Coming To Mooch’s Defense
November 19 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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The Sportingnews.com released information on Sunday that 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci, who is in the second last season of his contract has begun preliminary talks with the organization on a contract extension. The notion of keeping Mariucci in charge of the 49ers likely has many people pulling their hair out. I for one, am happy to hear that the team is working to keep the coach around.
One can not ignore what Mariucci has done with this team. He took over for George Seifert and continued the playoff legacy, even beating the Packers. He weathered a storm of front office turnover, that included the ownership of the team changing hands. He won a game where he lost future hall of famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice in the same game - no less the opening game of the season, and also lost Garrison Hearst to what could have been a career ending injury.. He witnessed the team go through salary cap purgatory, losing future hall of famers like Steve Young, Jerry Rice and other talented veterans like Merton Hanks, Tim McDonald, Ken Norton Jr, Lee Woodall, Rod Woodson, several key offensive lineman, and also coaches like the late Bobb McKittrick who coached with cancer to his final days, and Marty Mornhinweg his offensive coordinator to the struggling Detroit Lions. He’s had three quarterbacks coaches in three years. Despite all that, Mariucci only had two struggling seasons. He went 4-12, and 6-10 in consecutive seasons, and then last year, beating all expectations the 49ers went 12-4 and into the playoffs.
Fairly 49ers fans want more, and claim that Mariucci can’t take them to the next level, but what is that based on? So far the only place he’s taken his teams is up, so why would that magically stop? Fans are definitely disappointed with the performance against the Chargers, and by all means they should be. It wasn’t Mariucci’s best coached game, especially considering his blunder last week in handling the play clock, but Mariucci had his team in a place to win a game against a very tough opponent, it was the players execution that ultimately left the 49ers with a loss.
The coach started the team off very slowly despite getting into fairly good position on the opening drive. The choice to punt from the Chargers 35 was iffy on a fourth and five situation, and the 49ers only gained 15 yards from the ensuing touchback. Certainly that was a questionable play call. It was the start or rather the continuation of the 49ers struggling to score points. It wasn’t until there was 1:04 left in the second quarter when the 49ers got on the score board, nearly four quarters (including last game) of scoreless play for the 49ers.
Why did the team struggle so? They entered the game thinking they could simply exploit the Chargers defensive backs, and they could, but they didn’t realize that they needed to be able to run too, and because they didn’t get their run game going, Jeff Garcia was pounded, and the offense struggled as the field got tighter.
Later in the game, with the lead, the 49ers again forgot about the run, choosing to pass to kill the clock, and in over time, to try and advance the ball for Cortez. Both times the 49ers ran into difficulties. Of course, there was poor clock management at the end of regulation, where the 49ers failed to call a time out, in the hopes of making a defensive stand, the result was the team getting the ball back with 30 seconds to go, or three plays, instead of 50 seconds to go, or about five plays to try and get the winning score.
The one time the 49ers were in the red zone they failed to score a touchdown, further adding to the red zone efficiency woes. But the team could score touchdowns off of big runbacks, turnovers or blocked field goals, and that too hurt them. The inability to score again I attribute to the play of the offensive line, and the teams lack of commitment to rush the ball. They weren’t helped by the 8 penalties either.
But with all the bad that happened in this game, there was a lot of good too. The defense for one, which Mariucci is involved with but not to the same extent as the offense had a very good scheme ready to stop the Chargers. Ironically it was getting away from what they were doing switching from a prevent defense to a cover two, that left the sidelines exposed that lead to the Chargers tying touchdown.
The coach is often called conservative, but I ask you, how many conservative coaches go long on fourth and three? How many conservative coaches have teams that pass way more than they run? How many conservative coaches can drive their team down into scoring position to win the game? These are all good traits, all good things that Mariucci did. But people forget that the Chargers are a AFC leading team. People forget that the Chargers match up nearly perfectly against the 49ers. People forget about the fourth and three calls, and look immediately to the score. “Seventeen points” they question, “must be the coaches fault”. Not bothering to look at the penalties that stopped them from scoring, or the hammering that the quarterback undertook.
Steve Mariucci is one of the best coaches in the game today. Mike Shanahan is probably the only coach I would prefer at this point, and the only coach I’d likely prefer even if the 49ers lose in the first round of the playoffs. This team has improved over last year, there is no question about that. Steve Mariucci is responsible for that, he’s responsible for assembling a great staff, and responsible for keeping his players motivated, and ready to go, he’s doing that, he’s improving this club. He does make mistakes, but he isn’t costing the 49ers games, and he is constantly putting them in position to win, as seen by the missed field goal opportunity by Jose Cortez. Mariucci is not conservative, and he hasn’t been since about the fourth game of this season. The play calling has been effective to the point of the 49ers 19 scripted plays appearing to be a seamless extension of the offense. He knows what he is doing, he has been instrumental in the development of the team, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, a quarterback nobody wanted, turned Pro Bowl talent - and it’s about time fans gave him his due.