Season Record: 2-14
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Notables: Salary cap and personnel concerns forced the release of stars like quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Terrell Owens, and running back Garrison Hearst the offseason prior. San Francisco would finish last in the division for the first time since 1979.
And the worst of the worst team is...
The 2004 49ers!
This is probably still a fresh memory for most 49er fans—or perhaps it is not. If those fans are anything like me, they have certainly done their best to erase the 2004 season from memory. In fact, they have probably obliterated anything from the Dennis Erickson era from their minds altogether.
Like the 1978 49ers, the seeds of debacle were sown years before the season actually began. A series of poor decisions, both atop the organization and from within, thwarted any chance of success and set the course in motion for the most disastrous season in 49ers history.
It all began in 2000 when Ed DeBartolo Jr. sold the team to the York family and John York became the new CEO of the franchise. San Francisco would then have a number of up-and-down moments over the next couple of years.
Highlighting some of the lows was the friction that had started to develop between York and head coach Steve Mariucci, who had taken over the position after George Seifert retired in 1997.
The tension eventually came to a boiling point after 2002, and York had 49ers general manager Terry Donahue part ways with Mariucci following the season, despite the former head coach's successes with the team.
Of the decision, according to ESPNcdn.com, Donahue said:
The relationship eroded over time. It's been strained for the last year, going back to when Steve [Mariucci] wanted a new contract, and some of the things that rose out of that.
After Mariucci's departure, San Francisco would not have a winning coach again until 2011.
While there were a number of possible candidates who could have filled the void, Donahue, instead,hired longtime collegiate head coach, and two-year head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Dennis Erickson.
I have always felt that there are some coaches who can excel at the collegiate level, but, for whatever reason, cannot transfer the same success over the NFL level. Erickson may be a perfect example of this.
Even the 49ers' top brass questioned the move. Shortly after the announcement, Ira Miller of SF Gate.com reported that York had questioned the move at the beginning by writing:
York also said that Erickson "probably was not close to the top candidate when we first started" looking for a coach. York said he did not know exactly how Donahue ranked the original candidates, however, because he, York, did not get involved in the coaching stage until the list was whittled.
Nonetheless, Erickson was in as the new head coach, and the team would try to do its best rolling forward, despite the fact that Erickson's hiring was largely criticized by the fans and media.
Further complicating the 49ers' situation was the fact that the team had gotten itself into a lot of trouble with player contracts and the salary cap. The 2003 49ers draft class also yielded poor results, both during the season and over the long-term.
Adding to this issue was a growing tension between starting quarterback Jeff Garcia and emerging wide receiver Terrell Owens. That combined with a series of injuries forced a 7-9 regular-season record in 2003.
Erickson was retained for 2004, yet a number of key players, including Garcia, Owens and star running back Garrison Hearst were not.
San Francisco tried to supplement the loss of these players through the 2004 draft, which included wide receiver Rashaun Woods, guard Justin Smiley, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and punter Andy Lee. Only Lee, Sopoaga, and, to a lesser extent, Smiley would have long-term impacts for the franchise.
As a result, San Francisco entered the season a complete mess, and it did not take long for that to happen.
During the course of the year, the 49ers were last in almost every significant category.
Their offense averaged only 16.2 points per game, good for 30th out of 32 teams. The defense was atrocious, giving up a total of 452 points over the year resulting in a scoring differential of -193 points, also last in the NFL. The 49ers were also 31st in the league in turnover differential, showing the ineptitude of its players to make plays.
Not one of the 49ers offensive players rushed or received more than 1,000 yards over the season, and the quarterbacking job was split between the unremarkable Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey.
At the end of the season, San Francisco finished with a 2-14 record with their only victories coming as overtime wins against the Arizona Cardinals.
Following the year's conclusion, both Erickson and Donahue were fired, and the search was on for a head coach who could help turn a franchise that had become a laughingstock back into a predominant force as it had been decades prior.
The season's results, in turn, led the way to the Mike Nolan era as well as the eventual drafting of future starters Alex Smith and Frank Gore who were drafted the following year.
Yet, the damage had been done, and the 49ers would continue through a long and painful stretch of bad coaching, poor personnel decisions and loftless results.
While 1978 was a terrible year for San Francisco, paralleling the demise of the 49ers in the first half of the 2000 decade, the 1978 team was able to recover in relatively quick succession, thanks in measure to the head coaching of Bill Walsh and the drafting and development of players like Joe Montana and Dwight Clark.
In 2004, however, the demise of the franchise would take over six years to repair. There would be no miracle turnaround, and San Francisco would not find winning ways until another former Stanford coach named Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011.
Peter Panacy is a Featured Columnist covering the 49ers for Bleacher Report. Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.