Sacramento Bee

After bringing his team this far, Mariucci deserves to keep his job
January 05, 2003
By Marcos Bretón -- Bee Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA -- You're a winner. You're a great spokesman.

You're respected and liked by your peers.

And yet one bad day could get you fired.

A bad day that could come today, at Candlestick Park, in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Such is the story of Steve Mariucci, the 49ers' coach.

The proof that nice guys finish last.

The false heir to the 49ers' legacy of five Super Bowl titles.

The man with no "killer instinct."

And on and on in a vile nutshell encapsulating the demons dogging Mariucci today, along with the New York Giants and a game in which the loser will be eliminated.

"No matter how hard you try," Mariucci said at 49ers headquarters last week, "you can't get away from it."

No, he can't escape ...

From not winning convincingly enough.

From having only one season left on his contract.

From a 49ers obsession with the past dragging down the present.

"Winning your division and being 10-6 isn't good enough, and that weighs on you," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said.

"What do you have to do to satisfy everybody?"

What do you do?

If you're the 49ers, you cut the nonsense and keep Mariucci -- no matter what happens today.

You get him a pass rush.

You get him a risk-taking offensive coordinator who will be a counterpoint to his conservative ways.

You get Garcia to spend more offseason time resting and less time on the banquet circuit.

And you get Mariucci a contract extension and let him work.

Anything short of that would betray the turnaround the 49ers have made since their 18-season dynasty crashed and burned in 1999.

Remember Mariucci then?

Remember how his tireless energy and enthusiasm returned the 49ers to a 12-4 record last season and made them respected again?

Apparently not, because some in the media and among the 49ers faithful want to fire him because the 49ers won two fewer games this season.

Give me a break.

Who are you going to get to replace him? Dennis Green or some other NFL retread? A college coach with a big learning curve?

There is no one out there who could do this job better than Mariucci.

The 49ers players know a reckoning is coming at the end of this season -- Mariucci will either get fired or get a contract extension, because the 49ers won't want a lame-duck coach next season.

"For Mariucci's job to be so-called in jeopardy is unfair," Garcia said.

"We want to do what we can to keep (Mariucci) here."

Should Mariucci have publicly flirted with other jobs in the past? No. But he fired his agent and got in line.

Can Mariucci's team improve? Absolutely. While the 49ers' offensive numbers are very similar to last season's, there was one glaring downturn -- they scored nine fewer passing touchdowns.

So if co-owner John York has to find a fall guy, it should be offensive coordinator Greg Knapp -- who is on the conservative side and may not be the right fit alongside a conservative head coach and a conservative quarterback.

Sorry, Greg. Middle managers are too often expendable.

But a head coach who fits a progressive organization in a progressive city the way the well-spoken Mariucci does?

They are rare.

And Mariucci's team is close to where his critics want it to be.

If San Francisco had scored that touchdown at the end of the Green Bay game, if the 49ers had gone all out in the last game against St. Louis, if their former kicker hadn't missed some chip shots, they would be 13-3 or 12-4 -- in a year with a tough schedule and with many key injuries to offensive and defensive stars, such as:

Terrell Owens, Derrick Deese, Ron Stone, Jamie Winborn, Zack Bronson and Jason Webster.

And let's face it, Garcia didn't perform the way he did last season, and he's the first to admit it.

So fix what needs fixing and move forward.

But dump Mariucci or ship him someplace for draft picks?

No way.

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