Minority policy? What policy?
February 02, 2003
The ongoing tale of Steve Mariucci long ago reached the hyper-tedious stage, but as we know all too well, that doesn't mean that this is where it ends.
Fear not, though. This will not be another gruesome explanation of how he won too many games to be fired, or that he called too many running plays to keep his job, or that the 49ers have fallen into the first trap of management - - that knowing what you don't like is not the same as knowing what you do want.
This is how Mariucci, the deeply flawed failure in San Francisco, has managed to achieve the greatest backward compliment a modern-day NFL coach can receive.
Namely, to be such a lock for the job that the semirequirement that minority candidates be interviewed can be ignored.
In this case, we speak of the Detroit Lions and team president Matt Millen, who wants Mariucci in the same way that you hope the guy from Visa calls and forgives your Christmas debt.
Millen even went to what seems the extraordinary length of firing his own coach, Marty Mornhinweg, specifically because Mariucci had been fired in San Francisco.
In fairness, we should mention that Mariucci won 56 more games than Mornhinweg, and 18 more in the past two years. Still, Mornhinweg was going to be retained for a third year in Detroit, right up until the other shoe dropped in San Francisco -- the one that met Mariucci across his hinder and sent him skidding out to Centennial Boulevard.
All of which is fine, except that Mariucci is going to get the Lions' job without any difficulty. And the word "difficulty" includes "opening the job to minority candidates."
The last time this happened, Bill Parcells whistled through Jerry Jones' stringent hiring practices in Dallas -- "Whatever you want, and however much of it you need." There were complaints that Jones didn't follow league policy viz. interviewing qualified minority candidates, but the countervailing argument was, "Hey, this is Bill Parcells we're talking about here."
And now, Steve Mariucci is getting the same free skate, simply by virtue of being Steve Mariucci.
Which is odd, considering how much being Steve Mariucci counted for him in San Francisco.
Now you may make the point that all the teeth in the NFL's minority-hiring policy can be found in a glass next to the league's nightstand. You may also make the point that employment is strictly a matter between boss and job- seeker.
Both valid viewpoints. Both well worth an all-night debate, at least as long as someone makes sure to tip the waitress.
But let's stop for a moment along the way and consider that this exemption for time served is supposed to be left for coaches with a long and proud history. You know, like Parcells.
Mariucci was fired less than a month ago, and we do mean "fired." Prince Regent John York dropped the anvil less than 48 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did to the 49ers what they did two weeks later to the Oakland Raiders.
Yet, he's such a slam dunk in Detroit that even Shaquille O'Neal would turn it down as too easy, and go for the finger roll instead.
Therefore, one of the following things has just happened:
-- The road around the minority interview has been widened to include "Anyone the general manager wants," the way it included Phil Garner when the Tigers looked for a replacement manager four years ago.
-- Millen has sadly miscalculated, because Mariucci is about to find out what George Seifert found out in Carolina, or:
-- Mariucci is a hell of a lot bigger deal than the ingrates of San Francisco realize.
We're pretty sure that the first one is true, but we won't know about the second until Mariucci is hired and has had a fair chance to de-louse the Detroit roster.
But the third? Well, the rest of the nation always thought the 49ers were nuts to get rid of a coach who helped provide the kind of record Bengals fans would do anything to have, even if it meant crawling shirtless across Nebraska covered in hot tar.
This development would seem to validate that notion. Even if Mariucci is no Parcells (and he isn't), someone likes him an awful lot, enough to wave off the NFL office and its lip-service to minority coaching candidates policy. And if it wasn't the Lions, it would be someone else soon enough.
Whatever else this means, only three years' football will tell. But this much we do know:
The 49ers don't have a coach, and are light years away from having one. Right about now, they'd probably interview Mariucci for the job. They hear he's an unusually hot candidate.
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