49ERS Mariucci deflects contract queries
Rumors in San Francisco say the Niners must win Sunday for the six-year coach to remain.
By DENNIS GEORGATOS
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A little more than a week ago, 49ers Coach Steve Mariucci was asked if he had any concerns about his job security.
"Do you think any of the other coaches whose teams clinched a division title are being asked that?" he said.
Yet, as the NFC West champion 49ers (10-6) reconvened Wednesday to begin preparations for Sunday's first-round game against the New York Giants (10-6), many questions Mariucci fielded during his meeting with reporters concerned his impending contract talks with team director John York of Canfield.
Mariucci, who is signed through next season, said he and York are abiding by their agreement not to publicly discuss his prospects for an extension until after the 49ers' season ends.
Indeed, Mariucci said he wouldn't mind putting the talks off until, say, the end of January, right after the Super Bowl.
"I'm glad we haven't spoke yet about it," Mariucci said. "I hope it's later. We're trying to keep playing and winning here."
For his part, York has tried to quiet rumors that Mariucci must take the 49ers deep into the playoffs to keep his job, saying earlier in December that his coach wasn't facing a "win-or-else" mandate in the aftermath of last's year's first-round exit.
Still, the speculation has continued, and the status of Mariucci and his staff -- the contracts of eight of 17 assistants expire in about a month -- remains a prominent subplot before the 49ers' first home playoff game since Jan. 3, 1999.
"I think more or less we're playing for all of our jobs," 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson said when asked if the team was playing to save Mariucci's job. "If we continue to get put out in the first round, then there's going to be changes that are going to have to be made to make us get to the next level. We're all trying to play hard and play with a lot of emotion because you never know how the season will end up."
Giants Coach Jim Fassel said he's not surprised by the scrutiny and criticism directed toward Mariucci because he has endured similar treatment, including public complaints about his job performance this season when his team appeared in danger of missing the playoffs.
"Heck, I was considered out of here," Fassel said. "It's just the way the league is today. If you can't accept it or work under those conditions, then don't aspire to be a head coach."
Fassel said the immediacy of the talk shows, network pregame shows and the Internet "really magnifies it.
"But more than that, the people who do those shows aren't paid to be in the middle of the road. They are paid to be controversial, get on the guys and stir the fans up. After a while, it's pretty hard to survive it because everyone is going to go through some tough times."
Too much success?
To a degree, Mariucci, who is in his sixth season as the team's coach, has heightened the pressure on himself through the 49ers' renewed success, which has again raised the level of expectations. Fassel has done much the same thing, Mariucci said.
"We are coaching for organizations who have won Super Bowls and whose fan base loves winning so the expectations can be similar," Mariucci said. "I suppose we know what each other goes through."