owner. Probable and likely, if the Yorks do decide to sell

  8. Before I read this, let me go on record as to saying, this organization has gotten so ridiculous in the area of office, that they will continue with this current staff. That in itself is nuts… Now I’ll go ahead n read your article

  9. Grant given your years of NFL experience, time playing in the league, and previous championship teams you have constructed. Would you ever consider a return to the game to help out our 49ers?

    1. Im being serious, not sarcastic: Is there a worse run professional sports franchise, anywhere? From ownership to coaching, are there any as bad? Are we really supposed to believe that Tomsula and his staff are superior to Holmgren and his? And 4 years of Baalkes draft, and how many play-makers on EITHER side of the ball-that HE’S responsible for?

    1. Mora is a hothead. Not like occasionally losing his temper, but going off the deep end way too often. He is a good coach, but just a little too crazy.

  10. I think Mike Shula would be a good candidate for HC. He has worked with some good QBs and look at what he is doing with Cam! I think he can do the same for Kaep.

  11. Is there anybody on this board who really thinks that Jed York will publicly acknowledge that he made a huge mistake in hiring Tomsula? Do you really think he will be ready, right before the Superbowl, to highlight his immaturity? No. He will stick with the safe and cheap alternative, hoping against hope that next year will be different. It won’t. The best we can hope for is mediocrity. As much as it pains me to say it, Tomsula will be head coach in 2016 and probably beyond.

    1. Is there anybody on this board who really thinks that Jed York will publicly acknowledge that he made a huge mistake in hiring Tomsula?
      If they fire him after one season isn’t that basically saying that?

      1. My point is that they will not fire him. They could lose all the remaining games and he will still be back. Perhaps they will cut Geep lose, but we will be stuck with some other dolt at offensive coordinator. Tomsula will be our coach next year.

        1. I can’t force myself to believe that. If that happens I’m going to have to get the Gold removed from my blood stream.

        2. Unfortunately Jed thinks they just need time for their new players to develop and as he said “as long as they stayed competitive.” He’s been real quiet lately but I’d be surprised if he changes coaches. I’d be thrilled if I am wrong.

          I think we’re in for more mumbling non-sense next year.
          “Yeah, ok, ya see, what I mean is, ok, ya know Geep is doing a real good job.”

  12. I have to say that was your best article. I didn’t cheat and read the names first and then go back and read the article. I read each word and when I got to your #1 pick, I will admit I nearly fell out of my chair. Well done, sir. Well done.

      1. It would stop being funny pretty quick if Holmgren was asked to coach Baalke’s squad. How has he done without a hall of fame quarterback?

            1. And by him calling SF last year I’m thinking he wouldn’t want to do both. As a gm they should hire someone from the old days too. To work with him. For some reason I think Clark would be a good GM. Don’t know if he’s ever wanted to be, but get someone from the Walsh tree.

              1. I don’t think Holmgren would be interested in being only the HC. I’m not even sure I would want him as HC, at this point.

                As for him being team president, that sounds good at first (it did to me, anyway), but he’s been a failure in that roll (Cleveland) and as a GM (Seattle). I’m not sure if Holmgren is the answer.

    1. Holmgren would be perfect. He would know after a few games who should be on the field and who shouldnt. All facets of our game would be shored up. He would bring in the right people, and he would know how Walsh would go about Seattle-since it was Walsh who hired and trained him.
      And THAT is why he wont be hired.

        1. It reminds me of the cowboy who has forsaken using his guns, but has them packed in his saddle bags. (Child hood movies of course.)

          Then, after the bad guys have done something awful, he goes to his horse to unpack his twin six shooters. The kids (me) in the Saturday matinée go nuts.

          That’s Holmgren unpacking his six shooters. He helped some very good quarterbacks get the most out of their talent, but they came with that talent. If Holmgren had really wanted to be a coach for the past several years, he would have never tried to run the Cleveland operation.

          Of course, we’ll never know who’s right about Holmgren rebuilding the 49ers because he’s never going to get the chance — just as you pointed out. Until there is someone better in charge of football operations for Jed, all we’re doing is whining into the wind.

      1. Holmgren would not be perfect. He is a has been. That’s why no one has given him another opportunity due to his fiasco in Cleveland and in Seatle. Is he better then Tomsula sure. Unfortunately we can sit here and debate who the next coach can be but it will not happen anytime soon if us as fans continue to attend these games. Us as fans need to send a message and boycott all games. That’s the only power we have. This organization is embarrassment. If we want to get this turned around anytime soon it must start tommorow. STOP ATTENDING GAMES! This is the only way to get these A*** * .. attention. Support from home.

  13. Gee, Grant, are you sure you did not mean John Harbaugh? He might be available and he could fix the offensive malaise. i would want him because he went bold and fired his OC mid season, and won a SB.

  14. Since Jed is big on teaching, I’d like to see him try out for football…perhaps an arena or semi-pro team somewhere–under an assumed identity of course. That way, he could learn from football teachers–so he’d know a good football teacher when he comes across one. He could spend a few months working out first…get his 40 time under 6 sec and achieve 5 reps at 50lbs.

  15. I was taking you seriously until the end there. Funny.
    How about Lane Kiffin. Doing a great job as Alabama OC. Perhaps he’s learned some things from Saban. Maybe he’s grown up a bit.
    Also, they could do MUCH worse than Mora.

    1. That was pretty funny!

      I still think that if they had hired someone to call pass plays and kept roman for run plays that the offense would’ve been much better

      1. Forbes had an article about the richest women on the list, and it appears York was on the list prior to last year, and returns this year. She is ranked No. 358, with a net worth of $1.9 billion.

        When Eddie DeBartolo ran the team, he boosted the 49ers’ payroll to mythical proportions in the 1980s, accrued NFL fines for breaking rules, lavished Rolex watches on friends and players, and flew cross- country in the corporate jet on a whim. This way could not have been further from Denise DeBartolo York’s style

        John York,Education: Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago, University of Notre Dame, left academia to establish DeYor Laboratories in Boardman, Ohio, a partnership with his father-in-law, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr.
        Education: Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago, University of Notre Dame

        Paraag Marathe, MBA, Stanford, Al Guido, Gideon Yu.

        What’s do the above have in common?…All experts in the art of running a business and on board with Silicon Valley’s analytics or (Billy Ball) equation.

  16. TomD’s TakeAways:

    Meanwhile, at the tranquil 4949 Centennial Headquarters, Front Office Emplyees were enjoying their year of equanimity with Coach T, before that damn airplane with the sign flew over, riling up PSL holders…Why did they interrupt our continental breakfast they wondered, aghast!

    “Yeah, I love Tomsula,” Bowman added…Wide receiver Torrey Smith called Tomsula “a great guy”

    1. And, the Front Office, whose ego’s are legendary stated: “Well, if they can’t enjoy our product we made for them, let them eat cake!”

        1. Years passed like the Candlestick fog fans used to enjoy, now toiling under 15 more years of York Concessions–Gruel, Vegan Dogs, Cake, trudging up the York family Mausoleum steps, until one day–New Ownership–took place–Jed’s son.

  17. This is going to suck for a long time. Harbaugh was magic in the bottle. They want to win, but they want to win their way, and they’re mediocore football people. We all thought Jed was going to be the answer because he was the kid who sat on Joe Montana’s lap. But then winning got to his head, and he thought he deserved the credit.

    This team has some talent. The right coaching staff would know how to push players to maximize their potential. Coaches, by definition, are teachers. The HC is the leader and while the players may like Tomsula, he’s clearly not the best candidate for the job.

  18. It would be important to factor in that 1st, the 49ers are not firing Tomsula at the end of this season even if he stood on the side lines in his briefs. So, the list’s candidates’ availability could change the following season when a change would possibly be made.
    2nd, when the team hired Erickson, they had this to say, “We have found what we were looking for in a new coach: a leader, a motivator, a teacher, an individual with exceptional skills in coaching,” (Donahue said.) “Dennis Erickson has a long history of coaching winning teams, and I’m confident he’ll succeed in San Francisco.”
    Two seasons later, Erickson and Donahue were fired.
    Since John York had such a big hand in Erickson, the firing meant he also had to step out of the 49ers light. He started operating the team from the shadows until his son, Jed took over. In this instance, Baalke would have to go and Jed would have to find some way to either shrink away. His ego is too large to accomplish that just yet.
    I am surprised Jim Mora Jr hasn’t coached in the NFL again. Dallas, Miami, and San Diego look like good fits

    1. From the Desk of Jed York:
      Dear Grant,

      A stadium is built to make money, not spend money…You must be joking, Grant, if you think that list of your’s will force us to take our eye off the ball.
      Better redo, a list of local junior college coaches would be more palatable…Pass the Brie and Chardonnay please.

      1. From the Desk of Baalke, Marathe and Coach T:

        Baalke: Grant, I agree with Jed.

        Paraag: Grant, you’re not using analytics properly, redo the list using high school coaches–Jed just chewed me out.

        Tomsula: Grant, fighting for my job, OKAY!…We got Cinci, OKAY!….Rams should pull there starters, so I’ll start our’s and win out…Here we go….WHOOSH BOOM!

  19. How much money does Levi’s Stadium make exclusive of 49er football? Of that money, how big a cut do the Yorks get? Therein may lie the answer as to whether the Yorks are interested in 49er football. (Just drive me to the bank, please.)

  20. The only guy on that list I would even consider is Hugh Jackson. Maybe Koetter would be OK.

    Jim Mora Jr.? You cannot be serious. He was TERRIBLE as an NFL HC.

  21. I can see a vision somewhere in the fog. After all, fog was a part of 49er tradition at Kezar.

    Paraag has designed contracts for the coaching staff so that cutting a coach in his second year will not cost the team much in the way of buying out their contracts. Every two years, that would be next year for Tomsula, the head coach will be dismissed or reassigned sometime before the end of the year. Usually when the schedule looks a bit softer.

    Someone on the staff will be named interim HC and will win a “nation wide” search for a new HC. Jed will go another 18 months or so, and repeat far into the future. It’s analytics babe! It fits perfectly with “bargain priced” injured talent later in the draft.

    That means a supply of ex head coaches will be kept busy on the staff as position coaches in areas where they have little experience. Think of them as an in house talent pool being schooled on owner comfort.

    1. That was an interesting interview. On the blog here we often talk about guys adding weight/losing weight as if was trivial. Maybe for a few, but probably not for most as Tank explains. I believe PFF rated Tank out positively last game.

      It would be great if he could be an OLB with Lynch type stats.

      1. I hope they give him 20+ snaps each of the remaining games as an edge player to see if the lower weight and change of position helps him. I guess it goes without saying, but it would be very beneificial if he shows enough as an edge player to think he can be a key part of the OLB/DE rotation next season.

    2. “And with the weight thing, that was something real big. I feel like I didn’t move the same. I wasn’t comfortable. I just wasn’t comfortable being that heavy.”

      Thank you Tank. This is exactly what I’m always talking about when we’re discussing prospects and everyone assumes that players can just add 20-30 pounds to their bodies and not have it effect their performance on the field.

      1. That’s true, you’ve mentioned that a few times before. I tend to lean towards the idea these guys can bulk up a bit, but sounds like the 276 lbs Tank recorded at the combine was actually him after he’d already bulked up, not his natural weight. If he usually is around 260 – 265 lbs then asking him to get up to 290 – 300 is a big weight gain, so not surprised he is saying he didn’t feel right.

        If Tank had naturally been 275 – 280 lbs then having him get up to around 290+ shouldn’t have been a big issue. Its not uncommon for 3-4 DEs in the NFL to make that sort of weight gain from college.

        I think this is also a good excuse for Tank as to why it didn’t work out for him inside. I still think his biggest issue was technique. Though I’m sure the added weight did have an impact on his movement.

        1. “I tend to lean towards the idea these guys can bulk up a bit,”
          No question, a lot of these boys are hitting the NFL before their bodies have even finished filling out. Putting on 10-15 pounds of NFL muscle isn’t packing on weight their frame wasn’t made for but just them hitting their natural ceiling.

          The thing with Tank is. My fear is that when he got to the league he was right in between and the coaches evaluated him and rather then have him drop down to the 265 range and be an OLB they felt his best chance was to bulk up and be a DE. Generally speaking the 3-4 OLB has a bigger role and is a more skill and physical intensive position. Typically it’s harder to get good rush 3-4 linebackers then it is to get a good 3-4 DE(lets not get into a debate on how accurate that is, i said generally speaking). My main point is that if they had him at that cross roads and they decided he was better suited to be a DE then a) that does say something about their overall evaluation of him and b) they clearly felt his skill set was better suited for the line.

          Now could those coaches be or have been wrong at that time. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Tank can’t perform this reversion back to his former self I’m just saying that at one point when it would have been better to do so they felt he was better off putting on the weight and playing on the line.

    1. Most of it stems back to that Chicago game. The first TD no one could have stopped. I thought it almost criminal that Fangio put the rookie Ward on Marshall in the endzone without any help . I wonder how much that game affected his psyche at the time.

      Also, it was telling that Fangio thought so highly of Ward as a rookie that he pretty much named him the starting slot CB early on (if memory serves me correctly).

      1. You’re absolutely right cubus. That Bears game, his second career start, drew a massive over reaction by some fans.

        However, I also think there are some that criticise him because they don’t see the big splash plays from him, and he occasionally gets beat. A bit of an exaggeration for effect here, but basically the only time we see Ward if we aren’t intentionally looking for him is when he gets beat, so some fans think he must be rubbish all the time. The media is partly to blame for this as well, as they have rarely praised him until recently, and been quick to point out his short comings.

        Now that he’s had an INT, and he had that huge tackle near the goal line against the Falcons that helped win the game, he is starting to get a bit more recognition for positive plays, which in turn is also leading to fans and the media discussing how he’s actually been pretty good all year without making a lot of big plays.

  22. Pretty good list of coach prospects. I like mora. I also like Malzahn. I sort of like josh mcdaniels, but am still puzzled by the tebow pick in the first. WHat about Mike smith , falcons HC.

    Anyway, we need to get rid of baalke first. That is priority number 1

  23. Mora assessment is 100% accurate, he’s no leader of men.

    Won’t the Carolina coaches be in demand?

    Write the check, and get Bill Cowher. Nine seasons with 10 or more wins. Studio analyst must suck for former coaches. “When you finish a sentence Bill, I need you to smile,” says an intern.


  24. We need to correct the mistake and get Adam Gase as head coach. He’s done great with Cutler. Then sign Jeffrey WR as a FA. I wonder last year if they were afraid he’d run a spread offense wanting to pass all the time. We heard Baalke wants to run the ball. I wonder if the Chicago game was his next audition. They ran much more than I expected. I wish they could pry Fangio lose to come back.
    Harbaugh was good for awhile but the Kaep anchor around his neck sunk his changes being here ever again.

  25. Bevell would be a huge improvement over current coaching, but he’s probably first in line for the head coach position at BYU. The 49ers have been going down hill ever since they signed Stevie Johnson. That guy is a jinx, his whole career is about ruining teams. Just glad he left after one season.

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