The End of the Mooch!!!
If he isn't immediately relieved of his duties after the holiday disgrace that the Lions subjected the nation to, then owner William Clay Ford is guilty on all counts of detached indifference. If Mariucci isn't served up like a Butterball on a platter after the utter nonsense of the Lions' 27-7 loss to Atlanta, then the seats at Ford Field should reflect the emptiness of thought and desire within the organization in the final two home games.
It's no longer a season. It's a wake.
The Lions resembled a team fairly certain its coach won't be around much longer.
So why wait?
Team president Matt Millen declined comment when asked about the likelihood of Mariucci not coaching another game with the Lions. He also declined comment when asked if there was an emergency meeting scheduled with him, Mariucci and Ford either after the game or sometime today.
According to one team source, there was talk around the team compound this week that if the Lions embarrassed themselves on national television Thursday, Millen probably wouldn't wait until after the season to fire Mariucci.
The concession against the Falcons certainly qualifies as an embarrassment.
A frustrated Kevin Jones reportedly blasted the offensive philosophy and several players privately suggested a sudden coaching change wouldn't surprise them. The mood of the locker room didn't match the festiveness of the holiday.
The only thing they were thankful for was that it was over quickly.
"I'm sure that there probably are some folks smelling some blood in the water," guard Damien Woody said.
They are no longer a team, only individuals looking at the season's final five games as a chance to pad statistics in the hopes of padding their bank accounts in the off-season.
An interim coach is rarely the answer in football, but brooming Mariucci would at least blow away the smokescreen that for but a few injuries and bad breaks, the Lions would be a playoff contender.
Contention demands confidence and this team has no faith in the direction that Mariucci has them pointed.
It's time for the Fords to acknowledge that this was just the latest in a litany of misjudgments and bad decisions. Cut bait and move on. They were unusually proactive when they stalked Mariucci three years ago after San Francisco released him. Never before had the Lions hired a head coach that was in high demand.
But just like his offense, the relationship hasn't clicked.
It's pretty obvious that Mariucci won't be around next season, so what's gained in delaying the inevitable? Yes, it would be an expensive lesson. Firing Mariucci now could cost the Fords more than $10 million to satisfy the final two years of his contract. But if they're truly serious about selling a skeptical city on their commitment to winning, they'll move swiftly, decisively and immediately.
A hesitancy to quickly admit mistakes has long been an indictment of Ford.
The last time he fired a head coach during the season was 1988 after Darryl Rogers' infamous plea of "What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?" Rogers gave up on his players, leaving Ford with no alternative after the 11th game and a 2-9 record but to jettison him immediately after a 23-20 loss to Tampa Bay.
Ford elevated defensive coordinator Wayne Fontes, who went on to become the winningest -- and losingest -- coach in team history during an eight-year run that's sadly considered the gold standard during Ford's 40-plus years of sole ownership of the franchise.
But it was the players who bailed this time. First, the team gave up on Joey Harrington and now they've given up on Mariucci. But accountability has a funny way of never stopping at just one or two culprits. Sure, the quarterback bears some responsibility and certainly the coach merits a sizeable share of liability.
But it's only a question of time before the talent that claims misuse under Mariucci comes under fire for their flaws as the well as the executives who drafted and signed them.
"That's a good question," Woody said when asked if he thought the team might need a coaching change. "Apparently something hasn't gone right. But I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions."
Mariucci resembled a dead coach walking when he faced the post-game inquisition. He knows you can no longer preach when the congregation has ceased listening.
"There is a multitude of things that a head coach is responsible for," a clearly sullen Mariucci said. "Whether it is the offense, the defense, the kicking game, the conditioning, the fitness level, the health on and off the field -- all of it. That is what a head coach is responsible for. From that standpoint, I take responsibility because I am the head coach."
But it's a tenuous title right now.
My Commentary: Mooch Firing!!!
When I first heard the news (about Mornhinweig getting fired), it was speculated that Steve Mariucci was going to be named the Lions new head coach, but instead it was made official at he press conference that Mornhinweg had been fired and a replace would be named down the road. Knowing Millen and the Ford's they already have their man and are creating a smoke screen so the NFL does not get on their back. All I can say is, I sure hope that coach is Steve Mariucci. Not only does he have a proven track record, but he also runs the same type of west coast offense as Mornhinweg which means little transition for the players. He reminds me a lot like his best friend Tom Izzo. Both are from Iron Mountain and are proven winners. It would make no sense for Morhinweg's firing unless Millen found his man to lead the Lions in a different direction. Every indication points toward Mariucci and barring a major turn of events, he will be named the successor within a few weeks.
Do I believe what I am seeing? Our beloved honolulu blue and silver were able to land one of the most coveted coaches in the NFL? All I can say is its about time!!! The last two years have been nothing a total nightmare! Could this franchise go any lower? Between Millen's devout coward statement and Marty's taking the wind in OT decision, who ever could have thought the Lions would land one of the best coaches in the NFL? Needless to say, I could not be any happier with Millen's decision to bring on Mariucci! It was his very last chance to save his job in Detroit granted he wanted Mooch from the get go, but was unable to get him. Although I think Mooch is getting a paid a little too much, if that is what it took to get him here, so be it. How badly did other teams want Mariucci? When the Bucs parted ways with Tony Dungy, they tried to land Mariucci before settling for their second choice, John Gruden. Gruden ended up costing the Bucs four draft picks and millions of dollars, but look at what the Bucs got in return: A Super Bowl! Let's not get carried away, the Lions are far from being Super bowl contenders, but with the current makeup of the NFL, I can see the Lions fighting for the NFC North by 2004. With Mooch coming in, don't be surprised at all when the Lions make Michigan State WR Charlie Rogers the 2nd pick overall. He has a chance to become one of the best WR's in the game, perfect for Mariucci's west coast offense. Getting free agents should be a lot easier for Millen now he has a proven head coach. If the secondary gets patched up and if the Lions have another strong draft, there is no reason why this team cannot fight for a .500 record this season (2003). For the first time in years, I'm looking forward to the upcoming season!
All I can say is what a difference almost three years can make. It was quite clear that I felt Mariucci was the coach to lead the Lions in the right direction. For the most part, I thought Mariucci had the Lions heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, what has transpired this season, I can see why he got the axe. The first sign that Mariucci was losing his grip on the team was during that abysmal 1st half on the road against the Bears. After Roy Williams ran the wrong route and Harrington got picked off, Kevin Jones got in Roy Williams' face - Mariucci did absolutely nothing to break that up or to tell Williams and Jones to keep their traps shut. With all the offensive talent the Lions have on paper, there are no excuses they are rated as one of the worst offenses in the NFL. For the life of me, I will never understand why Mariucci practically gave up on Kevin Jones. For crying out loud, he led the NFL in the 2nd half last year in yards. Still, Mariucci insisted of using Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner. The tip of the iceberg was against the Falcons, who have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Jones got the ball a grand total of three times!!! Another mystery was how he handled Charles Rogers return from being suspended. With all that raw talent waiting to be used, Mariucci couldn't find a way to get Rogers to be productive. I do blame a lot on Charles Rogers, but I saw him at Michigan State and still hope he can turn it around. What ended up being the final straw was the QB position. Had Garcia never gotten injured in the final pre-season game, this season would be quite different. It was quite obvious that Mariucci never from day one liked Joey Harrington and quite frankly, I don't blame the guy. Harrington was Millen's QB, not his. So, when Garcia was rushed back and could not live up to his billing, Mariucci got blame.
A change had to be made before the Minnesota game and I agree with the firing. But, there is still one big rotten piece of the puzzle that needs to be removed - Matt Millen. Before the press conference started, I was hoping by some miracle Millen would announce his resignation at the press conference. Lets face it, Millen is if not the worst GM that still has his job in the four professional sports. For the life of me, I could never understand why it took Mike Illitch so long to get rid of former Tigers GM Randy Smith. He practically cost the Tigers almost a decade of baseball and they are still trying to turn the corner. Look at Matt Millen - he has cost the Lions five years so far. With his boneheaded signings of Bill Schroeder and Rick DeMulling to running his trap (devout coward comment) and saying certain players lacked testicles, does he really think he has done a good job so far? All I was hoping to hear out of the press conference was for him to take some of the responsibility. Sure enough, when that was brought up in the press conference, Millen's remark was "how long is this press conference going to last?" At that point, I just about lost it. Had I been there, I would have shouted, "when you hand in your resignation for destroying this franchise!!!" The guy refuses to admit that he is one big reason why the Lions are currently in disarray. It came as no surprise when I saw the ESPN.com poll showing that 85% of people think he should get fired. Unfortunately, that is not going to change anytime soon. William Clay Ford bought into the Millen lies and he rewarded him with a five year contract extension. Until the Ford's realize that Millen is the one remaining constant from one of the worst stretches in Lions history, this team will always continue to be the laughing stock in the NFL.
Mariucci was to have earned a base salary of $2.25 million under his old contract with the 49ers, which would have been paid out over a 30-month period. His deal with the Lions, negotiated over the past four or five days by agent Gary O'Hagan, equals the one awarded Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier last year.
Mariucci was 60-43 record with the 49ers, and coached them to the playoffs four times. The 49ers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs this season, losing to Tampa Bay 31-6.
In addition to financial implications, with Mariucci set to move to new status as one of the league's highest-paid head coaches, he will have more input into football decisions than during a six-year San Francisco tenure.
Mariucci, 47, will have the title of head coach only, but the contract with the Lions will permit him to review and participate in football-related decisions.
Mariucci presided over a remarkably brief rebuilding period in San Francisco, but it wasn't enough to save his job -- even with a year left on his contract.
He was the loser in a battle of wills featuring York, general manager Terry Donahue and Hall of Fame coach-turned-adviser Bill Walsh -- none of whom was around when Mariucci was hired in 1997.
The reasons for Mariucci's departure were murky -- perhaps by design for an organization that apparently felt Mariucci wasn't the man to lead the young, talented team he helped to build from scratch.
Mariucci's flirtations with other jobs in the last offseason also didn't engender feelings of loyalty from York.
"I think it'll be good. Good for him, because he will be in a situation where he's actually wanted and appreciated," Lions defensive end Robert Porcher said Tuesday. "I think it'll be good from a team standpoint because now our general manager gets the guy that he's always wanted.
"And I think from the players' standpoint, it'll be excellent because he brings in that instant credibility with his winning record in San Francisco."
The title is the same for Steve Mariucci. But in his second incarnation as an NFL head coach, the job description is dramatically altered.
Hired by the San Francisco 49ers in 1997 as a caretaker of sorts, Mariucci was charged with maintaining the excellence of a roster that was beginning to show signs of age but was still eminently competitive. Six years later, Mariucci becomes a construction worker. The Detroit Lions team he inherits essentially must be built from the foundation up.
In a very real sense, Mariucci is walking into a "hard hat" area. And even if he mounts a miner's lamp on his head gear, his new franchise isn't apt to quickly locate the route that leads from the basement to the first floor of respectability.
Joey Harrington is one of the bright spots in Detroit. For the eager Mariucci, there will be neither the 13 victories that he fashioned in his debut season in San Francisco, nor the NFC championship game appearance that culminated his '97 rookie campaign. The Lions have won five games in two years, none on the road, and even given the failures of a deposed Marty Mornhinweg, that paltry victory total is much more an indictment of the franchise than it is a reflection of its ill-fit head coach.
It took Mariucci but six games in 1997, after succeeding George Seifert, to claim five wins. The cupboard isn't completely bare in Detroit, but there isn't a whole lot more than dubious leftovers on the shelves. If Mariucci can somehow nudge the Lions to five victories in his first season, he will have done well.
Certainly, there was pressure in San Francisco, where management expected to annually field a Super Bowl contender. Expectations are considerably more modest in Detroit, where the closest the Lions figure to come over the next several seasons to the Super Bowl is hosting the title game in 2006. But still, the challenge for Mariucci is far more daunting.
"I'm sure he has studied the (Lions) roster but, still, it's going to be a pretty rude awakening for 'Mooch' there," said one NFC personnel chief. "When he came to the NFL as a head coach, it was almost like he had a silver spoon shoved in his mouth, because of the San Francisco situation. This time, he definitely is slumming."
There is indeed, a wide disparity in the talent level Mariucci inherited in San Francisco and the Lions roster he takes over. Mariucci assumed control of a 49ers team that featured nine players who had made at least one Pro Bowl appearance prior to '97 and two more who earned a spot in the all-star game during his first season. Even the catastrophic knee injury suffered by Jerry Rice in the '97 opener at Tampa Bay couldn't keep the 49ers from ripping off 11 straight wins behind quarterback Steve Young.
That the conference championship game appearance in '97 represented the high-water mark of Mariucci's tenure in San Francisco, that he was fired in part because he never again equaled that performance, is incidental to the fact he consistently won when he had good players.
He won't find a lot of star power on Detroit's current depth chart.
One example: The Lions' top three wide receivers in '02 -- Az-Zahir Hakim, Bill Schroeder and Germane Crowell -- combined for 95 receptions, 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. By comparison, Terrell Owens himself averaged 97 catches, 1,388 yards and 14 touchdowns the past three seasons.
There is a reason Detroit rated 28th on offense and 31st defensively in 2002. The Lions have had one Pro Bowl player, defensive end Robert Porcher, the past two years. Initially, Mariucci is going to be asked to cobble together a stronger roster. Instead of having his name stenciled on the door to his new office, Mariucci would be better served to mount a "Men At Work" sign.
The stability he enjoyed in San Francisco, a trademark of the franchise until just recently, is being replaced by the stark reality that the Lions just aren't a very good team. Not until the third year of his San Francisco tenure were the 49ers forced to rip apart the team, to gut the roster for salary-cap reasons. Mariucci should drop a bomb on Detroit's roster and start over immediately.
The two best players on defense, Porcher and tackle Luther Elliss, will both be on the wrong side of 30 when the season begins. Tackle Shaun Rogers, a steal in the second round of the 2001 draft, was overweight and undermotivated during a disappointing sophomore season. Middle linebacker Chris Claiborne, a former first-round choice nearly certain to depart as an unrestricted free agent, also carried too much weight and was not a playmaker. The cornerbacks are nondescript.
On offense, Mariucci has an identifiable cornerstone in quarterback Joey Harrington, who enjoyed a solid debut season and will benefit from his new coach's tutelage. There are two very good young linemen in left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola. But the skill positions are lacking and in need of a quick upgrade.
Veteran tailback James Stewart is a lead-by-example player, coming off a 1,000-yard season, but he's hardly an optimum fit for the West Coast offense. By comparison, though, he's a square peg in a square hole when viewed with the incumbent wide receivers. The 49ers' offense placed a premium on size, and of the returning group, only Crowell would appear physically in line with the kind of wideouts Mariucci prefers. Alas, the development of the onetime deep threat has been stunted by injuries.
The good news for Mariucci is that the Lions own the second overall choice in the April draft and that wide receiver Charlie Rogers, the Michigan State star whose selection would be well received by fans, should be available. He could provide an immediate big-play component currently missing from the Lions' attack.
Also on the plus side for Mariucci is that Detroit is not burdened by the kind of calamitous salary-cap situation that greeted him in San Francisco and that helped lead to just four victories in 1999-2000. The Lions have about $66.068 million committed to the 2003 cap. Even allowing for carryover bonuses and pending tender offers to the team's restricted free agents, Detroit should be under the $75 million spending limit.
Veteran players such as Porcher (cap value $10.83 million), Ellis ($7.4 million) and Stewart ($5.06 million) will need to have their current deals restructured. All have indicated their willingness to do so. There is about $8.96 million in so-called "dead money" -- salary-cap charges for players no longer with the club -- against the cap for 2003. But most of that is tied up in Charlie Batch and Herman Moore, and those former Lions go off the books in '04.
Now that Ford Field is a reality, Tom Lewand, promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer Monday in one of team president Matt Millen's best moves, can turn his attention back to managing the cap.
The elements upon which Millen built his sales pitch -- a market-value salary, more control over personnel decisions than Mariucci could have ever had with the 49ers, hands-off ownership with the Ford family, a new state-of-the-art facility, a promising young quarterback and high draft choices -- are things of which the new coach must take advantage.
Mariucci must also have significant input, perhaps even veto power, on a new personnel director. While it is key that Millen be more comfortable with the new chief scout than he was with the recently deposed Bill Tobin, of greater importance is that the personnel director connect with Mariucci so that he can identify the players who will fit into the new system.
But even if that occurs, even if the Lions draft wisely in two months and use free agency to add a few veteran pieces, no one should count on immediate success. Mariucci is a far better coach than he was credited for being in San Francisco, but make no mistake -- he is not a miracle worker.
Three seasons have passed since the Lions last qualified for a playoff spot. It could be another three before Mariucci, who has to first lay a foundation and sink the footers before building skyward, has Detroit back in contention
News: Mornhinweg's Firing
Head coach Marty Mornhinweg is gone, and there's little reason to debate the merits of his firing. His two-season record was 5-27. He's not solely culpable, but he had to go.
There is plenty of reason to debate the merits of the man who made the move. This was Millen, all Millen. We can only hope it's evidence of a new, smarter Millen. A prime candidate, former San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, recently became available, so Millen took the big swing, axing Mornhinweg. He'd better land Mariucci, or some high-caliber facsimile, or the disaster spreads.
Millen's head should be next, if the Lions continue to lose. He knows it, too. So there was prudence, maybe even progress, in the move. Hiring Mornhinweg, who had never been a head coach, was a mistake. Keeping him, as Millen half-heartedly announced on New Year's Eve, would have been a bigger mistake.
In the painful evolution of Millen, at least he's starting to admit mistakes. The problem is, the pile is getting too heaping high.
"The point is, you want to get it right," Millen said. "Have I made mistakes? Absolutely, and I'll probably make some more. At least they'll be better-
educated guesses at this point. If you make a mistake and let it go, that's even worse. The mistake isn't the hiring of Marty. The mistake is not winning."
The biggest mistake is not learning from failure. In that regard, the Lions have fashioned the finest educational center in the NFL. If Millen hasn't learned a lot, the team is doomed.
In two years here, Millen has fired every one of his significant hires, from Mornhinweg to personnel director Bill Tobin to general counsel Kevin Warren. Owner William Clay Ford Sr. clearly is letting him ride this one out. I wouldn't have the faith to let Millen hire another coach, but it's a worthy gamble if it nets Mariucci. In six seasons with the 49ers, Mariucci was 60-43, a major upgrade.
Mariucci was fired two weeks ago, largely because of differences with ownership and management. Although he had indicated a desire to take the season off, the Lions can't wait. Bidding for Mariucci would rocket by the end of the upcoming season, so they have to press him.
Likely, Millen went back to Ford like a teen-ager seeking the keys after wrecking the first car, and asked for another fat slice of trust. The best guess is, Mariucci would draw at least $3 million per season, about triple what Mornhinweg earned.
During a 15-minute news conference that degenerated into an elaborate dance in which Millen had to pretend there were numerous fine candidates, his intentions were apparent. The only notable difference between now and New Year's Eve, when he endorsed Mornhinweg, is Mariucci's availability.
Asked if it was tough to fire his most important hire, Millen shrugged.
"Sure it's hard, but that's my job," he said. "Marty understands the business. I understand the business, and sometimes it's ugly."
Earlier, Millen's voice shook when addressing the issue.
"My concern is to win, and whatever it takes to get us to win, you do," he said. "If it takes changing the head coach, that's what you do. You don't sit idly by and you don't worry about how it looks. I don't care. I want to win. Is it going to be easy to do? No, it's not, for a variety of reasons."
Many of the factors that contributed to horrible back-
to-back seasons are now offered as hope. Youth is the biggest one. Quarterback Joey Harrington showed promise. Other young players pushed out older ones. The West Coast offense that's allegedly so complicated? Precisely the offense Mariucci runs.
Mariucci also is a close friend of Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo. Semi-serious piece of advice to Izzo: Friends don't let friends coach the Lions.
Oh yes, a messy job awaits. Other coaching candidates will surface as well. Dennis Green, a perennial winner in Minnesota, is looking for work but might demand too much front-office control. Millen must follow NFL rules on hiring practices, which dictate minority candidates be given full consideration.
That's the primary reason a new coach wasn't introduced Monday. It's an excellent rule, but when a coach as good as Mariucci becomes available, it seems silly to require perfunctory interviews.
Then again, Millen has squandered all benefits of doubt. He hired Mornhinweg without seriously considering anyone else. He has ruled the Lions with impunity, cutting players, firing management. There is a sense, his next key hire will be his last, if it doesn't work.
"At some point, people might say, hey, what's this stiff Millen doing?" Millen said. "Yes, it's a reflection on me, but it's also a reflection on others. I've always said, if you do your job, you're fine."
No one on the Lions has done a good job for two years. Millen is the only major figure to survive the litany of gaffes. As the last one standing, he can dodge no more.
The announcement came Tuesday, two days after the team completed another woeful season. Under Millen and Mornhinweg, the Lions are 5-27, including 3-13 this year.
Ford was not present at Tuesday's news conference, but his statements late in the season make it clear that his patience is running out and this will probably be Millen's and Mornhinweg's final chance.
Millen, who had several talks with Ford in the last few days, said it was his decision to keep Mornhinweg. "It was my decision, with Mr. Ford's blessing."
The announcement was met with mixed reaction by the Lions' long-suffering fans.
"I see where you have to give them an opportunity to succeed but, at the same time, you have to see progress," said Grosse Pointe Farms resident Brett Kurily, a season ticket holder. "I haven't seen any progress."
Millen said he looked beyond the record to qualities he saw in Mornhinweg when he hired him after four seasons as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. Millen saw a bright, energetic coach, with knowledge of the West Coast offense.
Millen still believes in Mornhinweg's ability to run a team, despite a record that indicates otherwise.
"There are a few things," Millen said. "Marty's done some good things. Marty has been positive. This team has not quit. They always kept on fighting, from the beginning, and fought through everything.
"There are a couple of things that have gone against him. The obvious ones are the injuries, and attrition, for a variety of reasons. I also believe you were working with basically a new lineup."
Rookie quarterback Joey Harrington started 12 games and his growing pains were evident, even as he showed promise to become a top-flight passer. Injuries wiped out a number of key players, including receiver Az-Zahir Hakim and return specialist Desmond Howard.
"I don't want to sit here and make excuses, I hate excuses," said Millen, who has three years remaining on a five-year contract worth between $15 and $20 million.
"I don't want to get into any of that stuff. He's still a bright guy. The same reasons I hired him still exist, and we move forward."
Moving forward means winning games. Millen knows another bad season could send everyone packing.
"You understand what you're in," Millen said. "Nobody's going in with their eyes closed. It's a results-oriented business. Results have not been good. And we've got to change that."
If you were surprised by the announcement on Tuesday that Marty Mornhinweg would, indeed, be back as coach next season, you aren't a Lions fan.
Most true-blue fans expected nothing to change. After all, owner William Clay Ford Sr. has been swinging and missing for decades now when it comes to making decisions for his hapless football team.
The move to keep Mornhinweg on another season was the only real mystery after the Lions finished 3-13 this season and just 5-27 the last two years -- the worst two-year period in franchise history. It became pretty clear that President Matt Millen would stay, mainly because the Fords still owe him $9 million on his contract.
Still, the decision to keep Mornhinweg isn't logical without another guaranteed season in place. Mornhinweg is now a lame duck coach. The first three years of his contract are guaranteed. The Fords have the option to renew after 2003.
Because of that, Mornhinweg will have more pressure on him this season than his first at the helm. It's a tough spot for a coach when his team knows he has no security.
And if Ford and Millen are so convinced that despite all the losing that Mornhinweg is still the man for the job, they should have given him another year on his deal. Instead, they have sent him back out to battle without any bullets.
Ford and Mornhinweg, who was pretty confident that he would be back following the Lions' 38-36 loss to the Vikings Sunday at Ford Field, weren't at the news conference.
"I don't see this as an opportunity for one year," said Mornhinweg, reached at his home afterward. "I see this as an opportunity for six to eight years."
Millen said it was Ford's decision.
"Mr. Ford made the decision last night when I spoke to him," Millen said. "He was pretty clear about it."
Millen, though, isn't bothered that he'll have a coach with just a one-year contract.
"We go ahead and we fight from this day forward," he said. "If you want to look at it that way, as far as lame-duck status, we're all lame ducks. Everybody, including you (the media). So do your job.
"Basically, that's the way it should be. I have no problem with any of that stuff. Nothing's been talked about in that regard, nothing's even been mentioned other than this question."
Millen understands that by keeping Mornhinweg around, he, too, will be under the microscope this coming season.
"I would expect that everything would be looked at hard and questioned and all that stuff," Millen said. "A, because that's your job and, B, we're doing the same thing.
"Now do I feel like it's putting us in an all-or-nothing (situation)? Every time you get up to the plate and take your swings, it's all or nothing. I've always believed that. And if you don't approach it that way, you've made a mistake."
You have to wonder if Ford left things as they were because he's too proud to admit he made a mistake when he turned his storied franchise over to two men with no experience.
NFL executives have been laughing about the Lions for years. Firing M&M would have been an admission that NFL America was right when it said the Fords don't know what they're doing when it comes to football.
You get the feeling that Millen's endorsement of Mornhinweg was based a lot on the fact that the Lions had a lot of injuries. But that's so much a part of the game.
"There are a couple of things that have gone against him," Millen said. "The obvious ones are the injuries and attrition for a variety of reasons, but I also believe that we're working with a basically new lineup, which we have to be careful with.
"And I don't want to sit here and make excuses. I hate excuses. I hate them. So I don't want to get into any of that stuff. But he's still a bright guy. The same reasons I hired him still exists and we move forward."
For Lions fans, the toughest part has to be seeing teams with similar talent and new coaches make tremendous strides during the same time period. Especially Jets Coach Herman Edwards, who was supposed to come here for an interview, but didn't.
Like the Lions, the Jets were 9-7 and didn't make the playoffs in 2000. Since Edwards took over, the Jets have made the playoffs two years in a row. This season, they won the AFC East title.
Then there's Butch Davis in Cleveland. He has a young quarterback in Tim Couch, but still was able to make the playoffs in his second year at the helm of the Browns.
Then there's John Fox, the Carolina Panthers' Coach. They were a horrid 1-15 last season. Fox was able to get seven wins out of one of the worst teams in the NFL just a year ago in his rookie season.
As usual, the Lions didn't do anything to change their place in the NFL. And you can once again thank Ford for that.
My Commentary: 2/4/03
Commentary: Mornhinweg's Firing
Marty Mornhinweg's firing certainly caught me off guard! It was less than a month ago that Matt Millen said that Marty would be back for another year, but with this organization nothing should come as a surprise anymore. Something tells me that Steve Mariucci's dismissal as San Franciso's head coach played a major roll in Mornhinweg's firing. Millen made it no secret that Steve Mariucci was his top choice to take over the Lions, but Mariucci did not want to leave San Francisco at that time. Instead, Millen settled for Mariucci's offensive coordinator, Mr. Marty Mornhinweg. The rest his history as Marty became the laughing stock of the league and did not win a single road game during his two years at the helm. Although I agree that Marty deserved the axe, why did Millen and the Ford's say he was coming back on December 31st? What happened in the past month that made the Lions brass have a change of heart? The answer is the Lions found a hidden gem that they will display once they follow the mandated NFL policy to interview minority candidates.
When I first heard the news, it was speculated that Steve Mariucci was going to be named the Lions new head coach, but instead it was made official at he press conference that Mornhinweg had been fired and a replace would be named down the road. Knowing Millen and the Ford's they already have their man and are creating a smoke screen so the NFL does not get on their back. All I can say is, I sure hope that coach is Steve Mariucci. Not only does he have a proven track record, but he also runs the same type of west coast offense as Mornhinweg which means little transition for the players. He reminds me a lot like his best friend Tom Izzo. Both are from Iron Mountain and are proven winners. It would make no sense for Morhinweg's firing unless Millen found his man to lead the Lions in a different direction. Every indication points toward Mariucci and barring a major turn of events, he will be named the successor within a few weeks.
Was anyone surprised from the announcement that Matt and Marty are both coming back? If you are a die hard honolulu blue and silver fan, you certainly were not! Even though M&M had endured the worst two year stretch since the NFL went to the 16 game schedule, they were both spared their jobs for another year. How nice would of it been if Mr. Ford was able to steal Bill Parcells from Dallas? It could of happened, but Ford took the easy route out retaining the M&M boys. Mornhinweg will be finishing out the last year of his contract and will definitely has his back against the wall the entire year. If the Lions are to improve from their 5-27 record the last two years, they must pickup free agents that are not over the hill like Eric Davis and Todd Lyght were. Lyght retired on Monday and Davis most likely will not be resigned.
In my opinion, what will determine if M&M still have their jobs a year from now is how the 2003 draft turns out. The Lions have the 2nd pick overall and most likely USC QB Carson Palmer will go with the first pick meaning the Lions should definitely get a player that can make an immediate impact. I still think the Lions made a mistake by drafting Joey Harrington last year. If they could of picked up CB Quentin Jammer, who Millen wanted but was overruled by the Fords, they would already have their most pressing need filled and could have drafted a QB this year. Sorry, but I was not impressed one bit with Joey Harrington, even though it was his rookie season, and think Mike McMahon could have done just as good as Joey did this year. So, who should the Lions draft with their 2nd pick overall? I would hope for Miami RB Willis McGahee, who broke several Miami rushing records and has lots of speed, something that James Stewart lacks. If the Lions want to get an instant #1 receiver, than they should definitely grab Michigan State's Charles Rogers. Since I am also a Michigan State season ticket holder, I have seen Rogers in almost all his home games and all I can say is he will be better than the last highly drafted MSU WR Plaxico Burress. Drafting a Cornerback would not be a bad idea, but I just don't know if there is anyone that is worth taking that high. Assuming the Lions have a decent draft, pickup some decent free agents and resign LB Chris Claiborne, I would expect nothing worse than a 6-10 finish next year. Anything worse and the M&M boys will not be smiling like they are today.
2002 Season Commentary
Could this be the end of the M&M Era??? After the Lions posted their eight straight loss, worst two year stretch since the NFL went to the 16 game format (5-19), and winless on the road in two years, all I will say is there better be some changes! It was just two years ago that the Lions were 9-6 coming off an impressive victory over the Jets that gave them a chance to make the playoffs if they could beat the lowly Bears. Paul Edinger's 54 yard kick cost the Lions a chance at the playoffs and also led to the Ford's bringing in Matt Millen. At the time, I was optimistic and thought it was a good decision. Two years later, all I can say is it was the biggest mistake in recent Lions history. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision a 5-27 record, 0-16 on the road and the 2nd worst record in the NFL back to back years! Millen's out of context remarks on the Mike Dika Show was very embarrassing to the organization and his awful free agent pickups have created the mess the Lions find themselves in right now. As for Mornhinweg, the guy never should of been head coach in the first place. Mornhinweg has made some glaring errors coaching, none bigger than kicking off in overtime against the Bears. Hopefully Willam Clay Ford will see the glaring facts and will pull the plug on the M&M regime. It is never tough to start over with a new regime, but all you need to do is look at the New York Jets, who started with a new regime the same time as the Lions and now find themselves in the playoffs for the 2nd straight year. I would like to thank everyone for reading my game grades and commentary for the seventh straight year, longer than any Lions web site. I will be updating the site in the offseason if there are any key moves that happen.
2002 Pre-season Commentary
I was able to see the honolulu blue and silver at Ravens Field. I was so pumped up for the game given I had 50 yard line seats, 3rd row and it was going to be my first opportunity to see Joey Harrington. Well, it turned out to be a typical pre season yawner...fortunately, I had one too many brewskies which made the game more interesting for the people around me :-) It was hard to take away anything from the game given there were so many starters that did not play. But a few things stood to me: