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Wednesday, January 29, 2003


[NFL FOOTBALL]



art
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning practiced with the AFC offense yesterday at Aloha Stadium.




Missing Mariucci
at the Pro Bowl

Jeff Garcia lost a friend
as well as a mentor when
the 49ers fired their coach

Pro Bowl notebook, events


By Dave Reardon
dreardon@starbulletin.com

Jeff Garcia knows football at his level is a business, and it can be a ruthless one.

But he also knows Steve Mariucci is his friend.

Garcia, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl quarterback, expressed dismay yesterday over the firing of Mariucci nearly two weeks ago. Mariucci, the 49ers coach the past six seasons, led San Francisco to a 57-39 record, including 10-6 and a playoff spot in 2002.

"I was disappointed because we became very close, not just as player and coach, but as friends," Garcia said as he squinted into the morning sunlight at the Ihilani Resort.

It was the closest thing to controversy yesterday, as some of the NFL's best held their first practice sessions for Sunday's game at Aloha Stadium. Players stretched, ran through a few plays, signed autographs and talked about Tampa Bay's Super Bowl romp, all at a leisurely pace.

Olin Kreutz, the Chicago Bears center and Saint Louis School alumnus, gave directions to good eateries. Terrell Owens, the 49ers flamboyant wide receiver, chatted and smiled, answering "every day," when asked if he still gets teased about autographing a football after scoring a touchdown in a Monday Night game. Another player with a rep for big talk, New York Giants rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey, was shockingly quiet; he soaked in his first Pro Bowl practice with a bemused grin.

But an intense-looking Garcia spoke to a crowd of reporters for several minutes about Mariucci and what he meant to the 49ers.

art
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saint Louis alumnus Olin Kreutz, right, a Chicago Bears center, shook hands with the Green Bay Packers' Marco Rivera at practice yesterday.




"Just his sense of always being positive. He's a players' coach. He's never blaming players and he's up front, a class act," Garcia said. "That kind of person is not easily replaced."

The 49ers front office received permission yesterday to interview Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. They also asked for permission to interview Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, as well as New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as candidates to replace Mariucci. San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. will also be interviewed. Former Vikings head coach and 49ers assistant Dennis Green is also a possibility.

Last Sunday's Super Bowl indicates a coaching change can boost a good team over the top.

"As we see with Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden and Oakland under Bill Callahan (both new head coaches with their teams), those things can happen. We hope we can do that," Garcia said.

Mariucci has often been portrayed as having a personality conflict with former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, who still wields a lot of power even though his title is now consultant.

"I know we heard a lot of that through the press, but within the organization I didn't really see that," Garcia said. "Walsh and Mariucci and (owner John) York always seemed respectful toward each other.

"I saw us as moving in the right direction. Mariucci took us from the bottom just four years ago to a respected, confident team. I guess (management) wants to go in a different direction, and I understand that."

Garcia has always had empathy for Mariucci. His predecessors at 49ers quarterback were Joe Montana and Steve Young. Mariucci's as head coach were Walsh and George Seifert.

Montana, Young, Walsh and Seifert were key figures in the team's five Super Bowl victories.

"I can relate. I came in to play a position that was played by Hall of Famers before me. Steve had to come in and follow Super Bowl coaches," Garcia said.

"Seeing a good friend get fired when you thought he was doing a good job, sure it's disappointing to see," he added. "But there is a standard for the 49ers, and it's a high one. Getting to the playoffs is not good enough. He didn't get us to the top."

Garcia finally got a chance to lighten up when someone asked him about his family.

"They're fine," he said, breaking into a smile and remembering he's in Hawaii, at the Pro Bowl. "The expectations have become pretty high for me, too. My family and friends expect me to be here every year."

Note: Tickets for Sunday's game were still available as of last night.



National Football League



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