Contra Costa Times

Mariucci gets quick kick
January 16, 2003
Philosophical differences bring about coach's firing

By Cam Inman

SANTA CLARA - Steve Mariucci's six-year stint as 49ers coach came to a surreal end Wednesday when he was fired by 49ers owner representative John York during a morning meeting at team headquarters.

Mariucci, who led the 49ers to the playoffs in four of six seasons and helped them out of salary cap purgatory, was scheduled to make $2.2 million next season in the final year of his contract.

"I didn't think that it was best to have a lame duck coach," York said in a conference call with reporters, several of whom were downstairs at the team facility while he was upstairs. "I thought it was best to have a coach that we are fully committed to."

Despite his charm, Mariucci finally succumbed to the rumors about him being on the outs, part of which stemmed from reports during the 2001 season about his inability to coexist with general manager Terry Donahue and team consultant Bill Walsh.

"There is enough noise around here now for the last two years about Steve being the coach, and Steve vs. Bill, and Steve vs. Terry," York said. "And now, we love Steve. It is just too much noise. You can't be doing all this stuff and move the team along."

In citing "philosophical differences" for Mariucci's dismissal, York said his decision was based more on the team's business structure than the 49ers' on-field production.

Specifically, he said Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan, told him in a Dec. 30 meeting at St. Louis that Mariucci wanted to tack on the title of vice president of football operations when John McVay retires from that post, in which he serves as the team's chief contract negotiator.

During earlier contract talks in December 2001, York said Mariucci first brought up his desire for more control over personnel matters, and that O'Hagan reiterated Mariucci's stance during a 11/2-hour meeting before the regular-season finale in St. Louis.

O'Hagan denied there were ever "negotiations about any new job description. No demands. No nothing. ... The purpose of the meeting in St. Louis was for me to meet Dr. York and to pass on data about coaching compensation."

Mariucci, in his first interview upon his firing, told's Len Pasquarelli: "I'm surprised to listen and learn that (his purported request for more power and the title of director of football operations) was an issue at all. I guess I'm shocked to hear that part of it."

An hour-long phone call Monday night between Mariucci and York apparently sealed the coach's fate. York claimed Mariucci stood by his "demand" to inherit McVay's role if it became available.

"It just seemed to be that no matter what came up, Steve and I did not see things together," York said.

Added Donahue: "I got a call late Monday night, and John expressed to me he had very strong concerns about going forward with Steve."

York then flew to the Bay Area from his home in Youngstown, Ohio, and he said he already had made up his mind on Mariucci's dismissal before they met for 11/2 hours Wednesday.

"There was no shouting, no door-slamming. It was very professional," a team source said of the day's events.

Mariucci met with his staff before making a bizarre exit from the facility, being driven away in a black passenger van with no windows in the back and a curtain behind the driver's seat. A camera from atop a television crew's van peered over a wall and into the private parking lot, where it caught Mariucci climbing into the van.

"I'm just surprised and saddened," Mariucci told "I didn't see it coming. Really, I didn't. I have a lot of admiration for this place, and I've invested a lot here. So, sure, I wanted to stay and finish what we had set out to do."

Several of his players also expressed surprise when they heard the news, including Mariucci's longtime nemesis, wide receiver Terrell Owens. Although he wasn't available for comment, Owens was "disappointed" at Mariucci's firing, a team source said.

"It's very tough for me," third-year cornerback Ahmed Plummer said. "He's the only coach I've had in the NFL."

Considering how young the 49ers are, the majority of them have played only under Mariucci. Of the 53 players on the season-ending roster, 36 have played solely for Mariucci.

What are Mariucci's plans, other than addressing the media today at 10:30 a.m. at the team's training complex?

Early speculation connected Mariucci to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the only NFL team with a coaching vacancy. But Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said he doesn't consider Mariucci a candidate, telling the Associated Press: "His agent told us that Steve's interest right now is taking some time off and doing some broadcasting."

York said Mariucci will receive the $2.2 million he was scheduled to make in 2003, but that he "would probably be forfeiting part of it" if he coaches elsewhere in the NFL.

The 49ers can't gain compensation from any NFL team interested in acquiring Mariucci, a result of a league-issued moratorium that went into effect this week.

"The commissioner sent a memo to clubs yesterday and the bottom line is it places a moratorium on trading draft choices in exchange for releasing somebody from his employment contract, non players," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "There was a concern whether this practice undermines the integrity of the draft."

Having learned earlier in the week about the league's new policy, which prevented the 49ers from getting compensation from another team that may have wanted Mariucci, York went through with his emotional decision.

Donahue was asked if the moratorium should be called "The Mariucci Rule." He replied: "I don't know. I might get fined. I'm not going there."

York said Donahue will spearhead the team's coaching search, with Walsh and McVay providing assistance. Donahue said he plans to meet individually with the nine assistant coaches who remain under contract for 2003 to learn their interest in replacing Mariucci.

Defensive coordinator Jim Mora, whose father -- also named Jim Mora -- formerly coached the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, is likely the top in-house coaching candidate, and he's believed to be very interested in the position, the team source said. Mora is also believed to have good relationships with York and Donahue.

Former Stanford and Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green announced on ESPN that he was interested in replacing Mariucci, calling himself part of "the 49ers family." Green served as the 49ers receivers coach in 1979 and 1986-88.

Will the new coach be required to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl, something Mariucci failed to do?

"I don't think that we are in a position to say whether we are able to win a Super Bowl or not," Donahue said. "We've made good progress. We've taken a team and restructured the personnel. Eighty-five percent of the team is new from 1998. We've got as many Pro Bowlers as anybody in the (NFL).

"We have a good solid team, but again, this was not a performance-related issue."

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