Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci; 49ers Stadium
by Glenn Dickey
May 20, 2009

THREE NFL COACHES who have won Super Bowls – Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden – are not coaching an NFL team this season. Neither is Steve Mariucci, the last 49er coach to have a winning season, before John York made the stupid decision to fire him. Will any of these coaches return to the sidelines?

Gruden almost certainly will, though he signed on this week for ESPN’s Monday Night football show. He’ll be good at the job, I’m sure; he has already demonstrated that he can handle it with his work during the draft. He’s candid and knowledgeable. Unlike many coaches in that position, he won’t pull punches.

But, even as his hiring was announced, Gruden confessed that he misses coaching badly. He’s only 45, and he still has that fire in his belly.

It takes a special type of personality to be a head coach in the NFL, because the job is so consuming. Bill Walsh used to say that, for a coach, the NFL season is like taking a submarine voyage. There is no time for anything else. Their wives take care of the children and make all the household decisions while their coaching husbands are poring over videos and game plans and sometimes even sleeping in their offices. They are oblivious to anything happening outside their headquarters.

Gruden certainly falls into that category. He admitted this week that he knows virtually nothing outside football. It is his life. He will get back into coaching with the first offer he gets, and he certainly should get one. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers collapsed down the stretch last season, but the more remarkable aspect of their season was probably that Gruden had them in contention before that. They weren’t really a playoff team. Their defense held them together for a while, but the defensive players lost their focus when coordinator Monte Kiffin announced that he’d be joining his son, Lane, at Tennessee for the 2009 season.

I would expect Shanahan to return to coaching soon, too. He’ll be 56 in August, not young but not usually an age at which coaches retire, either. The Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen, panicked when the team collapsed down the stretch, but the Broncos’ defensive weaknesses caught up with them. In part, that was Shanahan’s fault because he was also in charge of personnel decisions. That’s too much for one man to handle in the NFL these days.

Holmgren tried to do both in Seattle and it didn’t work. He was a much better coach when he was relieved of general manager responsibilities and went back to simply coaching. He promised his wife he’d take a year off, so he’s presumably chilling out in Santa Cruz now. He’s hinted lately he might like to return to coaching after this season and, at 61 next month, he still has some time left. But, when he’s had a year off, he may realize there is life after football.

Sometimes, coaches who go into television jobs decide they prefer the easier life. They can look at game videos at home, go to the site of the game for a weekend, talk to players and coaches, do the game and then come home. They don’t have the excitement of being totally involved in the game, but they don’t get blamed for losses, either. Sometimes, they welcome the life style change.

That’s what happened to Terry Donahue, who had been successful enough at UCLA in his 20 seasons there that he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. Walsh saw a guy who had overseen a major college program and thought that would translate into a successful general manager for the 49ers. But Donahue had become accustomed to short work weeks while doing TV, and he continued that schedule with the 49ers. It didn’t work.

I suspect Mariucci may be in much the same frame of mind now. Even when he was with the 49ers, he tried to make time for his family. Now, he’s in TV and I would assume he has no money worries because he collected from both the 49ers and the Detroit Lions when he was fired with years left on his contracts – and they had to pay for those.

I saw Mariucci at a Cal game last season and asked him if he intended to go back into coaching. He said he might but that he had promised his wife that he wouldn’t leave the area; they have a home in Los Gatos. He’s made similar comments to others lately. I would place his chances of returning to coaching at near zero.

SPORTS RADIO: The news that KTRB, 860 AM, is going to all-sports programming is good news for the A’s, whose broadcasts are being carried on the 50,000-watt station, and for the Bay Area as a whole. For the time being, the shows will be syndicated ones, though “Sports Byline” is produced in San Francisco and longtime sportscaster Ron Barr lives in the Bay Area. In time, local programming will be used which is the only way to go in the Bay Area.

As the only sports radio station in the area, KNBR has dominated the sports scene. Its programs and comments have been slanted to the San Francisco teams, Giants and 49ers, which is understandable because they’ve carried the Giants – and even had a minority interest in the team for awhile – and now are carrying the 49ers as well.

Meanwhile, the A’s have shifted from station to station, and last season were on a station which had such a weak signal that they had to line up other stations throughout the northern California area to be part of a network.

The problem has always been that stations don’t like to break up their weekday format for baseball games. KGO, for instance, was happy to carry Cal football on Saturdays and the 49ers on Sunday, but was never interested in weekday baseball games. With its sports format, KNBR was the only station that could comfortably fit games in.

Now, the A’s have the KNBR counterpart, and they will also benefit from having shows devoted to them, as the Giants and 49ers have on KNBR. And, it’s safe to predict that the Raiders will be there after they fulfill their obligation to KSFO this fall.

The KNBR sports talk started in the mid-‘80s with one show in the evening. The station had fallen into a malaise because their MOR (middle of the road) music programming was being surpassed by rock. The morning show with Frank Dill and Mike Cleary was very popular and remained so until first Cleary and then Dill left and it sank into the ratings toilet, where it remains. The rest of the KNBR lineup was undistinguished.

Station general manager Bill Dwyer attempted to shake things up with a sports talk show which was entirely phone calls between the host and listeners. He first tried Ken Dito as the host, but ratings didn’t improve. Dwyer took me to lunch twice at Trader Vic’s to try to convince me to take over the show. I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to give up my evenings with my family to talk to people who had nothing more to do with their lives than listed to sports talk at night. So, Dwyer hired Dave Newhouse, who was on an intellectual level with his listeners.

The show didn’t really take off until Ralph Barbieri took over as host. Barbieri is very controversial and Ralph and I have had our ups and downs. One especially memorable moment: In 1991, when I was advocating that Roger Craig be fired as Giants manager, Ralph interviewed me and started screaming at me. For some reason, the feed to the show was piped into the Candlestick press box and I was told that writers stopped to listen to our heated exchange.

Overall, I think Ralph and his partner, Tom Tolbert, do a good job. Personally and professionally, I like Gary Radnich, who really helped me publicize my site when I was just beginning it. His staff still refers to me as “GlennDickey.com.”

The rest of the lineup? Forgettable, to be charitable.

In the mid-‘90s, Will Schutte, who was in charge of the Westinghouse stations in the area, investigated the possibility of starting sports talk but decided against it. As far as I know, there have been no other serious attempts.

The Bay Area has the reputation of not being a hot sports area, but I think that’s only partially true. There is plenty of interest, but fans demand that their teams win or they don’t come to the games. They’ll still read about them – I still get plenty of e-mails when I write about the 49ers, for instance – but they’ll content themselves with watching on TV instead of coming to the games. But that wouldn’t affect listening to sports talk, which doesn’t cost them.

If KTRB does this right, I think the station will do fine. I’m rooting for them.

49ER STADIUM: A story that the 49ers and Santa Clara were nearing agreement on a stadium deal was, like many newspaper stories lately, lacking in context.

In fact, the proposed agreement is one the 49rs and Santa Clara officials have been working on for more than two years. The 49ers had hoped to have it on the ballot last year but couldn’t reach agreement in time.

The agreement lays out the financial commitment for Santa Clara, which is basically redevelopment money and a special tax on visitors to hotels in the area, with which the hotels have agreed. There is no money from the general fund involved, but it still has to be approved by voters, which is never a slam dunk.

When all this started, the 49ers were seeking Santa Clara’s participation because they wanted it to be a public-private project so it would qualify for the NFL’s G-3 program. The money in that program has been exhausted and won’t be replenished until owners and the NFL’s Players Association reach agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Whatever happens, the 49ers will be responsible for the bulk of the financing for the stadium. If they can’t get investors to buy minority interests to help finance it, Denise DeBartolo York would have to write the biggest check an NFL owner ever has. I’d be absolutely shocked if she did.

LETTERS: I updated this section yesterday.


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