Detroit Lions Hire Mariucci As Coach
Wed Feb 5, 2:48 AM ET
By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT - Steve Mariucci successfully helped the San Francisco 49ers through a rebuilding process. The Lions are hoping he can do it again in Detroit.
Mariucci was hired as coach on Tuesday, taking over one of the league's worst teams less than three weeks after he was fired by the 49ers.
"He has tremendous experience in this league and brings unique qualities to our team," said Matt Millen, the Lions' chief executive. "Specifically, his ability to guide the 49ers through significant roster adjustments is very impressive.
"His offensive system is one that we already have in place, which certainly is a plus for our football team in general and some of our young offensive players in particular."
Terms were not disclosed, but ESPN.com reported Mariucci will earn $25 million over five years, which would make him one of the NFL's highest-paid coaches.
Fired by the 49ers after six seasons, Mariucci becomes the Lions' fourth coach in four seasons. He replaces Marty Mornhinweg, who was fired last week after the Lions went 3-13. In two seasons, Mornhinweg was 5-27 — the worst two-year mark in team history.
Mariucci was 60-43 with the 49ers, and coached them to the playoffs four times. San Francisco was eliminated in the second round this season, losing to Tampa Bay 31-6.
Mariucci clashed with 49ers owner John York, who dismissed him three days after the loss to the Buccaneers. Mariucci's postseason record was 3-4; the Lions have just one playoff victory since winning the NFL title in 1957.
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.
Lions defensive end Robert Porcher said he has talked to some 49ers, who gave Detroit's new coach good marks.
"They all speak very highly of him," Porcher said. "The guy's a winner. Six years there, two titles, conference championships, four playoff appearances. That gets it done for me and it should get it done for everyone else.
"Now he comes into a situation where he's wanted, where the city is going to embrace him, where management wants him.
"I can't even begin to tell you how much pressure that takes off of you when you're somewhere and you know you're wanted."
Mariucci, born and raised in the Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain, was scheduled to be formally introduced at a news conference Wednesday.
He will be about 90 miles away from best friend, Tom Izzo, Michigan State's basketball coach. Mariucci and Izzo grew up together, attended Northern Michigan and talk almost daily.
"It's going to be great, really it is," Izzo said while traveling to see a recruit Tuesday night. "I'm pumped up for him, and I'm pumped up for the Lions and all their fans."
Mariucci had been Detroit's leading candidate since the Lions fired Mornhinweg. Mariucci was the only coach to have an in-person interview.
Millen never publicly mentioned any other candidate, but said the Lions would do their best to comply with the NFL's policy of interviewing at least one minority candidate.
Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan, who also represents former Minnesota coach Dennis Green, would not comment on numerous reports that Green refused to interview because the Lions appeared to have their sights set only on Mariucci.
A source within the league, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said five minority candidates turned down interview requests from the Lions for the same reason.
Attorney Cyrus Mehri, who along with attorney Johnnie Cochran led a campaign for more minority hiring in the NFL, said he was disappointed with Detroit's hiring process.
"By essentially crowning Mariucci as the next head coach before doing a single interview, the Lions discouraged African-American coaches from putting their hat in the ring in Detroit," Mehri said Tuesday. "Millen, in public and private statements, could not look African-American candidates in the eye and tell them they had a fair shot. I don't blame the coaches who didn't want to be a part of a sham interview.
"We're competing for the soul of the NFL, which has been based on a good old boys network, not fair competition for jobs. The ball is in the league's court now. If they condone this, they have ripped the heart out of the 'Rooney Plan,' because what Matt Millen has done harkens back to the good old boys days."
The NFL's new policy, announced in late December, said owners would seriously interview at least one minority candidate for each coaching vacancy. The policy was developed by a committee headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, following a report on minority hiring issued by a group headed by Mehri.
"The Lions' selection process fell short of what our committee recommends for all clubs, as agreed in December," Rooney said in a statement Tuesday. "I will discuss this with the committee and the Lions to see what occurred and where to proceed in the future."
Lions spokesman Bill Keenist said the Lions have always supported the owners' initiative and did their best to comply with it.