San Jose Mercury

Players sound blindsided by sack
January 16, 2003

By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

Ahmed Plummer was visibly upset. Jason Webster stood in stunned silence. Sean Moran shook his head in disbelief.

Plummer and Webster, both 49ers cornerbacks, learned from a reporter of the dismissal Wednesday of Steve Mariucci, the only coach they have known in their three years in the NFL.

``I didn't see this coming,'' Plummer said. ``I thought it was just talk. Some things happen that you just don't understand.''

Added Webster: ``I just wish the best for Coach Mariucci and his family. I know he's a great coach, and more importantly he's a great person. He's always been positive with us as players, and he gave the guys confidence whenever we played.''

Moran, a defensive end, joined the 49ers in 2002, his third team in seven seasons.

``It's quite a shock,'' he said of the decision by team director John York. ``It's one of those things that reflects the harshness of this business. Sometimes we don't think we have to deal with it, but we do. It's hard, but we do.''

Moran's comments came outside team headquarters, moments after learning of Mariucci's firing from a teammate. As word spread that the popular coach had been let go, bewildered employees and small groups of players gathered in the lobby and parking lot, talking amid the constant beeping of cell phones.

Mariucci, known as a motivator and a players' coach, had become close with most of his players during six seasons in San Francisco. But there were exceptions, most notably a tempestuous relationship with star receiver Terrell Owens (though the two seemed to have put aside their differences of late).

Owens did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Center Jeremy Newberry, who played for Mariucci at Cal in 1996 before he was drafted by the 49ers in '98, said Mariucci didn't deserve to be fired.

``I think it's unfair,'' Newberry said. ``I think he did a great job and was a great coach. But at the same time, I've made a commitment to this organization and I've got a duty to perform, and I will. I'm sure they're going to bring in a good coach and we're going to work for him like we did'' for Mariucci.

General Manager Terry Donahue said he wasn't surprised Mariucci's dismissal engendered such strong feelings among players.

``There are players that are very, very upset and disappointed. There are also players that possibly feel, to them, that it might be a good thing,'' Donahue said. ``I think you have a mixed bag on that.''

Tackle Dave Fiore said he expects Mariucci will land on his feet.

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