Sacramento Bee

Mariucci's 'gamble': Security with 49ers
January 11, 2003
He could have been set with Tampa Bay but treasured his roots in the Bay Area.

By Mike Triplett -- Bee Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA -- Here's the biggest difference between what Steve Mariucci has in San Francisco and what he could have had in Tampa Bay.

In San Francisco, he coaches for a team that was willing to give him up in February for some of the Buccaneers' draft picks.

In Tampa, he could have been coaching for a team that was willing to give up those precious draft picks to steal him away -- and promote him to the dual role of coach/general manager.

That's about all that needs to be said, because it speaks volumes. Mariucci could have had long-term security and a warm fuzzy feeling that he is loved and wanted. Instead, he gambled his coaching future on the hope he could earn those same things in San Francisco, where he wanted to keep his family.

Mariucci refused to say he gambled on anything during a week laced with irony: If he beats those Buccaneers, he will almost certainly earn himself a contract extension in San Francisco, along with the requisite long-term security and warm fuzzies.

"When that possibility existed, and when it wasn't gonna work," Mariucci said, "then coaching this football team continued to be my every thought. Continuing to coach this football team was and is what concerns me. I don't think about anything else.

"I'm not looking back, and I'm not worrying about the future. I'm staying in the here and now. Just get this team as far as you can right now."

Mariucci met for six hours with the Glazer family in a Beverly Hills hotel room last winter -- where he said he and the team owners came to a mutual realization that they should see other people -- and he couldn't walk away with a single good quote.

Nothing like, "I was bound to wind up in this game, one way or another." Or an even juicier, "If I was coaching the Buccaneers, they'd win, but since I stayed in San Francisco, we'll win."

Nope. Mariucci has tried this week to downplay the irony-laden matchup against the Buccaneers -- the team he came oh-so-close to coaching this year.

"Until now, this week, it really hasn't crossed my mind," Mariucci said.

Fat chance that's true.

But at a quick glance, it looks as if the Buccaneers' whirlwind tour of Bay Area coaches has worked out for everyone.

Tampa is happy, having won a franchise-record 12 games with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden at the helm.

The Raiders are fine, having earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC despite losing Gruden.

And Mariucci ... well, so far, so good.

Thanks to a remarkable second-half comeback, the 49ers averted disaster against the New York Giants last Sunday and may have saved Mariucci's job in the process. If nothing else, they proved they are willing to play for their fiery coach. They didn't quit on the game or on him.

Mariucci is a player's coach. Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry said this week he might have considered following his coach to Tampa Bay when he was a free agent last spring.

Mariucci just isn't the ownership's coach. Neither owners John and Denise DeBartolo York, nor general manager Terry Donahue, nor consultant Bill Walsh was part of the decision to hire Mariucci in 1997.

And even though they all seem to like him to some degree, none can be considered "in Mariucci's corner." Walsh gave what was, to date, the strongest show of support for Mariucci following last Sunday's victory.

If you read between the lines.

"He needed to break out and win one game against a top-flight team," Walsh said in the postgame locker room.

Does that mean Mariucci is starting to make believers out of the 49ers' front office? Has he at least done enough to make them believe there isn't really a more attractive coach out there to replace him with?

Who knows? The 49ers will, as they have said, evaluate Mariucci's future after this season, once they look at the entire picture of his six years with the organization and the landscape of the next half dozen years or so.

In doing so, they might want to take a look at the coach's loyalty. Mariucci could very easily have been the smiling, sun-drenched coach dressed in crimson and pewter, having led the Bucs to three more regular-season wins than the previous season.

But he chose to stay put and try to make it work in San Francisco. That has to count for something.

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