Mariucci says to cut Owens some slack

Steve Mariucci celebrated his 46th birthday Sunday afternoon with a conflict of emotions. On the one hand, he had a bow-tied 21-13 victory over the Detroit Lions, compliments of his San Francisco 49ers. On the other hand, he had acrimony smoldering with his best player, compliments of star receiver Terrell Owens.

When we last checked with Owens, he was leaving the San Francisco locker room Sunday with this one-word response to a question that asked if things ever would be good again between him and Mariucci: "No," Owens said coldly.

Owens had criticized Mariucci's coaching acumen and his integrity last week after the Niners had surrendered a 19-point lead and lost in overtime to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 28. Mariucci responded by calling Owens' statements the most utterly ridiculous thing he'd read in 23 years of coaching and completely void of deep thought. Owens started the controversy last Wednesday.

On Monday, Mariucci attempted to end it. "He has some strong feelings one way, and I may have some strong feelings the other," Mariucci said. "But the guy plays hard, he plays well, he's an important part of this football team. So, I would just ask that this little soap opera that you (reporters) keep dwelling on is not as important as the chore at hand, the job at hand." Mariucci even went so far as to be an Owens apologist.

"I know that this whole thing may seem a little juicy to you guys," Mariucci said. "But really, I would ask you this: He's playing hard, he's playing well, (so) cut the guy some slack. I really would ask you to do that. Cut him a break, and dwell on some of the positives that he gives this football team, because he's a heck of a football player, he really is."

There can be no dispute about that. Owens again was the star in a 49ers victory Sunday, recording game-high totals of nine receptions for 125 yards and pulling in touchdown receptions of 30 and 7 yards. The former gave the Niners their first lead, and the latter gave San Francisco some breathing room and accounted for the game's final score. Owens ranks second in the NFC with 48 receptions for 668 yards and is first in the NFL with eight touchdowns. But after the game, Owens was visibly upset about the situation he helped create, saying, "no matter how bad a coach makes me look … It doesn't matter."

Mariucci certainly wasn't trying to make Owens look bad Monday. Quite to the contrary. Perhaps, the coach was sending out a peace offering. "I don't know if there's anything I can do personally, or 1-on-1 to alter any of his feelings or his beliefs," Mariucci said. "But we have some similarities, believe it or not. In some ways, we're alike. When he comes to work, he gives us a full day's work, which I hope I do, too. He wants to win, just like I want to win. And we both compete like crazy. We both have the same goal in mind for this football team. There's no doubt about that. We try to keep the focus in mind, keep the eyes on the prize, not any sort of personal feelings one way or the other that happen to be way on the sideline."

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