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Seeing that this is my premier column on the 49erwebzone, I felt it necessary to write about a topic that I have thinking about for a long while. Since I haven’t been around as long as the other 49er fans, I cannot remember the years that we were not controlled by either Bill Walsh or George Seifert so I can only compare our coach to one of those two. Being that those are some tough shoes to follow in, Steve deserves some latitude, but does he have the ability to take us where we all want to go?
Just a few short years ago, no one in the bay area was completely sure what direction the 49ers were going to head in. They had just lost their coach of 8 years, George Seifert, and they were searching for a replacement. When the announcement came that Steve Mariucci was to become the coach of the flagship franchise of the NFL, I was left to wonder, Is this guy for real? He had not really stood out at the University of California, leading the Golden Bears to a 6-5 record, so I did not know if he could cope with the rigors of a NFL coaching job. His ability was tested early on in his career.
September 1997, Steve’s first regular season game as 49er head coach was a very turbulent day. he saw Jerry Rice go down with a supposed season ending knee injury and saw his pro bowl quarterback, Steve Young, sustain a concussion in his long line of concussions. Many of the “learned” NFL people had the 49ers written off for dead without Rice for the season and a battered Young, but Mariucci seemed to turn the ship around and took the 49ers all the way to the NFC championship game. This achievement seemed to solidify his place as this organizations head coach, but problems were definitely looming on the horizon.
Since that inaugural season, Steve Mariucci has seen a complete front office overhaul, lack of production from top draft picks, and the loss of many aged veterans to the salary cap, causing the once proud 49er organization go into a salary cap imposed rebuilding process. He has done a very admirable job this season, but many question his ability to lead this team.
It is quite obvious that Steve is a player’s coach who is able to get the most out of his players. These guys are willing to listen to his instructions and respect the path that he and the rest of his coaching staff is trying to take the organization. He has been able to build this young teams confidence and get them going in the right direction.
If the NFL has a more emotional head coach within it’s ranks, I have yet to see him coach against the 49ers. Steve has to be the most emotional guy I can ever remember being involved with the 49er organization. Day in and Day out, Steve is living and breathing 49er football, constantly striving to get that euphoria of victory and avoiding the degradation of defeat. I am sure that he is the most inspirational figure the 49ers have on that football field.
While Steve is a great player coach, the one thing that has been notably absent from the 49ers of the Mariucci era has been discipline. During the Walsh and Seifert years, the 49ers were one of the least penalized teams in the league, but since Steve took over, the team has gone over to the other extreme. Anytime that a flag is on the ground, 49er fans almost dread the call that costs them a big gainer or a defensive stop. If the 9ers are to return to glory, the discipline of the team should be the first priority.
As the team has fallen from grace, both the offense and defense have had stretches of ineffectiveness that has been put on the shoulders of Mariucci’s coordinators. Both Marty Mornhinweg and Jim Mora Jr. have been much maligned for their conservative approaches to the game as well as their poor results. Injuries, age, and new faces have been large factors in the teams lack of production, but to get to the next level, a change might be in order on both sides of the ball.
I have seen the 49ers take a devastating tumble from Super Bowl competitor to NFC West doormat but am confident in the future of this franchise. I have great hopes still for the Steve Mariucci regime and am confident that we will return to prominence, but it is essential for our team to keep progressing. If we continue to progress, Mooch will be holding the Super Bowl trophy over his head as the tears stream down his face, if not, we will be back to the uncertainty that we all went through just four short seasons ago.