The Press Democrat

Mariucci not only 49er on hot seat
January 15, 2003
Seven assistant coaches have contracts that will expire day after Super Bowl


Coach Steve Mariucci is not the only one whose future with the 49ers hinges on as-yet unscheduled negotiations with team ownership.

There are seven assistant coaches whose contracts are set to expire the day after the Super Bowl. And there are six players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March, including two starters: receiver Tai Streets and defensive end Chike Okeafor.

Although there do not figure to be contract negotiations with Streets or Okeafor for a while, the organization would like to settle Mariucci's fate with the 49ers in the coming weeks. Only then will the team be able to re-sign the assistant coaches it hopes to retain.

"Every coach has a family to feed," said one 49ers assistant. "You can't shut the door on one opportunity when you have no idea what kind of job security you have here."

Mariucci said on Monday that he has some "very good coaches, coaches that will have offers, without question." If those offers come before the 49ers lock up Mariucci to a long-term contract, the team might have some coaching vacancies to fill.

"That's stuff I don't want to comment on, as far as my contract situation," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said. "There's not much I can do about it. It's out of my control."

So Knapp, like the other 49ers assistant coaches, returned to work Monday and Tuesday after the 49ers' season-ending 31-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC divisional playoff game on Sunday. They worked on player-evaluation reports, scheme evaluation and scouting. Unlike years' past, the coaches did not go to the Senior Bowl workouts this week. Next week, the coaching staff is scheduled to meet with the 49ers' front office and scouts to assess the performances of each of their players.

Knapp is one of seven assistant coaches whose contract expires Jan. 27. Still seen as an up-and-coming coach, Knapp figures to be an assistant the team would like to keep around for a while.

But it is unclear if owner John York and general manager Terry Donahue want changes to an offense that was inconsistent throughout the season and overmatched in the playoffs against the Buccaneers.

If team management determines it would like to see coaching changes, Mariucci could be placed in a position of having to fire one or more of his assistants or put up a fight to retain them.

No team official has publicly addressed the possibility of reshaping the coaching staff.

Bruce DeHaven (special teams), Tom Rathman (running backs), George Stewart (receivers), Tom Batta (tight ends), Dwaine Board (defensive line) and Richard Smith (linebackers) all have contracts set to expire.

Stewart is expected to get some offers around the league. Batta, rumored to be considering retiring, said last week he would decide after the end of the season.

"They're a little on edge," Mariucci said of his assistants. "It's just natural. But when I met with them I told them I would keep them informed."

Mariucci said he has met with some of the team's free agents to talk about their situations. He spoke with Streets recently and with Okeafor on Monday.

"I imagine they'll approach us fairly soon," said Andy Sims, Okeafor's agent. "When a player's been somewhere four years and he likes it and he wants to stay there, you're willing to make some sacrifices. But you have to evaluate everything to see where it takes you."

Streets might be the third-most popular receiver on the open market behind Arizona's David Boston and Buffalo's Peerless Price.

The 49ers' receiver position is worth monitoring. The 49ers will not pay receiver J.J. Stokes the $2.25 million he is scheduled to make next season. The team can release him or sign him to a salary near the veteran minimum in the unlikely event he would agree to such a deal.

The probable release of Stokes in February would not save cap room in 2003, but it would clear space for them in 2004. The 49ers are expecting to be approximately $8 million over the projected salary cap for 2003.

Offensive lineman Matt Willig, an 11-year veteran who proved to be a valuable backup, said he senses the organization is moving toward younger players, such as rookie tackle Kyle Kosier. Willig said he hopes to return to the 49ers, but probably will not sign with any team until late in the offseason.

Backup center Ben Lynch of Sebastopol also is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and might not know his fate until well into the offseason when things settle down.

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