Departed coach sheds little light on firing
January 17, 2003
STEVE MARIUCCI'S stick-and-move, quasi-coherent goodbye to the local media was moved from 49ers Interplanetary Headquarters to the Santa Clara Hilton, ostensibly because the room was bigger, but in fact to move the party away from the falling bodies back at the compound.
One day after Mariucci's firing as 49ers head coach, general manager Terry Donahue got about the business of reassigning Mariucci's assistants to other quadrants of the universe, starting with special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven and linebackers coach Richard Smith.
No time like the present, and all that. Little bookkeeping details like that keep a tidy organization and prevent those touchy philosophical problems that seemed to chap owner John York's relationship with the little coach.
Not that we know specifically what they are, because Mariucci's news conference was only slightly more informative than the Donahue-York arglebargle double-team of Wednesday.
He gave a few hints, sprinkling them toward the end of a stream-of- consciousness thank-you-fest (which, amazingly, included York), but the most interesting tidbit was a phone call he got from York while he was at home watching "Joe Millionaire" with his son.
Now me, I'd have fired him for that alone, but that's irrelevant to the facts of the case at hand.
"Joe Millionaire" comes on Mondays at 9 p.m. here in America, and York was back in Youngstown, O., three hours ahead as the globe spins. Thus, York called Mariucci after midnight his time, and if Mariucci is to be believed, in a particularly foul mood.
"He seemed to be upset as soon as I said hello," Mariucci said. "Judging by his tone of voice, he was very angry. He led me to believe that somewhere along the line, things had changed quickly. We spoke for 45 minutes to an hour,
and there was more listening than talking on my part. I was as baffled by that call as I could be."
Most times, when you get an angry call from someone after midnight, you can bet the caller has had a pop or five to crystallize the source of his temper. That, though, would be speculation, of which we have had more than our share in what has become an embarrassment of embarrassments.
In any event, York flew out the next day (you know, for that previously scheduled "business meeting" Donahue spoke of Wednesday), met with Mariucci on Wednesday morning, and the next thing you know, dead fish had been exchanged, and in Mariucci's not-entirely-convincing wide-eyed naif words, "John wants someone else to coach his football team."
Yeah, we figured that out already.
Mariucci could have been more forthcoming (he did say that the issue of the Jacksonville job had come up during the Midnight Ramble, even though he had made it clear he didn't want it then, let alone now), and more detailed (he said that the coaching staff was "an issue"), but he spent the most time on his suggestion that he could help do some of vice president for football operations John McVay's work when McVay retires.
McVay has been the team's lead negotiator on player contracts, but Mariucci said he didn't want any of that business. On the other hand, one could infer that as Donahue and cap capo Dominic Corsell take on McVay's contract duties, Mariucci could have more input in areas of relative triviality that often are covered by the general manager.
Or not. Mariucci didn't exactly say where his noncoaching interests lie (The training staff? The video operations? Security?), and it doesn't make any difference now anyway. McVay isn't going anywhere, Donahue gives up nothing, there's a new coach coming who isn't Jack Del Rio, and Mariucci's next contact with the 49ers will be to make sure the severance check clears.
Hey, it's a bloodless world out there, and neither Donahue, York nor Mariucci himself did much to shed any light on it. Donahue and York, you can understand, but Mariucci had no motivation not to spill at least a portion of his innards for us cheery reapers, and passed on it.
It's like those old Soviet-era photos, where someone fell out of favor with Joseph Stalin and was airbrushed away, as though he was never there -- although in most of those cases, the airbrushing was the best part of the demotion. Here, you just have to pay attention for the forwarding address.
As for Mariucci, think Bristol, Ct., on his way to maybe Miami, or Chicago, or any of eight other jobs likely to come open next winter (this year's class of four was below the league average, and four below the number for 2001).
He denied having made up his mind about a TV career until another coaching job arises, but we know he isn't getting into TV repair, and that sitting at home playing dutiful husband and father stuff wears pretty quickly on your average endorphin junkie.
And the 49ers? The man who takes Mariucci's job will come cheaper, he'll have less experience, and he'll know better than to ask the boss for something else to do in his free time.
And for damned sure, he'll get Caller ID and answer no calls from Ohio after 9 p.m. The guy on the other end isn't selling magazines, Jack.
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