Contra Costa Times

Right thing is to keep Mariucci
January 13, 2003

TAMPA, Fla. - The 49ers were far more impressive after their 31-6 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday than they were during it.

Of course, that defeat set a pretty feeble standard. Assuming no one slipped on a bar of soap in the shower (and no one did), anything they did after the game was sure to compare favorably to what happened on the field. And, more precisely, with what didn't.

So it came to pass. The 49ers did all the wrong things in their postseason exit interview with the Buccaneers, then said all the right things afterward. Especially when addressing the status of their head coach.

"To sit here and throw rocks at the coach after winning a division championship and winning a playoff game, I think that's foolish," said 49ers owner-in-law John York.

That, for the benefit of those of us who haven't had the pleasure lately, would qualify as a voice of reason. It's an especially meaningful voice, coming from the man who ultimately will determine Mariucci's fate with the 49ers -- either by extending his contract, which has one season to run, by declining to extend his contract, thereby sending a pointedly unmistakable message, or by firing him, a fairly inconceivable option at this point.

Too many people who lack York's insight or clout have done too much verbal rock throwing on the subject of Mariucci's job status, starting four years ago when the 49ers lined up for a home playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. The word on the street that day was a loss would get Mariucci fired and replaced by the coach on the opposing sideline, a certain Mike Holmgren.

The 49ers won -- on a 25-yard touchdown pass with three seconds to play. Mariucci lived to be the subject of unfounded speculation another day.

That day arrived more than a year ago, when Mariucci's overtures for a contract extension, as told to his agent, were met with frosty silence by team executives. It has continued almost nonstop since.

There has been talk of Notre Dame, of Stanford, of Tampa Bay (a job he inquired about personally last offseason, with York's express written consent), of Michigan State, of the need to win at least one playoff game (which the 49ers did, with a 24-point comeback), of Cincinnati, of Jacksonville.

The speculation has been largely uninformed. On the other hand, it's quick, easy and helps pass the time. Which is why, as Sunday's game droned on through the fourth quarter, the Fox broadcast team chimed in with its take, voiced over obligatory press box shots of team consultant Bill Walsh and his young ward, general manager Terry Donahue.

It was the subject of the hour afterward, too, in large part because the game wasn't worth dissecting.

Mariucci, looking like a man who had just been rescued from an emotional riptide, didn't equivocate when asked if he was committed to the 49ers.

"I am," he said. "What we need to do is get home, take a look at where we are and let things settle down a little bit. Then John and I will sit down and discuss some things at the right time. Is there a need to hurry? No."

Is there a need to do something between now and the start of training camp to prevent Mariucci from starting next season as a contractual lame duck?

"If that's the scenario that's most acceptable to everybody," Mariucci said of the lame duck option, "then I guess that's the scenario."

Not a bad answer. Here's a better one:

"I don't think that's a good possibility, but it's a possibility," York said. "I don't think that's the way it should be."

What should happen is Mariucci should be given an extension and a raise, both for his work and in recognition of the fact he divested himself of leverage last March when he made the family-oriented decision to stay in the Bay Area rather than pursue the Tampa Bay job more aggressively.

The guy wants to coach here. He deserves to coach here. With few exceptions -- Walsh and his young ward come to mind -- everybody in the 49er family seems to want him to coach here.

"I would like to see him back," linebacker Julian Peterson said. "But it's not my decision. It's up to the general manager and the (front office). It's up to coach Mariucci and how he feels about the situation. Hopefully, everything turns out the way we want it to be."

"I think we can get it worked out," York said.

An outstanding effort -- far better than anything the 49ers managed on the field Sunday.

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