Mariucci versus Owens let the Olympic games begin 03/03/02 11:00 AM

Nothing has been more talked about and more publicized throughout the San Francisco season of 2001 than the feud between Head Coach Steve Mariucci and his star wide receiver in Terrell Owens. The pop shots the media blitzes and interpretations of each side has been injected into this franchise like a poison threatening to tear at the very fiber that holds it all together.

Compare it to snakebite, you’re walking through a tropical rain forest and a poisonous snake bites you and the venom begins to take its toll. Your weak and sick to your stomach, your throat begins to constrict and you break out in sweats. Your body begins to quake and you shake uncontrollably. The antidote is available and just out of your reach, you know it will save you and stop the agony but you cannot reach out to it. Something keeps coming in the way of your reach, preventing you from injecting that life saving antidote, you analyze it you try and comprehend what is wrong and at the same time what the right thing to do is. This is what one on one communication is, a sure fine antidote to the poison that rips at this relationship.

The story is a long one, one that started way back in 2000 when Terrell Owens was suspended and fined for prancing on the Dallas star in the middle of Texas Stadium. He defended the action as raising the morale of his teammates, and one can try and interpret that as a positive. But then one can more readily agree that it was a slap in the face to all Cowboy fans and everyone that was on the opposite side of that sideline in particular on that very day.

The rivalry was renewed on that very day between age-old dynasties and the hate came to a boil all over again, with that one flamboyant act one right after another. The action that Mariucci was compelled to take, before the league itself stepped in was quick and adequate for the consequences that it manifested.

Owens has never forgotten nor in my opinion forgave Mariucci for that, the feud has been ongoing and rippled right through the 2001 season like a cancer. So much of what has been said between the two parties has been blown out of proportion and misinterpreted in more ways than one.

Back in January in the post-season entry of San Francisco at Green Bay on Lambeau Field, the stage was set for another Mariucci versus Owens debate. The ideal situation in this game would be to use your star receiver as often as possible, and score as often as possible to put your opponent away early.

But Terrell Owens was effectively taken out of this game, he was held to four receptions for a measly 40-yards in production. Hardly the kind of numbers you expect from the playmaker on your team. Owens never scored a touchdown in this playoff game that ended 25-15 in victory for the Green Bay Packers. Professionalism has been thrown to the curb in more ways than one when Terrell Owens expresses his viewpoints; he has been quick to blast the one in charge on more than one occasion already in this season. Losing in post-season would not change that familiarity all season long.

“They tell me I’m the best player on the team,” Owens said. “I want to be the go-to (guy) on this team. But the play calling doesn’t always involve me. I get lost in the offense. It’s disappointing to end this way.”

“I don’t feel like I had enough opportunities today,” Owens continued. “It’s very frustrating. I feel like the team has come a long way for it to end like this. This was our year; we should have won the game.”

Going back even further we can look at the game against Chicago, where the 49er’s fell in defeat in overtime to the Bears. Owens went on to say that the loss could have been avoided had Mariucci been more aggressive in the game versus conservative. He even went on to say that Mariucci threw the game so that his old time friend in Bears Head Coach Dick Jauron could save face. Owens maintained that the 49er’s should have blown the doors wide open on the Bears.

The effect that his remarks and comments have had on the team has been mixed; many players ignore the whole ordeal because they believe it is only Terrell being Terrell. That is the way that he is. Others are fed up with the remarks and consider them damaging to the team; some have even said this to Owens in person on occasion.

When General Manager Terry Donahue was asked he admitted that the feud was out of hand and needed to be addressed, being the middleman he has said publicly that it is a fine line that you walk between the coaches and the players.

The issue will be addressed in the off-season and rectified in Donahue’s opinion, but can it heal the deep wounds that are still in existence today. Some will say that Mariucci should never have put up with it, others say it is a minor distraction and Owens has a right to speak out.

Wherever you fall on either side the one fact that remains is that ongoing open lines of communication should have been going on. A blown out comment by a player should be handled immediately in my opinion. Sit down and have a meeting of the minds, discuss the issues that bother you the most. Act like adults and come to a settlement, agree on a compromise that is where a great middle ground should be established.

The violations on both sides are evident; Owens crossed the line in blasting remarks about Mariucci concerning Dick Jauron back in the regular season. That should have signaled a time for discussion immediately. And Mariucci being the head coach should have demanded that communication in one on one session until a plan could have been formulated to ease those tensions.

Donahue downplayed the tension as a mere disagreement of the minds and that it could be quickly fixed with dialogue, however that dialogue needs to happen sooner rather than later. “I don’t think people in a profession have to like each other to be successful together. To have a professional relationship, that doesn’t mean they have to enjoy people’s company. They can still get things done.”

Mariucci signaled right after the season loss to Green Bay that he desires more dialogue with his star receiver, he realizes that both have different viewpoints and have a desire to win football games. It is finding a way to include more Terrell that is the sticking point, one that many accuse Mariucci of being too conservative and not airing it out when needed to score multiple quick points.

When approached about sitting down with Owens he replied: “We should,” Mariucci said. “We need to and we should sit down and talk. We’ve done that before. He’s an important guy, he’s a good player and he can be frustrated at times. It would be good for us to sit down and hash out things another time as we go forward.”

The controversy with Mariucci has been his conservative type of approach with many football games, Mariucci believes it’s important to strike a balance on offense in both the running game and the passing game. This creates opportunities for both, however many question rather Mariucci sticks to these principles a bit too much especially when the 49er’s are forced to play catch-up from behind.

Players even his own quarterback Jeff Garcia have made these types of comments, wanting to open things up a bit more is not a voodoo recipe. Garcia believes they probably could have won more games and gone further with an increase in passing plays. Owens believes that more than anyone, he vocalizes that on every occasion that presents itself. However Mariucci has been stout in his posturing that he will not budge on that subject.

“One of the reasons Jeff has made two Pro Bowls is because of his decision-making,” Mariucci said. “He won’t force the ball into coverage.” “Running the ball is something I love to do,” he added. Why? I don’t know. I just love to do it.”

Steve Mariucci has been quick to play damage control whenever Owens finds it necessary to express himself over a loss or a opportunity to highlight Mariucci’s ineffective play-calling as being way too conservative.

“He was just frustrated,” Mariucci said. “He wanted to help it more. Garrison (Hearst) wanted to help out more (than) 42-yards rushing; some guys express it differently than others.” “We’ve got to expect some of this after you lose a tough game. That’s Terrell Owens expressing his desire to want to help out more.”

There have been many occasions where Mariucci has downplayed the media attention attributed to Owens because he is convinced that they are not that far apart. He considers Owens a great superstar that can make plays happen almost at will. And that he has a great inner drive to be the focal point of this team, his off-field workouts and on field ones as well speak for themselves.

One has to believe that Terrell Owens wants to fill the shoes of legendary Jerry Rice on this team, he assumed that in the chain of command once Rice left for Oakland. He has approached that task in many different ways. Many say that he is arrogant and self-centered always wanting to draw attention just to himself.

If I did not know anything about the 49er’s and was a fan from somewhere else I would tend to believe that understanding and that concept. But any 49er fan must know that Owens wants nothing but to win at all costs, that he desires it more than life itself. And that he wants to prove to the world that he is the best wide receiver in the NFL.

In that wild-card playoff game against the Packers nine passes were aimed at Owens. Four of those were complete for only 40-yards and no touchdowns. Of course, had one of the five others been thrown a foot or two farther by Garcia, and not tipped and then intercepted on the ricochet, Owens almost certainly would have had a fourth-quarter touchdown. And the 49er’s would have gone on to win, and all these critical words would have gone unsaid.

Or would they? If we had advanced on to St. Louis wouldn’t we have had the same fate that had fallen on the Packers? We had been defeated twice already by the Rams in 2001, what could we have done differently to beat them at home on artificial turf. If we had lost again Owens undoubtedly would have complained anyway. Case closed.

“There are going to be games when people take Terrell away,” said Mariucci. “Teams load up the box with eight people to stop the run. Or they double team wide receivers. The Packers held Randy Moss to two catches for 10-yards. Sometimes your go-to-guys are not going to have 20 straight successful games. Somewhere along the line, people are going to say, ‘Nope, not today.’ Then you’ve got to do the best you can.” What needs to transpire is a meeting of the minds, a meeting is forthcoming at Donahue’s request and hopefully that will liquidate some of the hurt feelings. But both parties must sit across from each other and express their discomforts and find common ground on repairing that.

What may or may not surprise you is that Owens is an outstanding competitor, he shows up for every practice, he runs out every route, he fulfills every blocking assignment. And when the 49er’s lose watch out he has something to say about it. Terrell Owens has real well defined talents, something we need to harness and nurture to the fullest extent. Listening to what Owens has to say is not a bad thing but a good start, making sure he complains in a better forum though is also essential. Walking into Mariucci’s office and sitting down with him would be a great start.

“He’s a tremendous player, and he should impact football games. I’d be disappointed if every player wasn’t disappointed when they don’t touch the ball a lot,” Donahue said; although he did agree he would prefer Owens keep his complaints internal.

“You’ve got to look at your talent. You’ve got to know your personnel,” Owens said after the Green Bay loss. “People keep telling me I’m the best player on this team. I put the challenge of carrying this team on my shoulders, and I didn’t get the opportunity.” Now when you read this statement realize what he is saying, you have to know your talent and your personnel? Who better knows that than Mariucci? I would tend to believe that Mariucci already realizes that and uses that talent accordingly, that is what he is paid to do isn’t it?

People tell me I’m the best player on this team? Wow is that isn’t egotistical or what? The problem I have with Owens sometimes is the “I” word, everything revolves around the “I” word. It should be “us” not “I”. Bottom line it is the team that wins ballgames not just one person. One person may give outstanding contributions but in the final end it is the team as a whole that wins the game.

The challenge of carrying the team on his shoulders is a noble one almost back to ancient times with knights and pheasants and things. No one person should have to carry an entire team, it is making sacrifices and making great contributions that betters a team overall. One person can be eliminated easily; eliminating all the team is much more difficult is it not? Let’s get away from the attention to just oneself and focus on what is beneficial to the team.

In the last six games of the 2001 season there was strong evidence of opposing defenses trying to eliminate Terrell Owens in every game. At some point the 49er’s acknowledged and surrendered this fact too easily. Playing into the defenses hands and allowing them to take away their best playmaker.

Another problem of course was the production of his counterparts in J.J. Stokes and Tai Streets; both were not nearly effective enough to keep defenses completely honest. The duo combined for 82 catches, 930-yards and eight scores, but neither commanded the same respect as departed receiver Jerry Rice. This is a sad spot here for us folks; these two receivers must step up or get out. Many times too many times Owens did feel compelled to take the team on his shoulders when these two showed limited ability. Another sure fine fact is the quarterback in Jeff Garcia, he makes great decisions and most of that circle around not taking unneeded chances or uncalculated risks. He threw only 12 interceptions all season. He did not want to make high-risk throws in fear of turning the ball over too many times; therefore Owens was sometimes left wondering why?

But I say this was more beneficial than detrimental, in light of that we did not have that many turnovers and we stayed in games longer because of just that. Garcia will be careful and he will only throw when the percentage is best.

One thing that went in the favor of the 49er offense this season was the fact that the defense was a huge contributor this time around and the return of Garrison Hearst with the running game. Due to that the offense generally did run more conservative and won ballgames because of it, chances were taken less often.

Earlier in the season though, when the 49er’s were trailing almost every week, Garcia would start throwing the ball more often to Owens and with great success. I believe Owens was accustomed to this attention and once the other two factors matured and clamped down that focus shifted away from him. I believe he had a very hard time dealing with that reality.

Take for instance the come-from-behind win at Atlanta, for example, the 49er’s trailed 20-7 at halftime, and Owens had zero catches. But after halftime, he caught nine passes for 183-yards and three scores to help pull out the win. This is the kind of production Owens wanted every game, but is that possible? The answer is clearly no due to the nature of the game, play calling all depends on where the game is and where it intends to go. Analyzing what needs to be done and making the best percentage call to obtain yardage.

Not every game can be come from behind contest such as this, and allow someone to bask in the glory of being the responsible party of turning an entire game around. Owens wishes it could be, but it is simply not practical to think this way.

Disciplining Owens for his outlandish and brash statements to the press, would be an option, but one that was not exercised by Mariucci after the Chicago overtime loss. Many believe he should have either fined him or suspended him. But would that have solved anything? Maybe it would have sent a message to Owens, or maybe it would have dismantled the offense to the extent it would have been detrimental to the team.

The fallout after the playoff loss calmed down after awhile, but on Thursday January 24th, Terrell Owens told 790-AM The Zone that his strained relationship with 49er’s Coach Steve Mariucci “Now is at the point where it’s not repairable. It’s at the point where if I was on the (49er’s) expansion draft list, I would probably be happy.” One source from CBS said the 49er’s were considering offering Owens up on the expansion draft list, but General Manager Terry Donahue quickly sounded off to that report as being false. The rumor mill was flying during this time, and the flames that shot from Owens mouth shocked the entire 49er community to its core.

“I’ve talked to guys, they told me, ‘Why would they trade a guy who’s the best player on the franchise?’ Owens said. “My question is, ‘Why would you leave your best player on the field with four catches in a playoff game?’ If you have the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, it’s senseless.”

Terrell Owens like any ordinary athlete in the NFL, especially a veteran player that he is, sets goals for himself. Even though he came off a year in which he caught 93 passes for 1,412-yards and league-high 16 touchdowns, he said he fell well short of his primary pre-season goal.

One must admit without hesitancy that Terrell Owens is the best wide receiver in the NFL, bottom line. He more than proved that with his individual performances and brilliant comebacks that aided the 49er’s in winning many close games. But one still must keep in mind that Owens must stop believing that he is the sole answer all the time. “Before the season started, I told my boys I wanted to be the first guy to get 2,000-yards,” Owens said. “I know I have that type of ability.” Even though he did not achieve this lofty mark, he did go to the Pro Bowl on February 9th.

Owens comes from a home back in Alexander City, Alabama that was a troubled one; he learned what life was all about through his grandmother that raised him, while he watched his mother work multiple jobs. He experienced life without a father, and lived across the road from a sibling with no knowledge of it.

“I learned so much from my grandmother,” said Owens. “She taught us to be good people and tried to raise us upon the way she was raised.”

What Owens lacked back then was father figure, but his uncle tried to fill that void, he lived with the family in Alexander, he would make time for Owens whenever he could find some. He would take Owens and play basketball together and go squirrel hunting in the woods. He even let Owens hang out while he worked on cars.

“My uncle kept us time after time, but thinking back on it I didn’t have anyone to step up to the plate and be the role model for me,” said Owens. Owens and his younger siblings basically were left to finding out things on their own, or through trial and error. “Back then, I wasn’t aware of being a big brother and showing them the way. I was a late bloomer in a lot of areas,” admits Owens. “I didn’t focus on showing them the way to do things. I was young myself and didn’t look at life that way.”

Owens made what he is today, he started with his opportunity at The University of Tennessee, and Chattanooga would be his first stop on a wonderful journey in life. The second part happened when he was drafted in the third round by the 49er’s. Finally his world was coming around and he was finding it whole once again.

“I’ve adopted that role, especially in the last three years,” affirmed Owens. “I know that I’m in a good position, not only financially, but I’ve matured as well. I am more open than ever before around my family with my feelings and things of that nature. I do consider myself the man of the house.”

The house that he talks about includes a place where is younger brother, a high school senior, and his younger sister, a college freshman, can find the family figure that Owens did not have when in their position years ago. “I tell them about life and the things that my grandmother told me,” said Owens. “That includes being your own person and expressing yourself, regardless of what others might think of you. As long as you feel in your heart that you’ve done the right thing, what others say doesn’t matter.”

Owens Victorian home stands out like a beacon in his community, he has a house that beams with confidence and security now. He has made room available for the very woman that worked so many jobs and long hours for the family to survive his mother. “I think I’ve helped her a lot, not just financially but more importantly, emotionally, especially through my grandmother’s illness,” explains Owens of his mother. “From college up to this point, I just try to offer advice when I can and help out as much as possible.”

Another fine trait that Owens shares with his family and friends is his faith in God, and how he worships his God. He makes no qualms about the fact that it is his faith that has seen him through so much. “God is the center of our family life, now even more than ever,” he said. “I grew up in a household where I was going to church and understanding the ways of the Bible, and just by being in that environment I’ve grown to understand that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without God. He is the reason for everything; I’ve learned that and kept it close to my heart.”

One can try and understand that maybe Owens is taking the advice of his grandmother and speaking his mind when he feels he has to. There is though a more practical forum to air one’s sarcastic remarks and air one’s disagreement with management. That is taking a seat in one’s office and expressing oneself right there.

There was a report that came out that indicated before the expansion draft by the Houston Texans that, the San Francisco 49er’s considered exposing Owens on that list. According to league sources, the team had seriously considered including Owens on the list over the past week under a plan where the Texans would have selected the two-time Pro Bowler, and then traded him to a third team. Sources said that the 49er’s and Texans had been discussing the maneuver, but added that Owens wouldn’t be on the expansion list unless Houston agreed to definitely choose him in the stocking draft and send him to another team.

“If the deal (with Houston) isn’t in place, he isn’t going anywhere,” said one source before the 49er’s made their decision. The fact remains that no such deal was made nor was Owens really ever considered for the expansion draft.

The proposed deal between the Texans and 49er’s would have been a complex one, but also would have benefited both franchises. The departure of Owens would have excised a player who has openly warred with Mariucci for more than a year. And it would have allowed San Francisco to escape severe salary cap ramifications while creating more than $6 million of additional space under the projected 2002-spending limit of $71,8 million. The Texans would have had this scenario to deal with, if they had picked Owens and if Owens had been on the list. They would have immediately assumed Owens 2002 cap charge of $6.06 million, When the expansion franchise traded him, the cost would have ballooned to $8.734 million because of so-called “acceleration” of remaining prorated signing bonus charges.

The Texans would then swap Owens for a package that included at least one first-round draft choice, and they could assume a steep salary cap hit because they are essentially starting from scratch in amassing charges.

Owens, who is 28-years old, signed a contract extension in 1999 that ran through 2006 campaign. But because he achieved predetermined playing time levels, the 2004-2006 seasons are voided. He is now under contract through 2003.

He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.6 million in 2002, with a cap value of $6.06 million. His cap value for 2003 is $6.66 million, with a base salary of $4.2 million. What remains to be seen is will Owens want completely out of San Francisco going into the 2003 season, his rift with Mariucci will have to be completely smoothed over for him to contemplate that idea. He has publicly acknowledged he will test the free agent market once his contract is up in 2003. He will be a very hot commodity should he equal or exceed his numbers these past two years. The 49er’s would have to be in very good salary cap health in order to barter for him, even should he be interested.

The truce has been announced between Mariucci and Owens, the peace summit has convened with the intent of getting back on the right track between the team’s best wide receiver and the valuable head coach. Compromises and discussion will take place. Owens and his agent, David Joseph, met with owner John York and general manager Terry Donahue for nearly three hours Tuesday night February 19th.

It was a well discussed meeting, the best of its kind York and Owens have ever had, and one of the lengthiest ones Owens has had with Donahue. York and Donahue said they wanted to meet with Owens first to make sure that he and management were on the same page before Owens sat down with Mariucci. That by the way was Donahue’s idea, one that was approved by Mariucci as well.

“I think everybody feels like there is no urgency. I think this is a process,” said Donahue, who added that everyone walked away with Tuesday’s meeting optimistic. “I think what we went in trying to accomplish is that Terrell understand the organization doesn’t want to isolate him. And we didn’t want him to isolate himself.”

Donahue went on to say that: “The issues between he and head coach Mariucci can be resolved.” Owens agent also characterized the meeting as a success, saying that the parties get to know each other a little better and tried to clear up some misperceptions. The fact that management is not ready to give up on it’s star player and their very own head coach is comforting, but at the same time boundaries should be set in these meetings that specify that the 49er’s will have little tolerance for degrading of their head coach. “There are some hurt feelings on both sides,” said Donahue. “I think there are hurt feelings, and I think it will take awhile to get things mended,” York said. “But I think Terrell Owens wants to work toward that, and that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’re going to start doing.”

Additional meetings are scheduled with Mariucci present; I am a firm believer that open dialogue and a newfound trust between each other will be the lasting solution. The more Owens feels comfortable in presenting an argument with Mariucci, the better off both will be. At the same time respect and obligation to authority must come from Owens, as Mariucci should always hold the last word after careful consideration. Balance, compromise and mutual understanding of each other will go a long way in establishing credibility again inside the franchise. Undermining that by inviting the media to feed off negativity will only further devastate it to a point where it will definitely be un-repairable.

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