Mariucci answers rumors regarding rift

<P>Steve Mariucci contradicted published reports Thursday that stated there is a growing rift between the Niners' fifth-year coach and team management, and says he plans to be coaching the 49ers at least until his current contract with the team ends after the 2003 season.</P>

 A Bay Area newspaper reported a situation exists that "could lead (Mariucci) elsewhere next season, possibly to his boyhood-dream job at Notre Dame." The newspaper cited unnamed sources close to Mariucci. Mariucci said he met with team officials on Thursday, including team owner's representative John York, team president Peter Harris, consultant Bill Walsh and general manager Terry Donahue.

"We're all in this thing together," Mariucci said. "John York has employed us all to build this thing back up. We just do our job the best way that we can, every day, working together. We're all joined at the hip. We need to work well together and we do. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. There's going to be people that try to rain on our parade, and we know that."

The article and an adjoining column printed in Thursday's San Jose Mercury News indicated Mariucci felt increasingly isolated from Donahue and Walsh, who have been instrumental in overhauling the team's personnel. Both articles suggested Mariucci felt he hadn't been given proper praise for his part in lifting the team to a 10-3 record after two consecutive losing seasons and might consider leaving the Niners for Notre Dame - or other job opportunities - when the season is finished.

Mariucci addressed the Notre Dame rumors again on Wednesday - he had taken his name out of consideration for that job when it opened two weeks earlier - by saying, "I am committed to this organization and this football team. ... period."

Mariucci addressed several more questions Thursday regarding his relationship with management officials and his satisfaction with those relationships, along with his contract and his role in the team's decision-making process.

"I'm happy with (my) contract," Mariucci said. "I've got two more years of it. I love the direction we're headed. I think we've got a fine organization that knows what we're doing. Why would I want to be anywhere else? "I would prefer to stay here. I think we've got a good thing going. I enjoy working with, not only this team and the players, but everybody upstairs, too. I really do. We have fun here every day. Are there little fires to put out every now and then like this? I suppose. But you know what? We have a ball, we really do. I enjoy living in the Bay Area. I'm not anxious to be out of here. I'm anxious to stay here and win a Super Bowl. That's what I'm thinking about. That's what I dwell on."

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