Firing shocks 49ers players
January 16, 2003
Mariucci got the word from the TV, not York
Kevin Lynch, Chronicle Staff Writer
One player strode into Steve Mariucci's office Wednesday morning and asked for an offseason schedule. The head coach happily complied. A few hours later, Mariucci was meeting with owner John York, who fired him.
The 49ers coach was in his office when he heard of his demise on television.
A source said he was angered the press was told first. He then met with owner York for 1 1/2 hours or so before packing up his office and talking on the phone to players and family.
Players were stunned to hear the news. Defensive end Sean Moran stood in front of the 49ers' facility after receiving treatment on his injured Achilles, and said he was shocked.
"He is just a great human being," Moran said. "You can talk to him on a daily basis. My daughter got sick and then there was not a day that went by that he didn't ask about her."
For the critics who said Mariucci was too soft, Moran had this answer: "He was just a great coach and a wonderful human being. He wasn't one of those dictator types. I play harder for coaches like that because you know that coach will go to bat for you."
Tackle Scott Gragg didn't know Mariucci was fired until he returned home after doing errands in the morning. Three messages on his phone machine blared the news.
"I was really surprised," Gragg said. "I knew they (York and Mariucci) were going to have a conversation. I didn't think it would be just one."
On his weekly appearance on a Portland radio station Monday, Gragg was touting his head coach. "I told them that I couldn't say enough about him. We won 10 games, won a playoff game and we had all those injuries. I think our winning is directly attributable to him."
Linebacker Derek Smith went to Mariucci's office Tuesday before flying to visit his parents in Utah. Knowing it was possible that Mariucci would leave, Smith told him what a pleasure it was to play for him.
"I think he's a great coach," Smith said. "I don't know who they are going to find who's going to do any better than he did."
After their meeting, Mariucci went into a room where York was and said, "Thank you." York then thanked Mariucci and the two men embraced, according to a witness.
Hearing the news, some players went by his office personally, including wide receiver Terrell Owens, tackle Derrick Deese and defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield.
The question for the 49ers now is: Who will be their next head coach?
Apparently 49ers consultant Bill Walsh is pushing for former Stanford and Vikings head coach Dennis Green. However, a source said York is resistant to Green.
If Green were hired, he would have an interesting time dealing with Owens. Green was critical of Owens this year, and Owens responded by saying "Denny Green couldn't even handle Randy Moss."
Carolina defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio graduated from Hayward High and is an up-and-coming coach. But sources say Del Rio has the inside track on the Jacksonville job and was seen huddling with his agent Gary O'Hagan in a Mobile, Ala., hotel lobby.
Many coaches, agents and scouts were in Alabama for this weekend's Senior Bowl. O'Hagan, by the way, also represents Mariucci and Green.
Even former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo weighed in on who he would hire, in an interview with KNBR radio.
"I know who I'd go for, I'd go for Bobby Stoops," DeBartolo said of the University of Oklahoma coach. "He's from Youngstown, and we've known the family, he's a good kid and his family is superior."
Seattle coach and San Francisco native Mike Holmgren could be a candidate, but sources say it would be difficult for him to get out of his contract.
The 49ers said they will look internally as part of their search. Names that jump off the list are defensive coordinator Jim Mora, offensive line coach Pat Morris, receivers coach George Stewart and possibly quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner, who has been a head coach at USC and San Diego State.
York said African American candidates will also be examined closely. That means current Notre Dame coach and former Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham could be getting a call.
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