49ers President Carmen Policy Quits
Jul. 23, 1998
STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) _ The rift had become so irreparable that Carmen Policy resolved his bitter feud with Eddie DeBartolo by walking away from it.
After being caught for months in the tense personal battle with the 49ers owner and his onetime best friend, Policy abruptly quit as team president. His resignation ended an eight-year reign in which he had won high praise for massaging salary cap rules to consistently keeping the 49ers in Super Bowl contention.
The departure jolted an organization that has endured a yearlong run of tumult, from the shock of a coaching change, to DeBartolo's withdrawal from an active ownership role after he became a target of a gambling fraud probe, to the grim sight of the team's top officials at war with each other.
``Although it's not shocking because there's been so much turmoil over the last six months, it is somewhat disappointing and we will have to regroup upstairs,'' team vice president Dwight Clark said Wednesday of Policy's departure.
``Our team upstairs has lost its Jerry Rice, so to speak. It's unfortunate for us, but like our football team did last year when they lost Jerry Rice, they kept going _ and so will we.''
While Policy is expected to seek an executive position with the expansion Cleveland Browns, who begin play in 1999, his resignation likely signals that DeBartolo is about to regain control of the club he co-owns with his sister.
Policy and DeBartolo have not spoken since January, when the owner feared Policy was trying to take control of the team.
``It's in a deep freeze,'' Policy said of his relationship with DeBartolo. ``It has not been defrosted during the past whatever number of months.''
DeBartolo released a statement that fell far short of heaping praise on Policy.
``Carmen leaves our organization with my best personal wishes,'' DeBartolo said. ``He has been an integral part of the 49ers' success since we named him president in 1991.''
Denise DeBartolo York assumed active ownership of the franchise in December from her brother, who gave up his role as team chairman after the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans told him he could be indicted in a federal investigation involving a Louisiana gambling fraud case.
Eight months have passed without any charges being filed against DeBartolo, but the inquiry remains open.
Policy was brilliant at manipulating the salary cap and recruiting free agents _ key ingredients in San Francisco's 1994 Super Bowl championship, the most recent of the team's five titles.
He also oversaw the transitions that have been at the heart of the 49ers' success _ from Joe Montana to Steve Young at quarterback, from Bill Walsh to George Seifert to Steve Mariucci at coach.
``I think that I'd like my legacy to be one that's reflective of the fact that I was a problem-solver,'' Policy said at a Burlingame news conference. ``I handled stress, I handled transition in a straightforward way.''
Larry Thrailkill, chief operating officer of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation, will take over as the team's interim chief executive.
Thrailkill, a lawyer who joked that his only football experience was as a high school quarterback in Atlanta, said Mariucci would remain as coach and that the 49ers are committed to moving forward with plans for a new stadium in San Francisco.
Thrailkill, who met with Policy on Tuesday at the DeBartolo Corp. headquarters in Youngstown, Ohio, will be the spokesman for the 49ers on league matters.
``We were shocked, we were surprised, we were disappointed,'' he said of Policy's resignation. ``Twenty-four hours ago I was minding my own business in Youngstown. I've had little sleep since then.''
Walsh, who led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles, had been mentioned as a candidate to replace Policy on at least an interim basis but was not included in the temporary management team.
Policy would not be specific about his plans, except to say he'd like to stay in the NFL, ``preferably with a team.''
The messy clash between Policy and DeBartolo could test the continuity of a team renowned for its seamless transitions on and off the field.
After Wednesday morning's practice at the team's Stockton training camp, Young said the team's experience at going shakeups in the past will help it deal with this change.
``We've been at this 20 years,'' Young said. ``We've built up all kinds of standards and practices and weights and measures and everybody knows how to act as a 49er. That would be hard to take and rip out of the fabric of an organization, even when something like this happens.''
Even though Clark called Policy's departure a sad day for the 49ers, he said the organization would find a way to get over it and soon.
``Right now, it's a little chaotic,'' Clark said. ``We'll just let that run its course because we need to. We'll go through a day or two of that and then we have to get back to what we're here for.''
In the meantime, DeBartolo has moved to resume control of the team, entering into negotiations with his sister over her share of the club. Each of the siblings owns 45 percent of the team.
Thrailkill said the 49ers will be able to make a smooth transition to Policy's successor.
``Why would stability be an issue here? This club has been through coaching changes, through all kinds of changes through the years,'' he said. ``We have got to be one of the most stable franchise in all of sports.''