San Jose Mercury

All too quiet on 49ers' front
January 15, 2003
By Tim Kawakami
Mercury News

No decision. No announcement. No peace.

Nobody knows what was going on with the principals involved in the great Steve Mariucci/49ers off-season passion play (Part 2), because John York and Mariucci were in media lockdown Tuesday.

No extension. No release to chase the Jacksonville job. No comment.

Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan, told the Mercury News' Dennis Georgatos that he hadn't spoken to either Mariucci or York on Tuesday. General Manager Terry Donahue, scheduled to be available to the media, canceled.

Strange. Very strange.

As the silence stretched into the evening hours, there were a few knowledgeable observers who suggested that the delay is evidence of only one thing:

These aren't negotiations; York apparently spent Monday night and all day Tuesday canvassing associates weighing whether he should fire Mariucci. Immediately. No extension. No discussion.

Fire Mariucci. Period.

Nobody was predicting that York would definitely push that button. Mariucci has given the 49ers four playoff berths in six years, he has helped Jeff Garcia to multiple Pro Bowls, he has been the steady hand through massive front-office change.

He would land a big-time coaching job whenever he wanted back in, and he is one of the more charming men in a league that has a drastic shortage of them. He would be owed $2.25 million, which is no small thing in 49erland these days.

The public-relations hit would be gigantic, and York knows that. So the percentage-people say that York will offer Mariucci a short extension, and that Mariucci will sign it, setting up Off-season Passion Play Part 3 in the near future.

``He wants to be the coach, we'll see what happens,'' O'Hagan said. If that's the likely scenario, why the silence?

Because maybe the evidence against Mariucci -- in whispers, statistics and perception -- is mounting in York's mind.

For example:

If he's such an all-important figure, why won't the Jaguars even casually discuss giving up a first- or second-round pick for him?

What does York think about Mariucci's startlingly-low .286 career winning percentage against teams with an 8-8 record or better, compared with Packers Coach Mike Sherman's .640 or Denver Coach Mike Shanahan's .526?

Will York ever trust Mariucci again -- extension or no extension -- after the Notre Dame and Tampa Bay flirtations last year?

Would a solid caretaker, say, a proven quarterback-handler, be the right coach for however long it takes for Mike Holmgren to become available? Has defensive coordinator Jim Mora's stock fallen so sharply that he wouldn't get a look at the top spot?

Lots of drama, no answers. Yet.

ONLY UCLA'S STEVE LAVIN COULD DEVISE A WAY TO SPIN his team's abysmal play into a story line to warm any gullible heart: One man's redemptive journey from coaching futility to near-resignation to gritty resolve. It's a Disney movie!

John Wooden has his Pyramid of Success. Lavin has his Pity Me Tree, and he performs it every season:

Pretend you're about to resign. Issue a statement saying you'll never quit on your players. Ride that wave of emotion for as long as you can.

Problem is, fewer and fewer buy into it each time he plays the suffering, shambling innocent, while his basketball team plays worse and worse. And in the background, while Pittsburgh's Ben Howland still is a top choice, one scenario is sending shivers through the Pacific-10 Conference: UCLA Coach Rick Majerus.

TREMENDOUS TRIVIA QUESTION: Only one of the four head coaches still alive in the NFL playoffs did not previously serve as an assistant coach with the Eagles. Who is it?

I RECEIVED SEVERAL ILLUMINATING RESPONSES after I asked how it was possible that Joe DiMaggio fell short of the mandatory 75 percent vote threshold in 1954, his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. According to Rob Wood's fascinating e-mail, until the mid-1950s, there wasn't a set rule on the now standard five-year wait between retirement and eligibility. DiMaggio retired in 1951. From 1946 to 1953, there was a one-year wait.

Second, in 1954, there still was a backlog of obviously deserving Hall of Famers from the early years.

And third, Wood explained: ``It was widely suspected that DiMaggio may well come out of retirement and play again. Voters did not want a Hall of Fame member to be an active player.''

TREMENDOUS TRIVIA ANSWER: The Raiders' Bill Callahan and Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden were Eagles offensive coaches in 1995-97 and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher was a defensive assistant for the Eagles in 1986-1990.

Which means that the only one who never served a day as an Eagles assistant is . . . Eagles Coach Andy Reid.

To fire or not to fire Mariucci appears to be York's question

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