SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Standing on a podium between his predecessors, George Seifert and Bill Walsh, Steve Mariucci was admittedly overwhelmed.
"I am in awe of those two coaches. I'm happy they're here," he said as the trio posed for pictures.
But it was the man in the middle who was the man in the news.
With only a year's experience as a college head coach, Mariucci inherited one of the great pro football legacies of success Thursday when he was introduced as coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
He was also clear about the mission behind his five-year contract:
"It's my time to carry the torch, keep the high standards of excellence here that this organization has built over the past 15 years, and I understand that's a challenge," he said.
The 41-year-old Mariucci led California to a 6-6 record this season in his only assignment as head coach. Getting the 49ers job, he said, "happened so fast, it was the most unusual turn of events here in the last few days."
Team owner Eddie DeBartolo said there were two main reasons he was hired.
"We think he's a great talent and we think he fits the 49er image to a tee. If this man is given the time that he needs, and no one gets rambunctious, than he will do the type of job that we hired him to do. He has a great history in his short years in this field."
Mariucci is just the third coach for the 49ers in 18 years, taking over for Seifert, who resigned Wednesday after leading the team to two Super Bowl titles and surpassing Walsh as San Francisco's winningest coach.
Mariucci is also the first person from outside the 49ers' organization to be selected for the job since Walsh arrived in 1979 and installed his pioneering West Coast offense.
Club president Carmen Policy said the terms of Mariucci's contract were finalized just before the start of the news conference.
The decision to hire a newcomer, he said, was reflective of the 49ers' desire to instill "imagination, to a degree youth and a more creative anticipation of what the game has to offer."
"We'll let him grow into the job. We hope he possesses the kind of talent that will take us to the next level.
"The 49ers organization is in desperate need of psychotherapy," Policy said. "Perhaps the standards we set are ludicrous. Perhaps what we need to do is develop a more pragmatic approach to winning in the NFL without losing our edge."
Before Mariucci came to Cal, he spent four years as an assistant with the Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers, getting much of the credit for turning Brett Favre into a two-time NFL MVP.
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. Mariucci also helped Cal quarterback Pat Barnes lead the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.
Mariucci didn't work with Walsh but was no stranger to his offense as a disciple of Packers coach Mike Holmgren, with whom he spent four years as quarterbacks coach.
Holmgren, whose Packers knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs the last two years, is a former 49ers offensive coordinator.
Seifert, who was 108-35 in eight years for a winning percentage of .755, best in NFL history, said the time was right for him to leave. However, he did not rule out taking a coaching job elsewhere. DeBartolo and Policy said Seifert's decision to leave was strictly his own.
Seifert was a defensive assistant in 1989 when he took over for Walsh, a Hall of Famer whose 10-year run as the 49ers coach included three Super Bowl titles, the first in 1981.
Seifert said he'd fulfill the final year of his contract by working in an as yet unspecified front-office role.
The fate of Seifert's assistants was uncertain, though offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, whose play calls were blamed in part for a drop in the 49ers' offense, is "gone," DeBartolo said.
No one else on the coaching staff was considered for Seifert's job, including defensive coordinator Pete Carroll, who remains a candidate for the St. Louis Rams job.
Walsh rejoined the team this season as a consultant and is expected to have a continued role with the club.
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