The Oakland Tribune

Niners sealed as petty if Mariucci is let go
January 05, 2003
Coach's stay unsure with cost-conscious team

THE WIFE OF one of the 49ers coaches, according to the story, decided to send out larger-than-usual Christmas cards, requiring larger-than-usual postage. Astonishingly, the coach was billed for the difference from the previous year's mailing, around $18.

An amount which could be considered petty.

As management's determination to charge the coach could be considered petty.

Especially by an organization worth hundreds of millions.

A sporting franchise is not a business. Well, it is a business but not in the "we've got to increase the profit margin to 121/2 percent or Wall Street will be angry" sense.

It was Jimmy Johnson who, when as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, insisted there are only six or seven owners who will do anything within their power to win. We know one of those is Al Davis. Another is Jerry Jones of the Cowboys. Another was Eddie DeBartolo of the 49ers.

It's a new era now, with salary caps and revolving champions, but what must never change is the concept, even if imagined, that winning is more important than anything else.

Especially the price of a few stamps.

When the bean-counters win, the team will lose. Guaranteed.

Leading us to the future of Steve Mariucci as Niners' head coach, something that isn't guaranteed.

The existing speculation is the 49ers will choose not to have Mariucci return. Let us now begin speculation that Mariucci himself may choose not to return.

Yes, he has another year on the contract.

So did Jon Gruden on his contract with the Raiders.

If the 49ers' front office has not had its fill of Mooch, who seemingly has done all that he could with what he has been provided, meaning a roster with only one great wide receiver, it could be Mooch who has had his fill with the front office.

A man has to wonder about a franchise controlled in effect by U.S. Postal Service. What's next, charging players for their shoulder pads? Is this part of the $20 million budget reduction that Fox Sports' Terry Bradshaw said the Niners are seeking, a claim owner John York quickly denied?

The boss-employee relationship has been an uncomfortable one for Mariucci the last couple of years, who began his tenure when the team was still owned by Eddie DeBartolo and run by Carmen Policy. Suddenly, York and his wife, Denise DeBartolo York, Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh were giving directions and signing the checks.

Mariucci negotiated early in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about accepting the dual role of coach and general manager. Now there are rumors Mooch is in demand by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If he leaves, Walsh, the Niners' consultant, whatever that means, might bring in his onetime assistant and former Stanford and Minnesota Vikings coach, Denny Green.

Or York, from Youngstown, Ohio, might recommend Jim Tressel, who previously coached Youngstown State to four Division I-AA championships. And two nights ago coached Ohio State to the I-A national championship over Miami.

The past two seasons, only the Green Bay Packers have won more games than the 49ers. But the individuals in positions above Mariucci somehow think the team has underachieved, that it should not have been eliminated in the first round a year ago and better not be eliminated in the first round this year by the New York Giants.

On the practice field at Niner Central on Friday, Mariucci conducted himself with his usual degree of elegance, deflecting questions about the team's failings and his fate. He seemed as much at ease as possible given the circumstances.

The possibility that today might be Mooch's final game as head coach of the 49ers never became a subject of discussion, but among the dozen or so media encircling the coach the thought was nearly palpable. And unavoidable.

Donahue, the general manager, said some time ago that there was no pressure to re-sign Mariucci.

"He has a contract," Donahue told Sports Illustrated. "We don't like having a coach in his final year of a deal, but if that's what happens, the world doesn't have to come to an end."

But Mariucci's stay with the Niners almost certainly will.

The good thing is that with the expense of postage, the Niners surely wouldn't fire him through the mail.

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