NFL

CZAR: Countdown to kickoff

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Since his firing Wednesday, former coach Steve Mariucci and the have been involved in a he-said, she-said controversy. Who is telling the truth? Mariucci claims he didn't ask nor seek any additional authority in San Francisco's administrative structure. But GM Terry Donahue and John York, who represents his wife's ownership, claim that his agent Gary O'Hagan asked for exactly that in a Dec. 29 meeting in St. Louis prior to the team's final regular-season game. "Last year he wanted more say in training camp, travel, areas like that," York said Saturday afternoon. "This time Steve wanted the powers associated with John McVay's job when he retires in May. I don't know what he won't admit that because he did ask for more authority." For York and Donahue, this had become a never-ending saga with Mariucci. It began last year with Mariucci's flirtation with the Notre Dame job and then his opportunity to negotiate for the Tampa Bay position that eventually went to Jon Gruden. "I don't blame O'Hagan," York said. "He's an agent and he was throwing out contract parameters and possibilities. I was confident that we could have worked something out with Steve. I didn't think it would have been easy. But it seemed like it was always going to be something more with Steve." Mariucci has told friends that McVay's job with personnel and contract authority wasn't a deal-breaker. York saw it differently. York and his wife, Denise, were always solidly behind Mariucci these last couple of seasons when in-house strife erupted. "I took his side at times against Bill (Walsh) and later against Terry (Donahue)," York said. "But it was always something with Steve. It became time to move on." York said that Dennis Green will be considered for the job, but that Donahue will consider coaches on the staff (Jim Mora, Jr. and Ted Tollner), and definitely other African-American coaches in the league. "We will begin serious interviews next week and, hopefully, we'll have a new head coach sometime after the Super Bowl," York said. Mariucci, who spent the weekend in San Luis Obispo, where his oldest son, Tyler, may play football next fall, said he will not coach this season. That means he won't be going to the Detroit .

Conference championship games

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
GAME: Tampa Bay at Philadelphia
TIME: 3 p.m. ET ON FOX WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Bucs plan to use a receiver cluster in this game and have QB throwing quickly. With the cluster (three receivers lined up close together), the Bucs would prefer to throw quick outs and maintain possession of the game. Gruden fears , the ' punt and kick returner, and calls him the key to the game because field position will be so critical. He had 144 yards on eight returns in the first meeting. There is definitely bad blood between the Bucs' and center and LG . The believe they can run inside with . The Bucs don't fear QB and believe he simply got lucky on his 42-yard TD pass to in the 20-10 Oct. 20 win at the Vet. CZAR'S SCOOP: WR joined the team late Saturday after spending the week with his wife and Michael, his premature baby son who was born a month early. He figures to play, and his absence in practice all week shouldn't be a factor, considering he's a fifth-year player. The will allow DE to escape during free agency (they might have an interest in the ' ) because he will be 32 and want too much money. The Bucs will focus the draft on offensive linemen, and Gruden would love to draft a quarterback if one falls within reach of making a trade. The Bucs are 0-6 in road playoff games. The are 7-3 in home playoff games, and this is the last one in the Vet. AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
GAME: Tennessee at Oakland
TIME: 6:30 p.m. ET WHAT TO WATCH FOR: QB missed three days of practice because of a bruised thumb, an injury that has caused him to change his grip on the football slightly. How will that affect his accuracy? Basically, the game is on his shoulders because RB is coming off a concussion and seems a spent player. In the playoffs, McNair has averaged 6.3 yards a carry and scored four TDs in six games. The allowed 221 yards passing per game, and torched them for 381 yards in the 52-25 victory on Sept. 29. However, the ' big edge is on defense where DT and have been terrific down the stretch. Rookie pursues very well, but often is weak at the point. The best running back in the playoffs is the ' . CZAR'S SCOOP: owner Al Davis and owner Bud Adams are two of the originals in the history of AFC football. It has been 19 years since the have won a Super Bowl; Adams has never won in 43 seasons, although they came a yard short against the after the '99 season. The are planning on bringing back (21 postseason TDs), , and next season. In Jacksonville, owner Wayne Weaver low-balled prospective top personnel man Phil Savage of the .
Tagged: Packers, Titans, Raiders, Rams, Eagles, 49ers, Buccaneers, Vonnie Holliday, Jerry Rice, Charlie Garner, Donovan McNabb, Hank Fraley, Hugh Douglas, Duce Staley, Napoleon Harris

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