York pushed over edge
January 17, 2003
BY RICCI GRAHAM
Of The Examiner Staff
SANTA CLARA -- John York had had enough and he wasn't taking any more.
When Steve Mariucci and York engaged in extensive telephone conversation Monday and spent too much time parrying over subtle nuances that the coach wanted in what he surely thought would be a contract extension, York hung up the phone.
And went into full ownership mode.
Fuming, he called Niners general manager Terry Donahue, told him he intended to catch a flight that could transport him from his home in Youngstown, Ohio, to San Francisco as quickly as possible. When York arrived late Tuesday, he was hell-bent on settling what had become an untenable situation with his coach.
That swiftly, in a matter of hours and unbeknownst to Mariucci, his fate had been decided.
Normally civil and easy-going to a fault, Mariucci overplayed his hand. He really believed he could convince York to do what the owner representative repeatedly said he wouldn't do all along: Break from the organizational structure he and his wife, Denise DeBartolo York, set up when they assumed control of the franchise in 1998 and granted Mariucci a five-year extension in 1999.
Mariucci wanted the authority York simply wasn't comfortable capitulating.
So Wednesday, York ended all talk of a contract extension and fired Mariucci after the head-butting that took place two days earlier.
"This is a difficult day," York said. "Steve has been a very good, a great coach for us. Steve and I see things differently. It's something that's unfortunate, but I think we had to make this decision to move forward."
Thus, this latest 49ers saga played out like a plot from a Walter Mosley novel. The greed for power and riches created a split few envisioned was possible when a sullen Mariucci left Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, bedraggled after the 49ers were pummeled 31-6 by Tampa Bay in the NFC divisional playoff game.
York took time to explain his actions. He conceded that he wasn't inclined to continue negotiations with Mariucci after the man fondly known as Mooch and his agent, Gary O'Hagan, readdressed the idea of the coach someday replacing John McVay as the vice president/director of football operations.
But that, York said, was just one of a number of issues that caused unrest in the two days leading to Mariucci's ouster. York was clearly flummoxed when O'Hagan broached the topic of a power swap when the two met in St. Louis on Dec. 30 at the Sheraton Hotel.
"I thought I had clearly explained what I wanted out of my president, general manager and head coach," York said. "I was actually surprised that was asked about."
York and Mariucci met for over an hour Wednesday, during which time the coach attempted to convince York to reconsider his franchise-altering decision. But when asked if the damage had been done during Monday's telephone conversation with Mariucci, York said: "That's correct."
The timing of this mess couldn't have came at a more inopportune time for York, who could have received compensation had Mariucci been retained but freed to interview for other jobs. The Jacksonville Jaguars were said to be interested, but team owner Wayne Weaver was unwilling to surrender compensation for a coach.
It doesn't matter anymore. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a memorandum Tuesday that placed a moratorium on teams receiving draft picks and/or cash for releasing a coach from a contract.
"What prompted it is the concern of the competition committee of the use of draft choices in a way that undermines the purpose of the draft," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday. "It's been a issue of concern for several years."
So, York won't receive compensation if Mariucci signs with another team. Instead, Mariucci will receive the $2.2 million he was scheduled to make in 2003. And York will hope Donahue finds a worthy replacement to take the franchise to the next level. York acknowledged that he was "surprised to hear about" the league's mandate.
"But other than that, I don't have any comments about it," York added.
Deep in the recess of York's mind, he couldn't forgive Mariucci for flirting with Tampa Bay last year, when Mariucci met Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer and his sons to discuss a possible move to Florida. The relationship, York admitted, was never quite the same.
"It was certainly something that I believed both of us had gotten over, but I wouldn't say either one of us had forgotten it," York said. But, he added, "If that was the only issue on the table, Steve would still be here."
Whatever the other issues were that played a role in this divorce, York didn't say. Mariucci will hold a press conference today to provide his take on what transpired. But O'Hagan refuted York's version of events, insisting that Mariucci did not demand a greater title and the power that comes with it.
York refused to engage in a debate over the conflicting comments made by O'Hagan and Mariucci, who was quoted in an ESPN.com story as saying he "was surprised to listen and learn that (heightened authority) was an issue at all."
York was peppered by reporters who felt he should have attended the press conference announcing Mariucci's dismissal. One reporter even reminded him that former owner Edward DeBartolo attended both press briefings announcing the two coaching changes during his tenure.
But York explained that he was exhausted from his meeting with Mariucci and was sure Donahue could handle the day's proceedings.
"To be honest with you," York said, "I was about washed out after that. I think it was pretty difficult and fairly emotional."
York could have maintained the status quo and challenged Mariucci, who insisted he would be willing to take less money or simply coach through the final year of his contract to remain with the club. York, however, knew that a lame-duck coach wouldn't have been best for the organization.
"I thought it was best to have a coach that we were fully committed to," he said. "There is enough noise around here now for the last two years about Steve being the coach and Steve vs. (consultant) Bill (Walsh) and Steve vs. Terry.
"It is just too much noise. You can't be doing all this stuff and move the team along."
Thus ends another coaching chapter in Niners history.
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