SAN FRANCISCO - In eight years as the San Francisco 49ers coach, George Seifert won two Super Bowls and built the best winning percentage in NFL history. On Wednesday, in a startling move, he retired.
He was expected to be succeeded by Steve Mariucci, who was 6-6 at California this year, his only season as a head coach.
Carmen Policy, the 49ers president, said the team had not yet hired Seifert's replacement - but that only one person was being considered.
"We are presently negotiating with that one individual," Policy said. "No offer has been made to anybody. Those negotiations are going to continue tomorrow."
Seifert said he made his decision to leave the job while vacationing in Mexico.
"My wife first told me when I got this job, `Don't screw it up.' I don't think I did," Seifert said. "I'm proud of the things we accomplished during my watch."
Coaching changes have been rampant around the NFL. Seifert becomes the 10th coach to leave a team since the start of this season, meaning one-third of the teams have made changes.
Seifert, 57 next week, won Super Bowls in 1989 and 1994. With a record of 108-35, Seifert is the franchise's winningest coach and has a winning percentage of .755. He reached 100 victories faster than any NFL coach.
"It's time for some new blood," Seifert said. "I'm not saying my blood is stagnant. But I'm saying let's just pass this on to someone else."
Mariucci was schooled in the 49ers system while working for Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren, a former offensive coordinator for San Francisco. He was an assistant for four years with the Packers, getting much of the credit for turning quarterback Brett Favre into a two-time NFL MVP.
Mariucci, 41, has been coaching for 18 years. His Cal team began the 1996 season with a 5-0 record, but lost six of its last seven games - including a defeat by Navy in the Aloha Bowl.
Under Mariucci, Favre became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to play in the Pro Bowl.
"There's no doubt the bulk of my success in the NFL has been due to Steve Mariucci," Favre has said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without his coaching."
The formal announcement of the coaching change came during a late afternoon news conference, but word of the change swept earlier in the day through the locker room where 49ers players had come to work out.
"It's a big surprise, a shock," cornerback Tyronne Drakeford said. "I don't know if it was something planned or a spur of the moment type thing.
"From what I understand, Seifert is always under pressure to win the Super Bowl. It keeps mounting each year he doesn't win it. That's part of the business. You take it as it comes."
Certainly, Seifert's departure signals wide-ranging changes for the 49ers, whose season ended in a 35-14 playoff loss at Green Bay two weeks ago.
Defensive coordinator Pete Carroll, a candidate for the St. Louis Rams job, was passed over and the move appears to seal the fate of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, whose departure has been rumored after players grumbled about his play calls.
Defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said the team expected changes after the loss to Green Bay and owner Eddie DeBartolo said as much in an address to the club.
"Everybody knew that around the locker room," Stubblefield said. "No matter if it was coaching staff or player-wise, personnel-wise, scouting-wise, something had to change. There was something in the mix that just wasn't right.
"We players knew that. We knew that something was going to happen. We didn't know it was going to be George."
"It's a cold day in January," said tackle Steve Wallace. "I'm left speechless. I don't know the reason. He's a great coach, a class person. It's a sad day for a lot of 49ers fans."
"They must feel that he has a great young mind to give him a position like that," Wallace said of Mariucci. "They must feel he has all the credentials. But he's going to be under a lot of pressure. He's going to be compared to Bill Walsh and George Seifert."