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49ers release head coach Mariucci

Posted: Wednesday January 15, 2003 2:16 PM
  Steve Mariucci Steve Mariucci leaves as the 49ers' fourth-winningest head coach. AP

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated

San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci was released from the final year of his contract, general manager Terry Donahue said Wednesday.

Donahue said Mariucci was let go because he was seeking to increase his authority within the organization.

"Steve said he wanted to be our director of football operations," Donahue said. "They can spin it any way they want, but the facts are the facts and the truth is the truth.

"John [York, the Niners' director/owner's representative] has a structure in place in this organization and that's the structure that he believes in. He has a general manager, a head coach and that option [director of football operations] was not something that was open to discussion. There was no point in going any further with the contract negotiations.

"Steve's attempt to broaden his power eroded the relationship with the organization," Donahue said. "It eroded the feeling of trust; things had been damaged."

Donahue also said Mariucci's request came in a meeting "a couple of weeks ago" and was relayed through his agent, Gary O'Hagan.

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*  Donahue explains why the team let Mariucci go.
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    Was the timing of a very significant NFL memo to club owners Tuesday merely coincidental to the firing of Steve Mariucci on Wednesday, or did the confidential new league edict help push the sixth-year 49ers head coach out the door?
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  • What exactly went down? What's next for Mariucci? Who's next for the 49ers? Banks takes an inside look

    But reached at his Twin Cities-based office, O'Hagan refuted Donahue's version of events. "It's their perogative if they don't want Steve to be their coach," O'Hagan said. "But there was never any demand made. We never ever sat down and talked about it."

    The 49ers will look at coaches on the current staff to be Mariucci's successor, with defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. being a leading candidate. Former Minnesota Vikings heach coach Dennis Green, who twice served as an assistant under former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, also is considered likely to be in the mix.

    "This is not a performance issue that has forced us to reach this decision," York said Wednesday. "Rather, our decision is based upon a difference in philosophy within the 49ers' structure on how to best utilize our various talents in pursuing the goal of fielding championship teams and winning a Super Bowl.

    "I didn't think it was best to have a lame duck coach," York said. "I thought it best to have a coach we were fully committed to. There was enough noise about Steve Mariucci as our head coach, about Steve vs. Bill, about Steve vs. Terry Donahue, about whether or not we love Steve.

    "There was too much noise. You can't have all that and move the team along."

    Mariucci, who led the Niners to the playoffs four times in six seasons, was 59-42 including the postseason. San Francisco was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend after a 31-6 loss at Tampa Bay.

    "I don't have a clue right now what I'm going to do or what I want to do," Mariucci said. "Will I coach again? I suppose so."

    Though he didn't guarantee Mariucci's return, York was upbeat about his team and Mariucci moments after San Francisco failed to score a touchdown in its loss to the Buccaneers. York's attitude was widely accepted as a possible sign the 49ers' internal rifts and conflicting egos still might be bridged to keep Mariucci in charge.

    "I think we can get it worked out," York said Sunday. "To sit there and throw rocks at the coach after you won the [NFC] West Division and you won a playoff game is foolish."

    Inside the Numbers
    Steve Mariucci's coaching record
    Year  Team  W-L-T 
    1997  S.F.  13-3-0 
    1998  S.F.  12-4-0 
    1999  S.F.  4-12-0 
    2000  S.F.  6-10-0 
    2001  S.F.  12-4-0 
    2002  S.F.  10-6-0 
    Totals      57-39-0  

    As much success as Mariucci had, his two predecessors -- Walsh and George Seifert -- led San Francisco to a total of five Super Bowl championships, the first in 1982, the most recent in 1995.

    He set an NFL record for the fastest start at home in league history, winning his first 18 games, eclipsing the 13-0 mark John Madden had with Oakland in 1969-70. He also established an NFL record for consecutive wins by a rookie head coach with an 11-game winning streak in his first season in 1997.

    With 12 wins in 2001, Mariucci became only the second head coach in NFL history to win 12-or-more games in three of his first five seasons as head coach. The only other coach in league history to achieve that feat is Seifert who did it in 1989, 1990 and 1992.

    Mariucci joined the 49ers' staff in 1997 after spending one season as head coach at the University of California. Prior to joining the Cal staff, he was quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers from 1992-95.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only other team with a head coaching vacancy now and are thought to be interested in Mariucci. The Jaguars fired Tom Coughlin last month.

    Mariucci made $2.1 million this season, 19th among the NFL's 32 head coaches and a bargain rate for a coach with Mariucci's track record.

    He angered the 49ers' front office last winter by campaigning for a new contract through the media, and then talking to the Buccaneers last February about becoming their coach and general manager. The teams worked out a compensation package, but when Mariucci waffled on his decision, Tampa Bay hired Jon Gruden instead.

    After rejecting Tampa Bay's offer, Mariucci changed agents and rededicated himself to the 49ers. They won the NFC West and finished 10-6, despite significant injury problems on defense.

    The 49ers won their first-round playoff game by rallying from a 24-point deficit to beat the New York Giants, but they were never in the second-round game against Tampa Bay.

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    The Associated Press contributed to this report.