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Lions finally fire head coach Mornhinweg

Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2003

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions fired coach Marty Mornhinweg on Monday -- a month later than expected.

After a 3-13 season and a 5-27 record over two years, it was surprising when Lions chief executive Matt Millen said Dec. 31 that Mornhinweg would return for another season.

Millen, a former linebacker who won four Super Bowl rings with three teams, was hired two years ago with no front office experience. He then hired Mornhinweg, who had never been a head coach at any level.

Now Millen is looking for a new coach. At Monday's news conference, Millen became agitated and thumped a podium with his fist when it was suggested that the Detroit franchise looks like a disaster.

''Whatever it takes to get us to win, you do,'' Millen said. ''And if it takes changing the head coach, then that's what you do. You don't sit idly by and you don't worry about how it's going to look. I don't care. I want to win and I want to win now.''

Mornhinweg could not be reached for comment, but is expected to comment on Tuesday.

Mornhinweg became the fifth NFL coach to be fired since the end of the season, following dismissals at Cincinnati, Dallas, Jacksonville and San Francisco.

The Lions lost their first 12 games during Mornhinweg's first year, and their last eight games this season. Only the Bengals finished with a worse record this season.

Mornhinweg, who was 0-16 on the road, matched Chris Palmer's two-year record of futility for a new coach since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Palmer coached the Cleveland Browns in 1999 and 2000. Palmer, though, was coaching an expansion team. Mornhinweg took over a team that went 9-7 and just missed the playoffs.

Former San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, fired earlier this month, appears to be the leading candidate for the job. Millen said, ''I would hope so,'' when asked if Mariucci, a Michigan native, was a candidate for the job.

''I spoke to Steve after he was let go, and I would like to speak to him again,'' Millen said.

Millen insisted Mariucci's availability was not the only reason Mornhinweg was fired.

''It's certainly a factor, but I don't think it's a big factor or a main factor,'' said Millen, who insisted he has not reached a deal with Mariucci.

Millen said he would support the NFL's effort to promote diversity among head coaches by possibly interviewing current Lions assistant Sherm Lewis and former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green.

The Lions did not fire the rest of Mornhinweg's staff, including recently hired Bobby Williams. Earlier this month, Mornhinweg hired the former Michigan State coach be the Lions' running backs coach.

Mornhinweg will be paid for the one year remaining on his contract. Mornhinweg was the 49ers' offensive coordinator -- under Mariucci -- for four seasons before getting his first head coaching job. The Edmond, Okla., native was a Green Bay assistant for two seasons after being an assistant at six colleges.

The 40-year-old was criticized this season for choosing to take the wind instead of the ball after the Lions won an overtime coin toss against Chicago. The Bears got the kickoff and drove to the winning field goal.

When Mornhinweg was hired, he set the team's sights on a first Super Bowl trip. The Lions have had only one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.

''The bar is high,'' he said. ''The goal for this organization is to win Super Bowls.''

Mornhinweg had insisted the team's weak record stemmed from failed drafts from the previous regime, along with aging or injured players.

The past two years, the Lions have gotten rid of five one-time first-round picks -- Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton, Bryant Westbrook, Terry Fair and Aaron Gibson. The Lions also lost Ron Rice, Kurt Schulz and Stephen Boyd to career-ending injuries.

The Lions will have the second pick in April's draft, and expect to have enough salary-cap space to sign several free agents.

The Lions began the season excited about rookie quarterback Joey Harrington and returning to downtown Detroit from suburban Pontiac for the first time since 1974 to play at Ford Field.

Harrington, the third pick in the draft, showed some flashes after he became a starter in Week 3 before he was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat late in the season.



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