Contra Costa Times

Mariucci's fate is subject of debate
January 05, 2003

Times like this make you wonder if Steve Mariucci ever regrets leaving Cal.

He could've built a nationally respected program in Berkeley right now. Who knows? He could be basking in the everlasting glow of Rose Bowl glory instead of having his every decision debated in newspapers and on sports talk radio.

Today's first-round playoff game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park may seal Mariucci's future -- unless it doesn't.

It all depends on the whim of the man who holds the official title of Denise's Husband. John York, owner Denise DeBartolo York's significant other, will ultimately make the decision.

York said earlier this week that one game will not determine whether Mariucci receives a contract extension. This comes from the head of the same organization that was willing to allow Mariucci to leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after last season, so take it for what it's worth.

If Mariucci was considered an asset, why would they allow him to interview elsewhere?

Anyway, public opinion is turning against the 49ers coach. Firing Mariucci may be a popular decision among season-ticket holders if the 49ers fall to the Giants today.

The question everyone must ask themselves is a fair one: Can Mariucci take this team to the next level?

Maybe he can and maybe he can't. The available evidence makes it impossible to know for sure, and that won't change regardless of the outcome of today's game.

That's why York should sign Mariucci to a one-year extension no matter how or when this season ends.

Those who argue that Mariucci should be fired if the 49ers fail to advance past the first round of the playoffs assume the 49ers as they are currently constructed are worthy of a better fate.

This is an unreasonable assumption after a careful examination of every playoff participant's roster, however.

The 49ers have similar talent to the 11 other teams that qualified for the playoffs. If the Giants and 49ers have comparable personnel, why should a first-round loss be such a disappointment?

To his credit, general manager Terry Donahue has been supportive of Mariucci this season. He is just trying to be positive when he replied to questions about the team's playoff chances with a question of his own.

"Why not us?"

Here's why: The pass defense is ranked 22nd in the league, there has been no consistent pass rush, the offense is short one reliable receiver and the special teams have been awful.

Criticism of Mariucci's unimaginative offense is fair enough, especially if it continues today, but Jeff Garcia should shoulder his share of the blame.

Garcia is the decision-maker on the field and is so obsessed with not making mistakes that he's more conservative than his coach.

Mariucci fell into the ultra conservative mode last season because he wanted to keep his inexperienced defense off the field.

It was a sensible strategy that resulted in 12 wins that helped create the unrealistic expectations that followed the 49ers into this season.

The defense should be able to stand on its own next season and could even develop into a formidable unit if additions are made on the defensive line and at cornerbacks, which means Mariucci can worry less about time of possession.

York could've avoided this ongoing drama by signing Mariucci to a one-year extension after last season.

Now York may choose to demand more offensive ingenuity and that certain assistant coaches be fired if he's not satisfied with performance before re-signing Mariucci after this season. It's common for owners to make such demands before re-signing coaches.

But all the talk about it being time for the 49ers to step up or else is hot air. This team is what it is: Ten wins and a division title should not be deemed a disappointment given the talent on hand.

That won't keep people from trying to answer the question that eludes us: Is Mariucci capable of leading the 49ers back to the top?

At this point we don't know if he is, but we don't know if he's not, either.

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.