San Jose Mercury

Mariucci unhappy with handling of dismissal
January 17, 2003

By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

One day after losing his job as the 49ers' coach, Steve Mariucci said Thursday he was proud of his six years with the team but disappointed with the way he was dismissed.

Before his final, 90-minute meeting with team director John York had ended Wednesday, the 49ers told the media that Mariucci had been fired. Family members heard the news, broadcast on radio and the Internet, before he could tell them.

His wife, Gayle, was so upset by his ouster that she confronted team consultant Bill Walsh, according to two sources, and angrily told Walsh he was to blame. Walsh declined to comment. The Mariuccis did not return a phone message left at their home Thursday evening.

Mariucci's children got word of their dad's firing from classmates at school, a source said, and his wife left their home to be with her husband at 49ers headquarters.

``There's never an easy way,'' Mariucci said, but he added that he told his superiors ``that I kind of frowned on hearing about it on the radio before I was able to tell my coaches, or have them call their wives, or me call my wife. They knew about it before I was even out of that room -- that was a little rough.''

He said he emerged from the meeting to learn that a news conference had already been scheduled to announce his firing.

``The fact is that John is choosing to go forward with someone new -- and that's his prerogative,'' Mariucci said. ``That's all he had to say to me. I feel grateful for the years I had. It was a lot of work, lot of fun -- most of it -- and it was worth doing. There's no regrets, no animosity whatsoever.''

Mariucci said at his news conference Thursday at a Santa Clara hotel that players Derrick Deese and Dana Stubblefield consoled his wife while he said his goodbyes to other players who stopped by his office, including wide receiver Terrell Owens, who often feuded with Mariucci. The coach and his wife spent much of Wednesday afternoon in his office, packing belongings.

They left the building in a borrowed black van in something of a caper to dodge reporters. Mariucci sheepishly recalled the episode as ``The Great Escape.''

``Gayle and I were driving out of there and I said I hoped this was no indication of what was to come: us living in a van down by the river,'' Mariucci said.

General Manager Terry Donahue had said Wednesday that Mariucci was fired because of ``philosophical differences'' with management. Over the past two years, Mariucci was reported to be at odds with Walsh and Donahue over everything from his team's strategy on offense to personnel decisions. But the three seemed to be working better together this season.

Mariucci's desire to expand his role in the organization, expressed during preliminary talks about a contract extension, became a sore point with York, who wants his coach and general manager to adhere to strictly defined organizational roles.

Mariucci disputed York's contention that he aggressively sought to gain clout beyond his traditional coaching role. Mariucci said he was trying to be helpful when he raised the possibility of adding the title and some of the responsibilities attached to being vice president and director of football of operations. John McVay, 72, plans to retire from that job May 1.

``I was offering my services if they wanted me to take on any responsibilities other than what I have already,'' Mariucci said. ``I was certainly not demanding it. If they said no, it would be fine.''

McVay's job revolves around negotiating player contracts, duties Mariucci repeatedly said he had no desire to acquire. He suggested he could have become more involved in areas such as the equipment room, training room and other support staff. But it's believed that any move into those areas by Mariucci would have set off another conflict with Donahue, who oversees those departments.

Mariucci, whose flirtations a year ago with Notre Dame and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about their coaching vacancies caused consternation among the 49ers' brass, said he still isn't sure what Donahue and York meant by ``philosophical differences.''

``When he talked to me the other day, it was about us seeing different colors,'' Mariucci said, referring to York. ``He'd have to explain that to you.''

York had said Wednesday: ``Regardless of where we turned, we saw things in different ways. He saw it one color, and I saw it another color.''

Mariucci and York had a tense, hourlong phone call Monday night that ended with York convinced he had to make a change. Mariucci said he, too, came away with a bad feeling.

``I came back and told my wife that I can't promise what was going to happen,'' Mariucci said.

Mariucci said at some point he probably will get back into coaching but that his only immediate plans were to spend more time with his family and to accompany his football-playing son, Tyler, on a college recruiting trip this weekend.

Eight of Mariucci's assistants are under contract until Jan. 31. Linebackers coach Richard Smith and special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven cleaned out their offices Thursday and will not return to the 49ers next season.

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