Mariucci was fighting a winless battle
January 15, 2003
By Ray Ratto
And we all thought that John York was just another overly earnest, big-haired bean counter, loath beyond reason to pay a man a million bucks or so to chat it up with Steve Young Sunday mornings on the set of "NFL Countdown."
But no. Wrong again. Steve Mariucci was smoked Wednesday morning with executive dispatch by the executive dispatcher, York.
It was determined that: A) Mariucci's 60-43 record (including playoffs) was a figment of everyone's imagination; B) That he would receive no extension, no increased power or even a better parking space; and C) That York would do the deed, but that general manager Terry Donahue would play the coroner for the audience.
Compensation? Hah! Do you think a third-round draft choice makes up for years of torture?
Hey, that's their story, and God love them if they can make it float.
York had been so conciliatory after Sunday's 31-6 slapping at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all but saying that Mariucci would return to coach the 49ers at least for the last year of his present contract.
And, dopes that we are, we took him at his word.
But Wednesday morning, while most folks were paying attention to the Raiders and Titans, Eagles and Bucs, York announced, through the lips of his general manager Donahue, that Mariucci was not only leaving, but leaving at warp speed and that the Jacksonville Jaguars were welcome to him for not even so much as a bag of Cheez-Its.
For someone like York, whose principal role with the team is keeping a tidy flow chart, it's a sign that maybe he's even less of a bean-counter than any of us thought. I mean, a seven-figure severance buyout doesn't grow on trees, let alone driving out the front gate of 49er Interplanetary Headquarters.
York, who was apparently at an accordion lesson and could not attend the post-firing puppet show, said through Donahue that "philosophical differences" about the team's organizational structure caused Mariucci to be whacked.
This may be true in part, since Mariucci did inquire about having more say-so within the organization, presumably at Donahue's expense. Donahue's claim that Mariucci's performance was not an issue must surely be nonsense, however.
Or worse yet, deemed irrelevant in a business where winning is the only reason to live.
Donahue and Walsh had been passionate advocates for "Anyone But Mooch" for at least a year and probably more. But Mariucci held his job by winning 23 games in the past two years, and by signing a contract extension that would have taken him through 2003.
That it didn't last that long answers any questions about Donahue's influence with York, as well as the pecking order for any new coach. The coach will make X's do things to O's, run scrimmages and windsprints, and keep his nose to the projector wheel at all times.
It also shows, if Donahue's time line is even remotely accurate, that York was gunning for this day for quite some time, and that nothing on the field would save Mariucci from being taken off the field.
"The relationship eroded over time," Donahue said. "It's been strained for the last year, going back to when Steve wanted a new contract, and some of the things that rose out of that."
Like auditioning for the Tampa Bay job that Mariucci would obviously kill to have now. Or asking for an office slightly farther away from the elevator shaft.
York wasn't buying any of it last year, which leads a reasonable person (or just one with a fifth-grade education) to deduce that Mariucci was tagged and bagged long ago, that those 11 wins this year may as well have been 11 losses for all the good it would have done him.
This is York's first firing, and he has shown that for him, performance matters but inter-office decorum matters more. He is not a negotiator but a bestower of edicts from on high. He wants a coach who wins while keeping his fiscal and employment ambitions to himself.
In other words, Bill Parcells couldn't coach for John York. Neither could Bill Walsh, for that matter. But York could have all the Rich Kotites and Dave Campos he could ever want.
Donahue, for his part, has shown himself to be a brilliant in-fighter, a man of both silver-tongued whispering skills and the patience to make those skills pay off.
And Mariucci? Well, contrary to the old song, breaking up isn't all that hard to do after all, especially when there is no alternative.
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