Mariucci-Millen two-year honeymoon sours in Detroit
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2005 at 4:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 29, 2005 at 9:00 p.m.
Steve Mariucci, the affable coach known as "Mooch," lost his job with the 49ers more than two years ago because of "philosophical differences" with team owner John York.
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In reality, Mariucci was fired because he and then-general manager Terry Donahue did not like, respect or trust each other.
Mariucci was not unemployed for long.
Detroit Lions president and CEO Matt Millen quickly fired Marty Mornhinweg, whom he had announced would return as coach in 2003, after Mariucci became a free agent.
After rumors for several years that Mariucci wanted Millen to take over as 49ers general manager, the pair were finally united with the Lions.
Well, the two-year honeymoon is over.
Sources with knowledge of the inner workings of the Lions' organization, including a couple of people close to Mariucci, say the head coach is miserable working for Millen. They go so far as to say that it is a worse situation now than what Mariucci experienced with the 49ers, and we all know how bad that was.
The boiling point for the Mariucci-Millen relationship apparently occurred this offseason when it came time for the organization to hire an offensive coordinator.
Millen wanted the team to employ Mike McCarthy, late of the New Orleans Saints. But while Millen was out of town - a too- common occurrence, according to his detractors - Mariucci instead hired Ted Tollner, former 49ers offensive coordinator.
That was it for the Mariucci-Millen union.
The Lions have just 19 victories in 70 games during Millen's nearly 4½-year regime.
So it came as a surprise early in training camp when the Lions announced Millen had been signed to a five-year extension. What, exactly, had he done to warrant a five-year extension when the first four years of his initial five-year deal were such a joke? But there's more to the story. The Oakland (Mich.) Press reported this week that Millen's contract is not guaranteed. The report said the deal is a lot like the contracts that players sign.
But the next day, the Lions said that wasn't so. Apparently, Millen - the source of the initial report - has no intention of keeping any money if he is fired.
Either way, Mariucci again finds himself in a power struggle with a team executive. With the 49ers, he started out as the most powerful football man in the organization. But then Donahue gained York's trust, rendering Mariucci to second-class status.
Millen always has had ownership's trust with the Lions. In his first struggle with a coach, he won the right to draft quarterback Joey Harrington in 2002 with the third overall selection. Mornhinweg wanted cornerback Quentin Jammer, who went to San Diego Chargers two picks later.
Mariucci, like Mornhinweg, does not believe the Lions can win with Harrington. Mariucci had to fight to sign former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia in the offseason. Then, Mariucci rushed Garcia into the starting lineup last week after Garcia was cleared to play after sustaining a broken leg in the exhibition season.
Garcia played well, leading the Lions to a 13-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns. And that sets the stage for today's game, which many say is critical for the Lions.
First place is at stake in the weak NFC North. The Lions play host to the Chicago Bears in a game matching 3-3 teams.
Millen remains unconvinced that Mariucci's approach can produce a winning team. He sees Mariucci as a weakling. Mariucci views Millen as a meddling meathead.
It is inconceivable that both will return next season. How the rest of the season plays out will determine which one wins the power struggle, and which one will be sent packing.
This story appeared in print on page 6
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