Niners allow Mariucci to meet with Bucs

When San Francisco's successful 2001 season ended a month ago, Steve Mariucci and 49ers management professed their love for each other, and both sides stated emphatically that Mariucci would return in 2002 for his sixth season as the team's head coach. Now Mariucci is scheduled to meet during the weekend at some undisclosed California location with Joel and Bryan Glazer, the sons of Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer.

The Bucs were given permission by 49ers ownership on Friday to speak with Mariucci about becoming the team's next general manager and head coach, a strong indication that the brain trust that runs the Niners wouldn't be too upset if Mariucci left the team. Which, if the Bucs offer a sweet enough deal, is something Mariucci probably will do.

"We gave Steve permission to go and talk to Tampa Bay because this is an opportunity that is unique," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said.

It's also a unique opportunity for Mariucci to part ways with the Niners with everybody saving face, wishing each other well and - on the surface, at least - happy with the situation. Despite his success in leading the Niners back to NFL prominence in 2001 after two losing seasons, it appeared to be a rough year for Mariucci within the organizational structure as his power was compromised by the men above him. It often has been speculated that Mariucci hasn't exactly seen eye-to-eye on matters with Donahue or team consultant Bill Walsh, who still is prominent in the team's operational decisions.

The coach didn't do himself any favors when, through his agent, Mariucci expressed that he'd like a contract extension and also didn't feel he was getting the credit he deserved for the Niners' fine season that ended at 12-5 with a wild-card playoff loss in Green Bay. It has been reported that the Bucs already have worked out compensation to offer the Niners in exchange for Mariucci, who still is under contract with San Francisco through 2003.

The compensation package is believed to be similar to that given the Patriots when Bill Parcells left New England for the New York Jets in 1997. That package awarded the Patriots a first-round draft pick in 1997, a second-round pick in 1998 and a third- and fourth-round pick in 1999. While it seems likely the Niners weren't about to force out their popular coach, the developments of the past few months should make it clear to Mariucci the people running the Niners aren't too concerned about him departing.

And now comes a golden opportunity for Mariucci to run his own franchise with a team that already has a championship contender in place.

"We certainly don't want to drag this out," Mariucci said Friday. "We'll get it done here relatively soon. I've been convinced it's the right thing to do, at least listen and hear (the Glazers) out and keep an open mind. I don't have to tell you or anybody else I thoroughly enjoy it here." Which means the decision to stay or leave probably will be left up to Mariucci, since published reports have indicated the Bucs will offer a deal in the range of $5 million a year.

"Steve and I visited about a relatively short time window that he would make his decision about what he is going to do," Donahue said. "I don't think it will be over this weekend. I believe it will be more (the) early part of next week that he will inform us of his decision. Other than that, we will just have to wait and see."

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