The Press Democrat

Future still up in the air for Mariucci
January 02, 2003
Four years later, coach's status with team once again remains unresolved


SANTA CLARA -- There is something eerily similar going on with the 49ers this week, as they prepare to play host to their first NFC playoff game since the 1998 season.

If the 49ers had lost that game to the Green Bay Packers in January 1999, it might very well have been the end of coach Steve Mariucci's reign with the 49ers.

Now, four years later, his future is once again in doubt with a home playoff game looming.

Team owner John York and Mariucci have agreed to discuss a contract extension at the end of the season. Although Mariucci's deal is set to expire after the 2003 season, there is pressure on both sides to get a new contract signed early in the offseason.

But Mariucci is not exactly eager to begin contract negotiations, though the contracts of half his coaching staff will expire the day after the Super Bowl.

"When John and I spoke, we mentioned that we would discuss this when we were through playing, which was after the season," Mariucci said Wednesday. "Not (after) the regular season, but all of it.

"I'm glad we haven't spoken yet about it. I hope it's a little later. We're trying to keep playing here and winning and that sort of thing. We'll talk about it then."

York certainly will not fire Mariucci regardless of what happens to the 49ers on Sunday in their first-round playoff game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park. The main issue is whether Mariucci, one of the league's most respected coaches, will get a contract offer that is to his satisfaction.

Mariucci is making less than $2 million this season. Next year, his base salary is scheduled to rise to $2.2 million.

A year ago, when Mariucci's since-fired agent asked York for an extension, he sought a five-year deal worth $3.5 million annually. The St. Louis Rams signed coach Mike Martz in July to a deal that pays him $3.5 million a year, so the market has apparently been set for Mariucci, too.

On Wednesday, Mariucci said it has been easy to push his contract status aside and devote all of his attention to preparing his team to face the surging Giants.

"We're so entrenched with preparing for a game that there's no time to think and to dwell on anything but winning a football game," Mariucci said. "It's as simple as that."

There is added urgency to sign Mariucci for the long term because seven of his assistant coaches have contracts that expire after the season.

If Mariucci does not get a contract extension, he will almost assuredly have a difficult time piecing together a quality coaching staff as a "lame duck." Team sources said that part of the negotiations for a new contract might also include a recommendation from the team that Mariucci fire some of his assistants.

The coaches whose contracts are set to expire after the season are offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Tom Rathman (running backs), George Stewart (receivers), Bruce DeHaven (special teams), Dwaine Board (defensive line), Richard Smith (linebackers) and Tom Batta (tight ends).

In early 1999, Mariucci's future with the 49ers was also called into question. Exiled owner Eddie DeBartolo, who was expected to regain control of the team, was reportedly set to fire Mariucci and hire then-Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren.

But Mariucci's 49ers defeated the Packers, 30-27, in the first-round playoff game on Terrell Owens' 25-yard touchdown pass from Steve Young with 3 seconds remaining.

When Denise DeBartolo York took control of the 49ers, her husband, John, signed Mariucci to a five-year contract extension worth approximately $10 million, including incentives.

Even if the 49ers are unwilling to fire Mariucci now, a playoff loss can still mean the end of his days with the organization.

Last January, the 49ers worked out draft-pick and cash compensation for Mariucci to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as coach and general manager. When Mariucci and Tampa's ownership did not reach an agreement, the Bucs worked out a deal with Raiders owner Al Davis to acquire Jon Gruden.

Gruden then, like Mariucci after this season, had one year remaining on his contract.

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.