Contra Costa Times

Job could lose appeal after Mariucci ordeal
January 17, 2003

SANTA CLARA - The head coach's office at the 49ers practice facility is an impressive piece of work. Among other things, it's enormous. So when it came time Wednesday to pack six years of memories into cardboard boxes, Steve Mariucci brought in his wife to help.

At some point in the process, it occurred to him that he'd seen that act played out in that room before.

"We were in that office when George and Linda Seifert were packing up boxes," Mariucci said Thursday. "In some ways it seems like forever ago. So much has transpired and gone on."

Later, Mariucci said: "By the way, George and I are going to go fishing."

Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the ol' 10-pound test when those two former 49ers coaches drop a line in the water? Wouldn't you love to hear them compare sackings -- Seifert forced out by Eddie DeBartolo after compiling the winningest record (by percentage) in NFL history, and Mariucci shown the door by John York after playoff seasons of 12-4 and 10-6?

The details would be fascinating. The overview, however, already is visible from here.

The 49ers' coaching job isn't the plum it used to be.

Mariucci, classy and borderline upbeat in his first public appearance since being fired Wednesday, referred to the 49ers job as a "nugget." Perhaps. Six years ago Thursday, upon taking the job, he called it a jewel. At this rate of decline it will be a piece of kibble by decade's end.

Mariucci is right -- a lot has happened since that weird January day six years ago when Seifert was squeezed out so Mariucci could be hustled in. The 49ers have new owners, a new front office, a new Pro Bowl quarterback, a new demanding receiver.

This much of Seifert's experience remains relevant -- the organization not only believes it invented the Super Bowl, it believes it retains the game's proprietary rights. It's an unreasonable standard, and it continues to hang over the head coach. That should trouble the men who endeavor to replace Mariucci.

Even more troubling would be the revelation of exactly what kind of owner the new coach will be working for. Mariucci spoke with York after Sunday's playoff loss in Tampa Bay. He spoke with him by phone Monday night, and by phone again Tuesday morning. The two met in person for nearly two hours Wednesday morning, even as the 49ers were announcing there would be a press conference to announce a coaching change.

And Mariucci still has no clue why he was whacked.

York talked about a difference in philosophy. "I'm not sure exactly what that means," Mariucci said. "When he talked to me the other day it was about seeing different colors or something. He'd have to answer that."

From Mariucci's perspective -- and we'll repeat the assertion that he is more believable than any executive currently on the 49ers payroll -- York was supportive and encouraging after Sunday's loss, but confrontational when he telephoned from Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday night.

"I was home sitting on the couch watching 'Joe Millionaire,'" Mariucci said. The phone rang, and soon Mariucci was getting an earful from John Millionaire.

"He seemed to be upset as soon as I said hello," Mariucci said. "I don't know how or when that got started. Judging by the tone of his voice, he was very angry. There was not a lot of dialogue back and forth. There was more listening on my part. I was as baffled by that conversation as I could be."

York flew to the Bay Area for a meeting with Mariucci on Wednesday. "His mind was made up before we met, evidently," Mariucci said. "Every team has an owner, and it's his prerogative who is going to be his coach. It happens."

When that owner exercises his prerogative foolishly, it diminishes the stature of his head coaching position. And York was foolish in letting Mariucci go.

He said on-field performance was not an issue. His claim that Mariucci had a blood thirst for power continues to ring hollow. Clearly, somebody got in York's ear between Sunday afternoon and Monday evening, but York won't say who or why.

From a practical standpoint, it isn't likely to adversely affect the 49ers -- yet. There are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs, and only a fraction come open each season. It will attract widespread interest in the coming weeks.

But with each impulsive firing, with each coach who isn't sure why he's being shown the door, the job becomes less and less appealing.

Especially when compared to going fishing.

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