The Oakland Tribune

49ers hierarchy pushes Mariucci out door
January 16, 2003
SANTA CLARA -- Terry Donahue, flimsily attempting to paint a smiley face on the firing of Steve Mariucci, said owner John York and the coach actually shook hands and embraced Wednesday before "parting ways."

Mariucci finally got a hug from someone in the San Francisco 49ers front office!'Bout time. Too bad it had to be accompanied with a pink slip. And of course, now Mooch is going to have whatever he was wearing dry-cleaned.

A pretty good coach has been slimed somehow. Whether the Niners sent him to the gallows against his will or whether he hung himself, we'll probably never get the straight story. There already were starkly contradictory explanations competing for the gospel version only hours after Donahue stood in for the "washed-out" York to announce officially Mariucci's demise.

One thing's clear. If you're shocked Mariucci got the rope, you're probably also aghast about that great, gaseous orange orb that keeps ascending over the horizon every morning. Of all the coaching and managerial changes that have been made over the past year -- and a good a.m. to you, Bill Callahan, dean of Bay Area pro sports head men -- this one looked like the surest sawbuck on the "he's gone" come line.

Mariucci's ticket out of Ninerrvana has been punched since last February, when management basically tried to shove him out the door toward Tampa Bay, and he didn't take the hint that he probably should invest in a pair of Bermuda shorts.

In actuality, this development has looked fairly likely ever since Ed DeBartolo Jr. and Carmen Policy slinked out the back door and York, Bill Walsh and Donahue strutted in the front. Mariucci tried to be the conforming loyalist, but the strain was too obvious.

The 49ers chafe at all the wall-to-wall wondering about Mariucci "not being their guy." But it's the flat truth that he wasn't, and it has showed for at least the past two years. The ever-prying media didn't help the relationship, making what York admitted was "too much noise" about how all the principals felt about each other.

"You can't be doing all this stuff and move the team along," York said via conference call Wednesday afternoon.

He could be right about that, and with that in mind, you can't completely disregard Mariucci's own agenda in all this. Did he really want all this power the 49ers claim he wanted in addition to an extension and a raise? Or is his "shocked" denial about his gaudily portrayed demands a smoke screen for saving face over a firing he might not have seen coming? You'd feel better about his pained retort if he hadn't changed agents so acrimoniously the past year.

Whatever, if you're picking sides on who comes out of this smelling the best, there's not much question it'll be the deposed coach. For starters, he'll probably get most of the $2.2 million he was due next year for the final year of his contract. And he'll surely get opulent offers.

Jacksonville's the only opening now -- ugh -- but there'll be more soon enough, both on the pro and college level. He can bide his time and probably pick his spot. Maybe he can do a little TV work in the interim, or just tone up that waistline.

The 49ers? Well, let's just see how they buff up their own sagging belly of credibility. This whole "defined structure" stuff? Complete hoax. Allegedly, as was stated ad nauseam Wednesday, York wants the coach to do the coaching, the general manager to do to general managing, the president to do the president-ing and the owner to do the firing ... oops, er, owning.

How funny, then, that one of the guys outlining this whole regimented business model was a dude named Steve Singer, a DeBartolo/York business aide whose role in the whole murky state of affairs is wholly undefined.

And that doesn't even take up the ongoing hazy status of Walsh, Consultant Esquire. Where is The Genius on the structure ladder, and can he just consult anybody, or does he have to petition up as he goes, taking a number like at Baskin-Robbins?

You probably can't go too wrong theorizing that Walsh still has a firm grip around these assorted other chicken necks and that they'll probably leap to do whatever he consults. Denny Green? Done. Mr. Greenjeans? Hey, sounds great, Bill. Following Walsh's always-available advice is probably the best course, though, because one wonders if anyone else on this Niners vessel has a clue about piloting a pro football team.

York, to be sure, further alienates every time he opens his yap. He wants to run the 49ers like a savings and loan, accounting for every shilling, cutting every frivolous expense, stripping the soul out of the 49ers and replacing it with cold, calculating, ruthless efficiency. You are not off base if Mr. Potter from "It's A Wonderful Life" comes to mind. Only call him Dr. Potter, eh?

Problem is, the 49ers have too long operated like a warm, reasonably fuzzy family. That family atmosphere has been at the crux of their success, in fact. Yes, DeBartolo had as sharp a stiletto as any owner, but he also lavishly rewarded those who achieved and those who were intensely loyal.

Say what you want about Mariucci's x's and o's, but he achieved, and he was loyal. He was likable, too, another big bonus. But in this day and age, those things don't even get you a free latte at the corner Starbucks if you just look ... well, wrong.

You're just as likely to get a see-ya-latte, as Mooch so harshly has learned.

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