The Worst Mistake Ever Made

Several years ago I dated a girl for quite some time. Things were getting serious, I was spending lots of time with her and her family (and we all really liked each other), and we'd even talked about our future together and marriage. We went so far to look at rings, but then when I proposed to her she said no. Of course it broke my heart and I didn't date again for a couple of years, but it turned out to be a great thing.

Had she actually said yes and had we gone through with the marriage it would've been a huge mistake and quite possibly one of the worst of my life.

I bring this up because today i wanted to talk about the worst mistakes in the history of the 49ers. After the jump I have two candidates that I'll discuss and then I'll tell you which one I think was the worst.

Without further adieu let's go revisit some dark days.

Joe Thomas

In 1977 the DeBartolo's had just purchased the 49ers. To keep things on the up and up control was given to Eddie Jr to separate the organization from the DeBartolo's sporting interests in other states.

The first act that Eddie Jr did was to hire Joe Thomas as general manager of the 49ers. In fact they hired Thomas before they even started negotiations to buy the team.  Had the DeBartolo's spoken with any other NFL personnel they would've known to keep Thomas as far away from their team as possible, but they didn't talk to anybody else. Thomas was a friend of the family and had been promised the job.

Thomas came in and immediately started clearing out the old and bringing in the new. The first casualties were invaluable team documents, including old playbooks, footage of practices and games, and even the original AAFC charter. He dismantled the alumni organization and threw out boxes of papers and photos related to the team's history. 

He then fired Monte Clark who had taken the team to an 8-6 record the season before and seemed to be on the way up. The replacement coach took that same team to a 5-9 record. Following the 1977 season Thomas cleaned house with the players. He got rid of QB Jim Plunkett (who had cost the 49ers five draft picks just the season before), and would acquire OJ Simpson in a trade that cost five more draft picks. Plunkett would go on to win two Super Bowls and Simpson would do nothing for two seasons before retiring. 

The 1978 team would go 2-14, which would tie it for the worst record in team history ever. 

Finally Eddie Jr had enough and fired Joe Thomas during the 1978 off-season, instead hiring Bill Walsh as head coach/general manager. This would begin a remarkable turn around and the building of one of the greatest dynasties the NFL has ever season.

 

Steve Mariucci

Mariucci was hired to replace George Seifert as head coach of the 49ers. In six seasons with the team he went 57-39 and had 4 playoff appearances where his record was 3-4. This stretch included two rebuilding years (1999 and 2000) where he 4-12 and 6-10 respectively. Mariucci did this despite having a team that was in salary cap hell due to the 49ers buying the 1995 Super Bowl. He also did this with the ever-present Bill Walsh looming over his shoulder and giving him advice, even if that advice wasn't always wanted nor appreciated.

After the 2002 season Mariucci was fired. It wasn't due to his job performance but his desire to have more input into the franchise. This is perfectly understandable--a coach is judged on how well his team performs, but if he doesn't have the pieces he needs he can't do what needs to be done. At the time John York had this to say about the firing:

"This is not a performance issue that has forced us to reach this decision,'' the team's owner, John York, said. ''Rather, our decision is based upon a difference in philosophy within the 49ers' structure on how to best utilize our various talents in pursuing the goal of fielding championship teams and winning a Super Bowl.''

Relationships were rocky with everybody at this point. Terrell Owens was unhappy with the coach for fining him for the Dallas Star stunt, T.O was unhappy with Jeff Garcia, Mariucci was unhappy with the way the franchise was being run and his role in it. From a certain perspective it made sense to cut the head coach loose. After all you couldn't fire the man who had brought the team into glory by winning three Super Bowls, even if he had turned out to be a so-so general manager.

Since then the 49ers have not had a winning season and in 2004 had a 2-14 record, again tying them for the worst record in team history. The 49ers are on their fifth head coach in less than a decade and have been an embarrassment in the NFL.

 

Of the two decisions I think the firing of Steve Mariucci was the worst. The Joe Thomas decision only lasted a couple of seasons before being rectified. The Steve Mariucci firing has affected the team for 7 seasons and is only now starting to be rectified. This season is the most hopeful I've felt about the 49ers in years. 

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