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York does injustice to all 49ers

Feb 7, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Never in all my imagination did I believe that the San Francisco 49ers the once proud jewel of the NFL would be in such a state of emergency. Owner representative Dr. John York has manipulated and dictated exactly how he perceives the organization should be managed. He wants to develop the San Francisco 49ers into a business a business that is accountable for all matters of finance and authority.

He wants all his subjects to be extremely loyal and submissive and he wants budgets adhered to in every facet of the 49er organization from each and every department on down. All purchases big and small seem to have to be approved directly through him and he has last and final say on every aspect of expenditure within the framework of his authority.

He has tarnished the very image we all hold so sacred in our eyes and our hearts and that is the symbol of pride we all bear as to being faithful San Francisco 49er fans. We come from all parts of this great nation from way up north in the cold chills of Canada to the tranquility and humidity of central Florida. To the very eastern tip of rural Maine to the far reaches of the land down under across the Pacific in Australia.

We are the fans of this great franchise built on the precedent that we are here to win championships and Super Bowls. This is what all football franchises look up to and revere and yearn to be. We carry that enigma of championship quality and integrity at any and all expense for that is what ownership and management has announced as to be vital to the cause.

But in comes Dr. John York and his silent wife in sister of former owner Eddie DeBartolo in Denise DeBartolo. They have managed to paint a pleasant front that they care about this franchise enriched with sound tradition and pledge to carry that torch that was lit so many years ago. But they have failed miserably to make anything happen in the way of securing that tradition and building on that tradition.

Here stands the old Candlestick Park falling apart, in need of immediate repairs and showing extreme signs of wear and tear after being built in the 1960’s. From structural failure to paint worn off on the very seats that faithful fans sit down in, Candlestick Park a stadium haunted with past icons of greatness is crumbling right before our very eyes.

Pledges of rebuilding the stadium and relocating have been mentioned but rarely looked into with any degree of seriousness. The family feud that ripped the DeBartolo’s apart has constantly maligned the efforts to get anything done. And the financial liability is something that draws absolutely no interest from an owner that reluctantly accepted this franchise because it was once her brother’s.

It saddens me to think that we as fans have been dealt such a lousy hand in this deck of cards and it only seems like it is getting worse before it ever gets better. I hate to paint a gloomy forecast and predict a dark future but the managing of this team and the ownership of this team comes into deep question when they do nothing to raise our spirits and improve our morale.

Since Steve Mariucci replaced George Seifert back in 1997 he has seen this franchise through its toughest challenges. Challenges brought on due to a league mandated salary cap that was overrun from past signings and acquisitions made by past ownership and management. He saw the process through despite the ugliness of it all and kept the team’s spirit invigorated on a daily basis by offering himself as a sounding board. He worked with creative talent and the absolute best managers in Bill Walsh, John McVay and Terry Donahue.

They formed an unheard of alliance and vowed to get the San Francisco 49ers back up on it’s feet and to become competitive again despite the turmoil financially and the lack of talent on it’s roster. Rebuilding took place to repair the damage; injections of youth and talent took place through the draft sprinkled with key free agent signings that made a difference.

Steve Mariucci stood at the forefront of all this and coached this talent into four playoff appearances in six seasons. If you minus the rebuilding years of 1999-2000 that is a remarkable achievement if I do say so myself. He did such quality work and won the hearts and minds of so many players that he became a hero in many a fans eye and many players were humbled at what extent he would go to win their confidence.

Because of all this and so much more other franchises and clubs began to look at him and desire his services. His success with the San Francisco 49ers generated interest from many professional and college institutions; it flattered him and made him feel honorable. But he chose to stay in the Bay Area because of the loyalty and deep love and devotion he had not only for his family but for the process that he had started with the players on the San Francisco 49ers.

He wanted to make that process work. He had been to the brink four times and had been turned away as the playoff loss at Tampa Bay stung him repeatedly like a swarm of killer bees intent on killing their prey. He was not at all happy but knew that too many more failures to advance deeper into the playoffs was a sign of weakness and that accountability would come knocking soon on his door.

Little did he know that it would the very next day, that on the phone he would be ridiculed and maligned as being the one that was ultimately accountable. He was held hostage on a phone in his very own home as he listened to and responded to a conversation between Dr. John York and himself. The conversation turned extremely violent and then calmed down like a sea of emotion that was out of control then all of a sudden began to calm.

Power was said to be a sticking point the next day and philosophical differences were also labeled as being the problem. Steve Mariucci’s record of 60 victories to 43 losses was not enough to keep his job nor was his 3-4 mark in the playoffs and regular season finishes of 12-4 and 10-6 over the last two seasons.

It was over and he knew that as he looked at his wife in horror, as he knew his family would once again bear the brunt of his traveling profession that he had subjected himself into. He didn’t want this to end this way and he never asked to be treated with such indifference and utter cruelty. He felt that if the time would come it would be done in a more professional manner a manner where he would be able to go face to face and offer his rebuttal.

He sought no semblance of additional power just more recognition and to be included more in the decision making of the franchise in a way that was termed as offering his assistance more on relative matters regarding the management of the team. He wanted to help like his agent professed to John York. He wanted to be there in case you needed someone to pick up the slack as the retirement of Vice President John McVay loomed large on the horizon.

Steve Mariucci still only wanted to be the head coach, he was happy with that and he wanted to offer himself as being helpful in whatever process the organization needed to keep itself upright and maintaining it’s sense of positive direction. Steve wanted the recognition he thought he deserved by being successful with the team on a whole. He sought that with expecting some sort of open handshake that would signify he was doing an adequate job.

What did Steve do that angered Dr. John York to the measure if firing him? It remains a cloudy issue as intentions were mixed at best. But York seemed to grow more irritated as time went on with the rebuilding years and the failures in the post-season. He began to grow disenchanted with Mariucci especially when interest from other clubs came knocking on his door wanting to attain him for their own purposes.

Using these overtures from other franchises Steve looked for a measure of loyalty from ownership in announcing that he would be going nowhere as a contract extension would be happening to retain his fine services. Instead he was smoke screened into oblivion, as York would promise nothing until the time was right. He would not fathom offering an extension as anguish and disgust began to build within York for Mariucci because of the generated interest and Mariucci using it as leverage for more money, more time and a bit more power in personnel decisions.

After a 90-minute meeting between the two they whispered thanks in each other’s ears and parted. The hug that took place between them had to be so orchestrated and reluctant. After all Steve was being shown the door for good, never to return to the grounds he walked and coached on for so many years. He would miss the relationships he had formed with not only office personnel but with his players as well; he was in a sense closing the door on a happy time of his life.

The emotions ran high after that day between the two after the meeting had ended. It was a definite twist of stories that disputed each other’s intentions on the firing process that York targeted Mariucci as desiring more power.

"If this is going to be a we-said, they-said, I’m not interested in that," a miffed York said during a conference call. "I know what Steve asked for last year, and I know what came up in conversation this year with his agent. I’m not the one that brought it up."

York maintains that Steve sought more power almost annually as he measured his success on the field as being a building measure for more autonomy. York looked at this as a negative influence as power was clearly designed to stay with his allocated individuals not with a head coach that proved to be successful for any reason.

According to York Steve’s agent Gary O’Hagan requested that Mariucci be named a team vice president, with a say in personnel matters, during a meeting in St. Louis, where the 49ers played the Rams in their regular season finale.

Steve then reiterated that request in a phone conversation that Monday night, York said, and it was then that York developed a sickened feeling for Mariucci. After consulting some associates over the next couple days. He flew from his Youngstown, Ohio, home to Santa Clara his mind already made up on Mariucci.

It is said early in that conversation between York and Mariucci that Steve tried to dissuade him from firing him, but York maintained that the power question had come up way too many times and saw no turning back as to allow such behavior to continue. York kept in mind that Mariucci’s flirtations with other football clubs were a way to acquire more power by seeking influence from his success as a head coach. The chain of command in York’s eyes would be breached and there would be nothing but complicated conflict.

The rumors existed that Mariucci did not have the best of relationships with General Manager Terry Donahue nor team consultant Bill Walsh. But evidence exists that the two never held Mariucci back although there were differences of opinion sometimes that he always could count on them for assistance.

"I think Steve Mariucci received as much support and cooperation as any coach could want," Donahue said. "Steve may not share that view, but people in this organization busted their humps to bring in good players and to make sure we had the best available resources to enable us to win." "I do not feel at all that we were in a position of not supporting our coach. I think that is a folly."

Whatever the matters that played into his firing the facts remain that the firing was done hastily and without any real plan in line for a successor. That has been evident with the circus we see before our eyes each and every day that goes by in a long search for viable candidates that are willing to take cheap pay with very little say in team decisions.

Coaches of that quality come with limited credentials; coaches that have say in some matters and are entrusted with a bit more autonomy seem to make the best coaches. As ownership too not only blesses them to develop talent on the roster but have say in the hiring of that talent as well.

Separation of power of course is essential and I believe in the separation of the general manager/head coach mentality. I believe it gives the team two fresh minds in order to consult with one another, but I believe the head coach should have some say in how the roster is transformed to an extent. I am confident that Steve Mariucci desired this but was willing to drop it when push came to shove, he still loved what he did best and that was to coach the 49ers he had made personal bonds with over the course of his tenure.

The reaction to Mariucci’s firing by fans is somewhat mixed. Most that I know believe that his dismissal was haphazard and done in an unprofessional manner I concur with that philosophy. Especially when Dr. John York would not meet with reporters and hid himself on the second floor of the Santa Clara headquarters facility and did a conference phone conversation.

In my opinion if you are man enough to do the dirty deed you should be man enough to stand up and defend your decision to the general public and also in my opinion we as fans deserved at least that one consideration. We were not allowed that opportunity, instead we are forced to digest the meeting as he says and I say mumble jumble rhetoric.

49er fans deserve so much more as there were many fans out there that were anti-Mariucci and wanted a change. Most of that is attributed to his conservative approach to securing victory and his analogy of how a game is progressing. Mariucci lacked killer instinct in many a fans eye and should have been more pressing in aggressiveness and holding his staff more accountable.

And then there are fans that were devote Mariucci fans because of the special relationships he had formed with players and the team chemistry that existed with harmony and hard work taking place. Mariucci had a genuine interest in each and every player’s development and looked at playing a game to win but win it with balance and structure, believing it was not necessary to always go for the throat of your opponent. Many fans still say that it was the condition of the team that rendered Mariucci with limited options as many players were injured.

Therefore he was a bit more conservative to avoid added injury and to conserve the fragile shell of many of the positions that were decimated throughout the season. He was in my opinion a coach of class and character, he had a devote appreciation for the game and his personnel. He did play to win and he gave it his all despite the critics that say otherwise. I am critical of Mariucci not taking charge enough when play calling became an issue in moving the ball down the field.

I felt that Mariucci should’ve been more aggressive with his assistants in getting going when the going was rough. His input to offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. should’ve been more aggressive and less conservative, his hands should have been more in the mix when we lacked productivity and creativity.

Players reacted, as they should’ve when the news came full force at them that their head coach was on his way out the door. The bond that Mariucci had developed with many was done over a course of time and caring, he was indeed a players coach if you ever saw one and used silent discipline as a weapon versus the dressing down kind.

"He is just a great human being," Sean Moran said. "You can talk to him on a daily basis. My daughter got sick and then there was not a day that went by that he didn’t ask about her."

"He was just a great coach and a wonderful human being. He wasn’t one of those dictator types. I play harder for coaches like that because you know that coach will go to bat for you."

"I was really surprised," Scott Gragg said. "I knew they (York and Mariucci) were going to have a conversation. I didn’t think it would be just one."

"I think he’s a great coach," Derek Smith said. "I don’t know whom they are going to find who’s going to do any better than he did."

Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster are two cornerbacks that have never played for anyone else; they have only known Steve Mariucci as their coach and mentor. They had to learn from a reporter about his dismissal and reacted to that news, as they should have.

"I didn’t see this coming," Plummer said. "I thought it was just talk. Some things happen that you 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 players, and gave the guys confidence whenever we played."

"I think it’s unfair," Jeremy 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."

Whatever you want to read into this is that for one Mariucci cherished his role inside this organization and two he developed a love for each and every player on this team. Even for those that showed contempt of him like Terrell Owens he came trying to improve upon that each and every day.

"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," Terry Donahue said. "I think you have a mixed bag on that."

"This was something that I thought was necessary to get us to move forward," York said. "I wasn’t planning on trying to (change coaches) this way, but there were reasons why I needed to talk to Steve. It just seemed to me that no matter what came up, Steve and I did not see things together,"

So the list of candidates is drawn and the prospects are limited. At first the two most rumored names in the spotlight were Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Mike Holmgren. The former 49er assistant always mentioned that he felt like he always had a home in San Francisco and expressed desire to someday return. But he is Seattle Seahawk property and any kind of deal would never be made as they intend on retaining him with an ironclad contract.

Former Minnesota Viking head coach Dennis Green surfaced as well as a legitimate candidate and he was considered at the same time when Jacksonville was looking to find a head coach after firing Tom Coughlin. But he withdrew upon hearing of the San Francisco opening expressing a desire to go back where he was a 49er assistant also.

"I’ve always been a part of the 49ers family," Green said. Upon questioning as to giving up power and just being a head coach Dennis Green seemed to have little problem with that either.

"San Francisco is totally different," he said. "What I would be looking for would be head coach and head coach only. They have a way of doing things. They have more Super Bowl championships than (any other team). They like the way they do things."

In fact Dennis Green is a close and personal friend of Bill Walsh who lobbied Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver to hire him for his head coaching vacancy. The crux is that Weaver went the other way after Dennis withdrew his name.

My opinion is and continues to be that Dennis Green was and still is the best candidate for the job, especially because he has familiarity with the San Francisco 49ers and indoctrinates so much of what the 49ers are into anywhere that he goes. The label on him though is that he is not a very hard worker and lacks discipline, as the case was apparent in the Randy Moss fiasco back in Minnesota.

Has he changed since then? I would hope to think so but others say he remains the same old Green. It is disheartening that we find ourselves with such limited potential in former and current available head coaching candidates, it renders what we did even more ludicrous as the consequences seem severe for doing so.

What is so disturbing to me is how the firing was conducted as Dr. John York acted like a runaway freight train on a mission not even mentioning his ultimate decision to his very own General Manager Terry Donahue until it was too late. Even consultant Bill Walsh was left in the dark on this one finding out through the media that it had indeed happened.

To render his staff meaningless and to run the franchise as a military coup leader is just ridiculous. I am surprised that Terry Donahue hasn’t packed up his belongings and moved on over not having a personal say in that decision.

Certainly even Peter Harris team president is starting to realize at just how meaningless his position has been as York has continued to bypass his office and made brash decisions already without his counsel. Harris was hired to bring stability back to the office and to find a way to get a new stadium developed and built for the team. So far you can see absolutely nothing has been accomplished.

Team Vice President John McVay is mystified at how his name got dragged into the Steve Mariucci firing. He has made one thing very clear to management and ownership though and that is his intention of retiring when his contract runs out on May 1st of this year. McVay, 72, has worked in the 49ers front office for most of the past 23 years, including a span from 1979-95 before returning in 1998 to help the 49ers recover from salary cap catastrophe.

It was Mariucci’s agent that mentioned McVay as being a position that would suit Mariucci and that he would be interested in helping out in that role if asked to do so. Dr. John York took great offense to this remark and considered it mutiny as a symbol of power positioning by Mariucci to gain more hand in the front office.

"John McVay’s value to this organization over the years, the guy ought to go in the Hall of Fame," Mariucci said. "He’s a fantastic employee. He’s done so much for this team and for me."

What McVay does is anything but glamorous as he negotiates contracts and maneuvers them within the salary cap as his main roles. He shares these duties with salary cap coordinator Dominic Corsell. Mariucci said one Thursday that he would have taken McVay’s job if the club asked him to do so, even though, "obviously, I don’t want any part of doing contracts."

The head coaches office in the Santa Clara headquarters is a sizable one, and there Steve Mariucci and his wife packed up his personal belongings to move out. It was hard for both of them as they both packed away six years of memories and a piece of their lives in cardboard boxes. The process seemed like eternity to do and the mood as always was deathly somber in meaning.

"We were in that office when George and Linda Seifert were packing up boxes," Mariucci said Thursday. "In some ways it seems like forever ago. So much has transpired and gone on." Later on Mariucci said: "By the way, George and I are going fishing."

How it all unfolded will bother Steve for a lifetime to come, he will honestly never know exactly why although there are signs there that point to a building up of past animosities in the way of just being a successful head coach. His only way of preventing a dismissal it seems to me would’ve been to win the Super Bowl, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were already destined to win as evidence has shown to be true.

The radio and the Internet announced his firing even before their 90-minute meeting was over in which Dr. John York flew in to convene on. Steve expressed outrage and utter dissatisfaction at how the process had been leaked and handled overall.

"I told them yesterday 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 call my wife," Mariucci said. "They knew about it before I was even out of the room. That was a little rough, but it happens."

"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."

Steve Mariucci and his wife Gayle left the Santa Clara facility in a borrowed black van to conceal their identity but reporters were ready for them. Steve labeled the whole 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.

It has been anything but that as today Steve Mariucci has found new life and new players to develop and coach. He became the prime candidate to the Detroit Lions after they fired former 49er offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as their head coach. He is now their present head coach with much more say and a lot richer beyond his belief.

There is a golden liner in every dark cloud Steve; I applaud you for finding something so quickly after being subjected to so much darkness in your life. You are richer for just being yourself, I know that money is important to a family but family is what your life seemed to always be about. We will miss you here in 49er land but I will look for you on the Detroit sidelines being the motivator and teacher you are so comfortable in being your passion is so apparent and your intent honorable.

The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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