Sacramento Bee

You couldn't spell this 'murky morass' without Y-O-R-K
January 17, 2003
By Mark Kreidler -- Bee Sports Columnist

There is a distinct benefit to the Mariucci Miasma, and we're about to see it.

As badly as the firing of the 49ers' coach was handled, as much as Steve Mariucci's account of things on Thursday failed to square with the rather incredible pronouncements coming from Santa Clara on Wednesday, there's still an upside here.

The upside: Every single person with even a remote interest in that franchise is going to discover, quite soon, whether putative owner John York is man of substance or simple noxious fumes.

In the post-Eddie era, that's something worth knowing.

To this point, York was been a man of voluminous bark. He barked fairly regularly at Mariucci, the last holdover of Eddie DeBartolo's crazed run at the top. He barked about money. He barked that the 49ers were going to begin operating in a more businesslike manner, complete with the now-famous flowchart of organizational structure. And, of course, he woofed heartily at Wednesday morning's sacking of Mariucci.

Big-dog talk, all of it -- but now 49ers fans get to see the rest. They get to see, that is, whether John York has a football leg to stand on, much less a couple of legs.

Whatever you make of Mariucci's tenure, the fact is that the 49ers are gaping at a huge moment for the franchise. If York makes an inspired head-coaching hire, it is possible that San Francisco can push itself to a new level of competitiveness. After all, anything's possible in a salary-capped league in which most teams are an injury or two away from .500.

My own view is that Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue (and, by flow-chart inclusion, York) have been amazingly generous in grading their own drafts. The 49ers of this season looked exactly like a 10-6 team to me; at full strength, they were still going to be soundly beaten by a Tampa Bay roster that's both better and deeper.

But Walsh and Donahue think they can do better than Mariucci, and now it's John York's job to prove it. For years, the word among members of the organization was that the DeBartolo-York ownership axis (York and Denise DeBartolo York, who wrested control of the franchise away from scandal magnet Eddie) wanted to choose its own coach.

Now comes the choosing time, and we're going to find out what York really thinks. We're going to find out whether he's willing to spend serious millions for a man who, by York's own description, he wants restricted to coach-only duties.

You hear Dennis Green's name a lot in connection with the San Francisco job, and what's interesting there is the notion that York, who's making a living lately sounding prideful and in charge, would let Walsh call the shot. Green is, after all, a Walsh loyalist with longtime connections to the living legend; considering how much clout Walsh obviously still wields around the 49ers' campus, it wouldn't be such a shock to see Green emerge as the leading candidate.

I'm having a heck of a time seeing the upside with Green. His résumé suggests a short-term ability to motivate players and a knack for piling up regular-season victories without going all the way in the playoffs, which sounds extremely similar to the guy whom York just sent packing. (Green also withdrew from the Jacksonville job search because the Jaguars would not give him additional front-office clout, and stop me if you've heard that one before.)

The other NFL name that quickly surfaced was Seattle's Mike Holmgren. Again, strong ties to Walsh. Holmgren may have an out clause with the Seahawks that would allow him to come; but $4.5 million a season just to coach? That's what he's drawing from Paul Allen.

York said Wednesday he did not believe money would come between him and his choice to coach. That's a thought worth pondering. If York is serious and not just blowing smoke, he'll most certainly ask permission to visit with Holmgren, and he might even make a run at Jimmy Johnson, a man with enough ego to consider taking over a franchise he once mocked from his high position in Dallas.

Johnson would be wild, expensive, inspired. To this point, there is nothing about John York's tenure that suggests football inspiration. With each new chapter of the book, in fact, York comes across more fully as a man who loves business and doesn't understand why a sports franchise won't behave like one.

But that's your guy, 49ers fans. He's the only owner you've got. And your chance for a better future, assuming you believe Mariucci had to be sacrificed in order to secure one, now lies in John York's hands. Say a prayer.

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