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Sunday, November 23, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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George Seifert Recalls Grim Ending To 49Er Stay, Eyes Coaching Return

AP

LOS ALTOS, Calif. - Steve Young barely played because of the pain in his cracked ribs, and the special teams couldn't track down Desmond Howard, whose punt returns produced a touchdown and set up another.

Watching the Green Bay Packers' 35-14 playoff victory over San Francisco at frigid Lambeau Field last January, coach George Seifert was thinking maybe he had had enough of the 49ers and the team had had enough of him.

"It was almost like I knew it was my last game," Seifert recalled last week as he sat at his kitchen table sipping coffee.

Less than two weeks after the game, the two-time Super Bowl winner was out. Steve Mariucci, an offensive-minded whiz kid whose only previous head coaching experience was a year at California, was hired to replace him.

Club president Carmen Policy said the decision to leave was Seifert's. But he quit only after being told he had just one year left to coach the 49ers.

"I honestly thought he would finish his last year," Policy said. "But I think he felt it was in his best interest to get away from the game and it was probably in the best interest of the organization."

The 49ers have prospered without the 57-year-old Seifert - they are an NFL best 10-1 heading into Sunday's game against San Diego - but the change hasn't been bad for him, either. Team owner Eddie DeBartolo is paying off the final year of Seifert's contract, worth $1.5 million, and Seifert said if the opportunity's right, he'll

probably get back into coaching next season.

"At first you say, `My God, they're winning without me!' and you do have to get used to that," Seifert said. "It's not an easy thing, but to say that I'm anguishing a lot, no I'm not.

Seifert, who had the best-winning percentage in NFL history in his eight years as 49ers coach, initially had planned to do some consulting work with the team but didn't feel comfortable. He has had little contact with the organization since he cleaned out his office at the club's Santa Clara headquarters and left last January.

"It was not for me to go around and watch over some coach's shoulder," Seifert said. "I went there a couple of times early in the year to pick up my mail and I haven't been back since.

"The only player I've talked to and that was briefly was Jerry (Rice) following his injury. I just wanted to wish him well. Right now, their focus is on the football season and I'm not a part of that."

He said he harbors no resentment toward the 49ers, whose determination to stay on top has sometimes meant shoving aside the coaches and players who helped them achieve their unparalleled success.

"It happened to Bill Walsh. It happened to Joe Montana. It happened to Ronnie Lott," Seifert said. "Basically, it was my turn to move on. That's just part of the (49ers') process, shedding off old skin for the new skin. It's like a snake. You get a new skin and keep on going so you can survive."

The break with the 49ers disrupted Seifert's 32-year run as a coach, including the past 17 with San Francisco. He was an assistant for nine years before succeeding Walsh in 1989.

But he said he welcomed the time off and so did his wife, Linda.

"It's nice to be seeing him over the breakfast table and being able to talk about other things," she said.

In the past 10 months, Seifert and his wife have vacationed in New Zealand and Costa Rica. They flew back to New England, spending time on Martha's Vineyard with their son, a nuclear engineer in the Navy.

A passionate outdoorsman, Seifert has spent time at his second home in Bodega Bay, went to Chile on a fishing trip and hunted game in Wyoming and Mexico.

Earlier this week, while the 49ers geared up to play the Chargers, Seifert took his wife to a Rolling Stones concert.

"The neat thing about this is to have the opportunity to do things in the fall that I haven't been able to do," Seifert said. "It's been a great time in my life."

Seifert, who turned down an offer from St. Louis after he resigned from the 49ers, said he's leaning toward getting back into coaching.

"He's going to pretty much be able to choose where he wants to go," 49ers general manager Dwight Clark said. "Any job that opens up, he's got to be the No. 1 candidate."

Seifert denied any decision has been made, adding there was no substance to reports he would take over in Dallas for Barry Switzer. Other rumors have him winding up in Baltimore, Seattle or Oakland.

"When it comes, and a club doesn't have a coach and they're interested in me, I'd be interested in visiting with them," he said. "I wouldn't eliminate any situation, because it's hard to know until you sit down and visit with somebody whether it's right for either of you."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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