Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What About Mooch?

The end of every football season brings with it the inevitable head coaching moves as guys get hired and fired all over pro and college football.

This week both the Dolphins and Ravens have made headlines concerning their own search for their next head man. And all that posturing got me to thinking, why am I not hearing former 49ers and Lions head coach Steve Mariucci's name mentioned with guys like Tony Sparano and Jason Garrett?

For those of you who don't remember, Mariucci last coached in the NFL in 2005 when he was fired by the Detroit Lions after a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Since then Mariucci has been working the analyst desk for the NFL Network and doing a fine job. But it seems to me his talent and resume as a head coach would be difficult to ignore for any team with an opening.

As a fan I have fond memories of Mariucci's tenure with the 49ers and to this day maintain that former GM Terry Donahue's decision to fire him after a 10-6 season and an NFC West crown set the team back at least five years.

When Mariucci was first hired by the 49ers he inherited a team of stars led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice and had great initial success going 25-7 in his first two seasons on the job. The next two years were not as kind however as the Niners best players aged and succumbed to injury.

The Niners went into free fall in 1999 and 2000, compiling a 10-22 mark over those two seasons and it would have been easy then to let Mariucci go. But the Niners showed their faith in the man that helped mold Brett Favre in Green Bay and that faith paid off.

Coaching up a total unknown in quarterback Jeff Garcia, Mariucci reversed the Niners fortunes yet again going 12-4 in 2000. Despite the fact that they were beaten by Favre and the Packers in the Wild Card playoffs that year, it seemed the Mariucci-led Niners were back.

They followed that campaign up by winning the NFC West and pulling off one of the greatest (albeit controversial) comebacks in playoff history, beating the New York Giants 39-38.

By then Garcia was a Pro Bowl caliber player and the team had started to put together a decent roster of players including Terrell Owens, Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. Things were looking good, and then just like that it was all over.

On January 15th, 2003, Mariucci was fired by the Niners after a falling out with Donahue. Less than a month later he was hired by the Detroit Lions and the Niners haven't posted a winning record since.

Sure Mariucci's record with the Lions left quite a bit to be desired, but much of that blame has to fall on GM Matt Millen and some of his terrible decisions. Trust me, you'd have a tough time winning with Joey Harrington as your starting quarterback too.

I remember Mariucci as a guy the Niners players seemed to rally around and as one of the more entertaining sound bytes in the league. A guy whose ability to keep things light off the field and play to his team's strengths on it was just the right combination for a professional coach in this day and age.

So why is it that no one seems interested in hiring a guy with the kind of solid credentials that Mariucci brings to the table? There have been rumors that he's not interested in stepping back into the spotlight again, but I have a hard time believing that given what I saw of his competitive fire when he was in San Francisco.

If not in the NFL then, why not at the college level? He spent one year as the head coach at Cal and led them to a bowl game and has been linked in the past to several schools including Michigan State and UCLA.

Why in heaven's name would someone hire Bobby Petrino before at least giving Mariucci a look? Oh wait, that's right, it's Arkansas.

Seriously though, I think he'd be perfect for the college game with his offensive mind, NFL background and effervescent personality he'd make a great recruiter and would be a guy that college kids would really respond to, much like Pete Carroll at USC.

Regardless of the situation, I personally would love to see Mariucci back on the sidelines and think it would be a shame if he remains behind a television desk for much longer.

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