As the single most winnable game remaining for the year, and with Carolina riding a 5 game losing streak, this is either where we turn things around to try to make the rest of the year respectable, or things start to look so hopeless that nothing will save things for quite some time.
Vinny Testaverde starts, amidst some hope for the interception-prone Matt Moore (who has 3 INT in only 22 attempts), which is for the best. Testaverde is the best hope to win a football game, and this team needs a win a lot more than it needs to see whether an undrafted player unlikely to be on the team in two years is "the future".
SF is soft up front- Frank Gore's support is gone, the line is awful and soft. They're 30th in yards, and in the 30s in most offensive categories. The X-factor is Trent Dilfer, who's put up 250 yards and 2 TD in the last two games (one of which, however, also had 3 INT). Alex Smith had struggled in the year as well, and the team just hasn't been what it was last year. Gore is a solid back, and extra attention must be placed on Vernon Davis since the SF receivers are so pedestrian. The 49ers' line is also bottom quarter of the league in pass protection, but blitzing Dilfer isn't the way to go.
One way to turn things around that hasn't been mentioned enough (thanks, Rich): New management with the existing coaching getting just one more chance. In the event that Jerry Richardson determines that the product on the field is because of inferior talent and not coaching, or that the offensive coaching would benefit from a more realistic situation to be evaluated, Fox would be expected to make minor adjustments to the staff (ST coach, namely), and the front office would be revamped.
In doing so, the ideal would be to either replace Marty Hurney, or bump him back down as a coordinator of services by hiring a Vice President. As VP, this person would be responsible to Mark Richardson and Jerry Richardson, whereas there's not a clear dichotomy between John Fox and Marty Hurney. If Fox were to be in danger of losing his job, he doesn't have to report to Hurney; Hurney, as a facilitator, essentially reports to Fox. While he had a hand in hiring Fox, Hurney's role isn't clear and doesn't hold any power. Because of that, Fox essentially had no checks and balances.
This person, besides having the ultimate power in the equation, would have one year to evaluate Fox and, if necessary, hire his replacement.
VP candidates: The big name is Bill Parcells. He would bring immediate excitement, a name, and certainly a good record of personnel evaluation. He's a figurehead, but a figurehead with responsibility that always runs a fair organization. Whether his people skills would be as desireable as an executive is hard to say, and whether he'd draw unnecessary attention to a coach (or away from a coach) would be dubious at best.
Nonetheless, it would be interesting, and when there's a lull, Jerry Richardson tends toward making things interesting. Parcells as coach and GM is harder to say, and at 66 he'd have to come with the guarantee of an heir-apparent for both positions.
Another VP candidate would be Ron Hill, current NFL VP/football operations and former Atlanta VP; Tom Heckert, Philadelphia GM.
GM candidates to keep an eye on: Hill; Reggie McKenzie, director of pro personel for Green Bay and former NFL player; Charles Bailey, Jaguars director of pro personel, former asst. GM in New Orleans.