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Mariucci set to take reins as new head coach in Detroit

Posted: Wednesday, February 05, 2003

DETROIT -- Cast aside by the San Francisco 49ers, Steve Mariucci found his services in strong demand back in his home state.

Mariucci was hired as coach of the Detroit Lions Tuesday, taking over one of the league's worst teams less than three weeks after he was fired by the 49ers.

''We are thrilled. This is a huge step for our team and organization,'' Lions chief executive Matt Millen said. ''I have known Steve since he got into the NFL as an assistant, and he has continually impressed me with his knowledge of the game and his ability to handle players and people.''

Terms were not disclosed, but ESPN.com reported that Mariucci will earn $25 million over five years, which would make him one of the NFL's highest-paid coaches.

Mariucci, born and raised in northwest Michigan town of Iron Mountain, was scheduled to be formally introduced at a news conference Wednesday.

After compiling a record of 60-43 and guiding the 49ers to four playoff appearances in 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 and 5-27 in two seasons -- the worst two-year mark in team history.

Mariucci clashed with San Francisco owner John York, and he was fired three days after a 31-6 loss at Tampa Bay on Jan. 12. His postseason record was 3-4.

The Lions, by contrast, have one playoff victory since winning the NFL title in 1957.

''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.''

Mariucci repeatedly said he wanted to keep his family in the San Francisco Bay area, and he would be willing to take a minimal raise or even coach the final year of his contract without an extension.

Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan, has said that Mariucci's ties to Michigan played a part in his interest in the Lions after he initially said he would take next year off from coaching.

Mariucci 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, last Wednesday and Thursday.

Millen never publicly named 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.

O'Hagan, who also represents former Minnesota coach Dennis Green, refused comment on numerous reports that Green refused to interview with the Lions because they 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 because it appeared inevitable that Mariucci would be hired.

Attorney Cyrus Mehri, who along with attorney Johnnie Cochran led a campaign for more minority hiring in the NFL, 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 agreed they would ''seriously'' interview at least one minority candidate for each coaching vacancy. The policy was developed by a committee headed by Pittsburgh 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 always supported the owners' initiative, and did their best to comply with it.



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