Walsh helped push Mooch out door
January 22, 2003
A WEEK AGO today, Steve Mariucci was fired by the San Francisco 49ers. There has been much speculation since about what exactly finished off Mooch.
After speaking with 49ers insiders and those close to the organization, here are some factors that contributed to Mariucci's demise.
The first factor deals with Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue, the two men whom team director John York leans on heaviest for football-related matters.
Although it isn't well-known, Mariucci felt suffocated, and sabotaged, by Walsh and Donahue.
Walsh is a team consultant, but don't let that innocuous title fool you. He is as influential as ever in the 49ers front office. Walsh was against Mariucci from the start, 1997, when Carmen Policy pushed Eddie DeBartolo to replace George Seifert with Mariucci, who was then at Cal.
It was Walsh who walked into Mariucci's office two days before he was fired and told Mooch that the 49ers, i.e., he and Donahue, were negotiating a deal to get him the Jacksonville coaching job. Mariucci's reply? "But, Bill, I want to coach in San Francisco."
It was Walsh who recruited Donahue to replace him as the team's general manager in 2001. But Donahue, in his fourth year with the 49ers organization, hasn't ever been a Mariucci fan. Maybe it's a UCLA-Cal thing.
Before Donahue succeeded him, Walsh was known as "Satan" inside the 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara. He was firing people right and left, and he was as feared inside that building as he is revered on the outside.
It took Mariucci several
years before he was even comfortable with Walsh, where they could sit down and have a congenial talk.
Walsh spoke highly of Mariucci publicly, but didn't give Mooch too much coaching freedom. It is a head coach's prerogative to fire up his team, but after Mariucci would address his players, Walsh would do the same thing.
Heck, not even Al Davis does that in Oakland, although he does keep a close watch on coaches' game plans. But Walsh refuses to let go of his considerable clout inside the 49ers hierarchy.
Remember how Walsh peered over Marc Trestman's shoulder in the 49ers coaches box, questioning his play selection? Trestman has had far more freedom with the Raiders, and he has thrived. But Walsh further diminished Mariucci's coaching stature by indicating that Mooch's pep talks weren't good enough.
Donahue and Mariucci also clashed over player personnel. As an example, Donahue wanted to get rid of Bryant Young, the 49ers' Pro Bowl defensive tackle who, like Mariucci, is a pillar of a man.
Mariucci coached the 49ers into the playoffs four of his six years with the franchise, but unhappy with Walsh and Donahue, he showed interest in Notre Dame and Tampa Bay.
He might have taken either job, but his wife loves the California lifestyle, and he loves his wife, so he couldn't make the jump. However he wavered too long over the Tampa general manager-coach financial bonanza last winter, and the Buccaneers went after Jon Gruden in the middle of the night.
It was Gruden's Bucs who two weeks ago stomped the 49ers 31-6 in Mariucci's last game with the 49ers. But even if the Niners had won that playoff game, Mariucci was on very shaky ground.
That's because the 49ers have been spoiled by success. Seifert was fired in 1996 with the highest all-time winning percentage by an NFL coach. But he couldn't beat Green Bay in the playoffs, and that sealed his fate.
Mariucci is regarded by NFL people as a coaching gem, though too conservative, his critics say. Gruden was perceived the same way in Oakland, but he'll coach in Sunday's Super Bowl. It's easier to be "conservative" when you have a defense and a kicking game -- the two weakest phases of the 49ers that Mariucci tried to keep off the field with a ball-control offense.
Donahue and Walsh worked on York to replace Mariucci. But it was York who fired Mariucci because of his perceived wanderlust, but also because Mooch was looking for more front-office responsibility to compete with Donahue and Walsh for a say on personnel.
Ironically, Mariucci wanted to replace John McVay, his biggest supporter within the organization. Mooch didn't seek this opportunity forcefully, but it was brought up several times in a casual manner with York either by Mooch or his agent.
York, who isn't the casual type, lives by detail. He grew tired of telling Mariucci that a personnel job wasn't in his future. Finally, York had enough and Mariucci was fired. Smiling down the hall were Walsh and Donahue.
There has been conjecture that Mariucci sought a new $6million contract, but ANG's sources say that wasn't the case. It was purely a professional decision, an undermining.
But with Mariucci gone, we'll now find out just how good a team director York is and just how good a general manager Donahue is. For they must come up with a new head coach.
As for Mariucci, he will be fine, drawing the $2.2 million he's due on the final year of his 49ers contract. He will resurface in 2004 as an NFL head coach, or perhaps at Stanford if Buddy Teevens has another disastrous year.
A Stanford coach who was the Cal coach? Old Blues wouldn't like that.
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