Contra Costa Times

49ers have coach Bucs courted
January 09, 2003
By Cam Inman

SANTA CLARA - Bay Area reporters huddled around a phone Wednesday at the 49ers facility to talk with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach via a conference call.

Eleven months ago, that coach figured to be Steve Mariucci, whom the 49ers allowed to speak with the Buccaneers about becoming their coach and general manager.

Eleven months later, it's Jon Gruden who's coached the Buccaneers to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and Sunday's divisional matchup against Mariucci and the visiting 49ers.

"The whole picture is kind of a funny story line," 49ers center Jeremy Newberry said, "but when it comes down to playing the game, it won't mean jack squat."

Have Gruden and Mariucci -- assistants with the Green Bay Packers in the mid-1990s -- rehashed the stunning developments that took place in mid-February regarding the Bucs' coaching search?

"We've never talked about that subject at all," said Gruden, who in effect was traded by the Raiders to Tampa Bay. "We've talked a couple times professionally and a couple times as friends. We have never brought that topic up.

"It's obviously something that is done and over with. I'm sure he's very excited to be where he is and I'm very excited to be where I am."

Mariucci is fresh from arguably his greatest win in six seasons as 49ers coach, having guided them to the second-largest comeback victory in NFL playoff history -- a 39-38 triumph over the New York Giants on Sunday.

The 49ers thus earned a trip to Tampa Bay this weekend, forcing Mariucci down memory lane regarding the Buccaneers' flirtation with him.

"Until now, this week, it really hasn't crossed my mind," he said Monday.

Asked Wednesday how he envisioned the 2002 Buccaneers when he interviewed with their executives, Mariucci responded: "I didn't envision. I knew all about their defense. But I never concerned myself with their personnel."

When another reporter asked Mariucci about this being an "ironic matchup," he said: "This is the matchup -- 49ers against the Bucs, Grudes is over there on that sideline and me over here on this sideline. It's a playoff game. Let's tee it up."

Mariucci opted to remain a 49er despite the Buccaneers' lucrative offer, reportedly a four- to six-year deal worth more than $5 million annually.

On Valentine's Day, the Buccaneers officially began their courtship of Mariucci. They contacted 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, who then informed 49ers owner Denise DeBartolo York and her husband, owner's representative John York, of the Buccaneers' interest.

The next day, the Yorks granted Mariucci permission to talk with the Buccaneers, with Donahue calling it "an opportunity that is unique" for Mariucci because it offered the dual role of coach and general manager.

On Feb. 17, Mariucci met for six hours in a Beverly Hills suite with Buccaneers brass, including owner Malcolm Glazer and his sons Bryan and Joel, who serve as club executives.

Unable to finalize terms with Mariucci, the Glazers got into the Rodeo Drive spirit and splurged. They called Raiders senior partner Al Davis at approximately 10 p.m., and after agreeing to his demands (two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and $8 million), they had Gruden fax his signature on a contract before sunrise.

"I've been around football long enough not to be surprised by things like that," Gruden said of that day's developments.

Said 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia: "It would have been a huge loss for us to lose coach Mariucci because of what we were starting to establish here. For that to change in a matter of hours, it was a weird scenario. ... For a second, I thought we lost our coach. Then it turned out it was the Raiders who lost theirs."

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