The Oakland Tribune

Too Mooch in dispute
January 16, 2003
Coach's differences with 49ers management, Owens contributed to his downfall

By Roger Phillips STAFF WRITER

SANTA CLARA -- Steve Mariucci's downfall was that he wanted more power. Or that he showed signs of wanting to leave a year ago. Or that he tried to pressure the team into giving him a contract extension in 2001. Or it was his high-profile spat with Terrell Owens.

Or maybe it was that his hiring came in a different time in the San Francisco 49ers' history, at the hands of a different owner.

Probably, it was a little of all of the above, and Wednesday morning, the 47-year-old Mariucci's six-year reign as the 49ers coach ended swiftly, shockingly and suddenly. Mariucci was fired by owner John York during an emotional 90-minute meeting at the team's headquarters.

No replacement was announced, and the team has not yet fired anyone from Mariucci's coaching staff, though eight members are at the end of their contracts. York's spokesman, Sam Singer, said York soon will be addressing the players and the remaining coaches.

"This is something I thought was necessary to get us to move forward," York said, citing philosophical differences rather than his team's performance for the firing. "Steve and I see things differently. It's something that's unfortunate, but I think we had to make this decision to move forward."

Mariucci told ESPN, "I'm just surprised and saddened. I didn't see it coming. Really, I didn't."

General manager Terry Donahue said there is no timetable to hire a replacement, who, he added, could come from within Mariucci's staff or from the pro or college ranks. Donahue, a former UCLA coach, said he is not interested in the job.

And York said the team will give strong consideration to an African-American candidate such as former Vikings coach Dennis Green, who has longstanding ties to the 49ers and team consultant Bill Walsh.

"I've got some interest in that job for a couple of reasons," Green told ESPN, adding that front-office power is not one of his requirements. "It's a very attractive job."

York said Mariucci will be paid the remaining $2.2 million on his contract, which would have expired after next season. He guided the 49ers to a 10-6 record and the NFC West title this season and finishes with a 57-39 regular-season record and a 3-4 playoff mark.

His last game was Sunday's 31-6 NFC divisional playoff loss at Tampa Bay.

But the final seeds of Mariucci's undoing had been planted on Dec. 30 in St. Louis, before the 49ers' regular-season finale against the Rams. On that day, according to Donahue, York met for the first time with Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan.

At that meeting, O'Hagan purportedly reiterated a past desire of Mariucci's that he be put in line to replace John McVay when McVay eventually retires as the 49ers' director of football operations.

York said he was taken aback at this request, because he said he had rebuffed a similar request a year ago when Mariucci was a candidate to coach the Buccaneers.

Monday night, York and Mariucci spoke on the telephone. According to York, Mariucci again broached the topic of expanded power during the call.

"I thought that was fairly clear from the year before that that was not the direction that I wanted to go in," York said.

York wasn't the only one perturbed by Mariucci's apparent goal of gaining front-office power.

Asked if he believed additional power for Mariucci would have interfered with his role, Donahue said, "I'm assuming it would have, but I have never got into a deep discussion with Steve about that."

Mariucci did not speak to Bay Area reporters Wednesday, but a source close to him disputed the 49ers' version of events. The source said there never were any negotiations with the 49ers, so a demand for more power was never made. And the source said the topic of greater power for Mariucci had initially been raised not by him but months ago by the team.

York said that during his Monday phone conversation with Mariucci, there were many philosophical differences

"It just seemed to be that no matter what came up, Steve and I did not see things together," York said.

York was in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, when he spoke with Mariucci on Monday. He flew to the Bay Area on Tuesday, and after consulting with Donahue, team president Peter Harris, and Walsh, York made up his mind. He informed Mariucci on Wednesday. According to York, Mariucci tried but failed to change York's mind.

"I thought it was best to have a coach that we were fully committed to," York said. "There is enough noise around here now for the last two years about Steve being the coach and Steve vs. Bill and Steve vs. Terry. ... It is just too much noise. You can't be doing all this stuff and move the team along."

Mariucci's final two years with the 49ers were rife with extracurricular activities: a spat with Owens that he patched up a year ago, flirtations with Notre Dame and the Buccaneers over their coaching jobs, and a bid with two years left on his contract to secure an extension.

It all added up to a frayed relationship between Mariucci and York, who wrested control of the team from Edward DeBartolo during a bitter power struggle several years ago. Mariucci was hired during the late stages of the DeBartolo regime.

"I think this is a situation in which a relationship has eroded over a period of time," Donahue said.

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