York dropped the ball on this call
January 16, 2003
JOHN YORK is a man who doesn't know what he doesn't know, but in his arrogance, blunders ahead, anyway.
Eddie DeBartolo certainly wasn't easy to deal with either in the '80s, when his rages often had Bill Walsh wondering whether he should show up at work the next day.
But Eddie finally backed off and brought in Carmen Policy and let professionals do the organization's work. Oh, that York would do the same, but he insists on involving himself in every aspect of the 49ers, even the football operations, where he's clueless.
He's annoyed 49ers insiders since his wife, Denise DeBartolo York, finalized agreement to get Eddie out of the DeBartolo Corporation hierarchy, with York taking charge of the team.
York was certain from the start that he knew all there was to know about running a football team. In our very first conversation, he said he'd have coaching advice for Steve Mariucci and that it was harder to run a racetrack than a football franchise. Of course, racetracks don't have a salary cap, jockeys get paid only if they win, and horses don't have agents.
He instituted petty savings, cutting out Christmas bonuses to employees, for instance. He drove Walsh crazy with a succession of memos suggesting what Walsh should be doing.
When Peter Harris was hired as president, you could hear the sigh of relief from inside the 49ers facility. For a time, Harris was an effective buffer, because York made his suggestions to Harris, instead of other employees. Lately, though, Harris has been bypassed, and it seems he'll be leaving.
And York is once again making football decisions, as he did Wednesday in firing Mariucci.
This was a unilateral decision, though Walsh earlier had talked to Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver about Mariucci.
Walsh wasn't involved in the Mariucci decision, and he didn't even know it had been made. When a reporter called Walsh's office to try to get a comment, his secretary was obviously surprised by the news and said, "I'll have to tell Bill."
You can also ignore the claims that Terry Donahue undercut Mariucci. In one- on-one conversations with Donahue, starting before he was officially named general manager, I've found him to be straightforward and candid, though asking that some more touchy comments be kept off the record.
He's told me, as he said at Wednesday's session, that he and Mariucci were not always in agreement on players and coaching strategies, but that they respected each other. He had not been scheming behind Mariucci's back.
Donahue had to conduct the news conference Wednesday because York had a prior business meeting (though he talked with reporters on a conference call later), and the general manager was clearly uncomfortable with his role, especially since he had had no hand in the decision.
York's unilateral actions have shredded what was once a very close-knit 49ers organization, almost like family, and also undermined Donahue, who may eventually leave because of it. If the owner is making the big decisions, why should he stay as a powerless GM, when he could get good offers from other teams?
The statement released from York was laughable. It claimed "philosophical differences" and alluded to Mariucci wanting to have more control of personnel.
It would have been a mistake to give Mariucci more voice in player evaluations because that's not his strength. One example: Donahue was prepared to release J.J. Stokes and sign another wide receiver in the spring of 2002 if that's what Mariucci wanted, but Mariucci told him he was satisfied with his receivers group.
Mariucci claims he had dropped the idea of needing more control and had said he would stay on just to coach (NFL insiders back that up). York admitted in the conference call that Mariucci had not mentioned needing more control when they talked Monday night, but it was that telephone call that made York decide to fire him.
Why? The philosophical differences, York said, included how assistant coaches were evaluated. Once again, the good Dr. York knows more than the coach who has spent his life in football.
When Tampa Bay pursued Mariucci early last year, Donahue quickly put together a short list of coaching candidates. This time, though, York's decision took Donahue so much by surprise that he has no candidates.
The 49ers can get a good coach, if York listens to Donahue and Walsh. Will he? Don't bet on it. Ignorance and arrogance are a deadly combination.
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