San Francisco Chronicle

Some local role models for York
January 16, 2003
Ray Ratto

JOHN YORK'S first attempt at the popular carnival game Whack-A-Coach didn't go very well. In fact, it went so badly that the 49ers' owner and hot new public kick-me sign eventually had to excuse himself from his excuse for not attending the original press conference and have a conference call to say in less convincing tones what general manager Terry Donahue tried to say at the first press conference.

Now repeat that five times fast.

He fired Steve Mariucci as his coach Wednesday, and rather than perform the duties of any good medical examiner ("He's room temperature now, and here's why"), he left it to Donahue, a breach of decorum even by the sub-minimal standards we set for our sports owners.

Neither man made a convincing case, which is pretty much the way Eddie DeBartolo, The Great-Unseen-Brother-In-Law, handled the George Seifert firing in 1997. In fact, Seifert got the big haircut at the Fairmont Hotel, while Mariucci got his at the Santa Clara compound, which if nothing else convinced some people six years ago that Seifert was leaving under his own power.

You'd have thought someone in the family would have researched this stuff a little better.

This is the first known case of double-dipping the press conference, and as such breaks new ground in what has become the Bay Area's new cottage industry - - public de-coaching. After all, six times in 10 months isn't a trend, it's a way of life.

We'll call York's first effort Translating The Translator -- York Explaining Donahue Explaining York. We don't anticipate seeing it again until it's been refined, and certainly not when there are other, more tried-and-true methods:

-- The smiling boa constrictor: Al Davis used this method in unhinging himself from Jon Gruden last February, squeezing draft choices and spending cash from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the right to lavish Gruden with all the money and power Davis would never bestow anyone but himself. Davis' great genius, though, was in marching out himself within hours of the deed to explain the firing and subsequent negotiations with Tampa in almost rib- cracking detail.

He gets points for standing up to explain himself, more points for grinding out the best deal, and bonus points for making it sound so utterly likely. Even media people trained to listen for the slightest inconsistency couldn't crack Davis' version of events. Points off for trying to convince people he was doing Gruden a favor by ejecting him from the mothership. That he replaced the hyper-popular Gruden with an apparent sleeper in Bill Callahan is not factored into the score. TOTAL POINTS (out of 100): 93.

-- We love you, we hate you, we love you . . . no, wait, go back one: A's owner Steve Schott wasn't nearly the critic of former manager Art Howe that his general manager, Billy Beane, was, but Beane couldn't have eased Howe toward New York without at least tacit approval from the boss. After a third consecutive playoff appearance that went south, Beane gave Howe permission to cut a deal with another team, then took it away, then re-granted it, all while Schott was making it clear that the security Howe had clearly merited for seven years' work was never coming from Oakland. Points for misdirection, points off for clumsy misdirection: TOTAL SCORE: 62.

-- Because I said so, that's why: Greg Jamison, the new managing general gadget with the Sharks, got points for showing up to explain why he fired the successful Darryl Sutter, but lost points for not having reasonable answers to questions like, "What the hell could you be thinking?" In fact, he still hasn't answered that one, given that Ron Wilson, Sutter's replacement, has all the problems Sutter had earlier this season, plus the power play has deteriorated.

The Sharks are no closer to a playoff berth than they were when Sutter was cacked, so we still don't have an answer, and results count. TOTAL SCORE: 46.

-- The icy, invisible hand of uncle death: Chris Cohan, who apparently owns the Warriors from the seventh dimension, has changed his coach as many times in eight years as Davis has in 38 years, and has usually left the unpleasant duty of master of ceremonies to general manager Garry St. Jean. He has fired them without notice, like Don Nelson, and after protracted limb-hanging, like Brian Winters.

His method rarely changes, and exempting current coach Eric Musselman, of whom the story cannot yet be written, it rarely succeeds for even as much as a half-season. Points for consistency. TOTAL SCORE: 37.

-- The acid rain approach: Peter Magowan had wearied of Dusty Baker long before Baker's cash-out with the Cubs, but he wanted the departure to seem to be all Baker's idea. Eventually . . . very eventually . . . it worked, convincing almost several people that Baker was at fault for a relationship Magowan ruined and made only half-hearted efforts to repair. Points for squeezing out a World Series, points off for leaving general manager Brian Sabean holding the press conference bag, big deduction for not letting the matter drop after Baker was cut loose. Then again, Magowan was never known as a master of the art of timing. TOTAL SCORE: 19.

And York's score? A disappointing 31, with points off for doing the media blitz twice, points off for a story that was easy to refute, and more points off for the "philosophical differences" cliche, which suggests Kierkegaard wrestling with Camus for the property rights to Wittgenstein's brain instead of what seems to be the fact -- that Donahue and Bill Walsh leaned on York until York caved in.

However, points in mitigation because this is York's first firing. If he isn't very careful, he may be doing this again soon.

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