SportsProf

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On the Steve Mariucci Firing

One of the most popular teachers when I was in high school was a hip woman in her early-to-mid twenties who taught Romance Languages, wore short skirts and drove a VW bus. She was very positive, very helpful and a wonderful teacher. It was hard to find anyone who would say a bad word about her.

She did have one noticeable problem, though.

Car accidents.

About four in two years, including one, if I recall correctly, that had her miss several months of school because she was seriously injured. That last accident prompted the following exchange between my father and me at the dinner table:

Son: Miss So-and-So got into another car accident last week. She'll be okay, but she's going to miss some school. It's a shame she keeps getting into accidents. What bad luck.

Dad: Son, if you get into a car crash say once every ten years, it could well be an accident. But if you have four in two years, you probably have a driving problem.

Which brings me to the Detroit Lions and Matt Millen, who is the President and CEO of the team.

There's lots of good stuff about Matt Millen. He was a great player at Penn State, an excellent pro with the Redskins, a very good commentator on Fox and, as I have read before, is a very good woodworker.

He's also just fired his second coach in the past four years.

Fire one coach in four years, well, that happens. The coach might not have lived up to expectations or the team didn't make meaningful progress or a combination of both and a few other things thrown in.

Fire two coaches in four years, including one (the one you just fired) who fared well at his last job, and, well, you may have a management problem.

You.

Steve Mariucci didn't draft Joey Harrington. Steve Mariucci didn't draft a wide receiver in the first round in each of the past three years. Steve Mariucci wasn't responsible for the draft or personnel decisions, which, in retrospect, he might well regret. This firing surprised me. I'm not a close follower of the Lions, but I would have thought from a distance that if the Ford family was going to make a move, it would have fired Matt Millen before Steve Mariucci.

Is it that Matt Millen cannot pick players? Is is that he cannot pick coaches? The team's record suggests the former, and Matt Millen's hiring three coaches in five years (once he hires Mariucci's replacement) suggests the latter. In fairness to Mariucci, what Millen's track record suggests is that Millen at best isn't confident in picking coaches, because there are many (John Madden among them) who believe that Mariucci is an excellent coach. At worst, Matt Millen just can't translate his other successes into success at management.

Steve Mariucci wanted the Lions job. He's from Michigan, is best friends with Michigan State hoops coach Tom Izzo, and wanted to return to his native state. It's not as if the Lions job was a dream job or the franchise has a glorious tradition. And it's not that Mariucci couldn't have gone elsewhere. Unfortunately, some roadblocks came up on his journey, and what he had hoped would have been an enriching homecoming turned out to be a disaster.

At some point, Matt Millen will get fired unless he resigns first because he wants out of the football management game. In either case, Steve Mariucci will get many more feelers for his next football job (including NFL head coaching jobs) than Matt Millen.

Because at some point, it can't just be the coach's fault.

And at some point even great players have to admit that they can't be great at everything.

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