Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Cutting Your Losses And Moving On -- Lions Style

I’m not usually one of those "fire the coach" kind of guys. I’m not all that convinced that it’s a plausible solution to what ails teams -- certainly not the first that should be utilized. It seems to be the antidote of losers, mostly. How many successful teams fire the coach, after all?

But I’ve given it some thought the last couple of days, and as much as I hate to join the angry mob with torches, I am going to admit I was wrong.

I was wrong when I thought Steve Mariucci was the right man to coach the Lions upon his brief courtship and hiring in January 2003. I was wrong when I figured the Lions had finally done a good thing, something that had been elusive for them: hire a coach that other teams actually coveted. I was wrong to think that the West Coast Offense was the module by which the Lions would be efficient enough to actually move the ball downfield.

And, I was wrong to agree with all the high draft picks used on wide receivers. But that’s not what this blog entry is about.

This is about Mariucci, the Lions coach, and the feeling is here that he may not hold that title all that much longer. I initially thought, on Monday, the day after the Lions once again went down feebly to an inferior opponent, that it didn’t matter what I or the hundreds of thousands of would-be vultures thought about their football coach -- Mariucci’s job was still fairly safe, because Bill Ford normally rues canning coaches still under contract.

But Ford isn’t getting any younger, frankly, and he has signed off on some fat free agent contracts and a new five-year extension for president Matt Millen, and his coach didn’t come cheaply, either. He’s spent a lot of dough the last few years, and all he’s got to show for it right now is a broken, divided, direction-less team that is currently being lambasted by its fans like never before. But there is one more thing that may cause him to pull the trigger.

His team is painstakingly boring.

When the Lions ran the run-n-shoot offense in the early 90’s, they didn’t always win more than they lost, but darn it, they were an exciting group to watch, mostly. Of course, the defenses weren’t always up to par, either, which contributed to the excitement -- and a lot of 41-34 type games. But the Lions -- with a guy named Barry Sanders in the lineup, of course, to be fair -- could score, and score quickly, and at times it looked as if opposing defenses had no clue out there.

Right now, the Lions’ offense is the clue free unit, and it is so unimaginative and impotent that if it wasn’t so sad, it might be frightfully funny. It is a rudderless platoon, lucky if it can score a touchdown per game, and if there are any fast fixes out there, then they must be camouflaged amongst the shoddy playcalling, dropped throws, awful pass protection and mediocre run blocking.

Matt Millen uttered, in the wake of the Lions’ loss to the Vikings Sunday, "I’m responsible for this mess."

Well, yeah, Matt, you are, but in saying those words, you also reiterated that you are the one that has the responsibility of fixing it -- with Bill Ford’s approval.

Steve Mariucci should be removed as coach -- if not now then immediately after this sorry season concludes -- removed as far away from Detroit as possible, taking his Just Toast Offense with him and his phony little offensive coordinator, too. Ted Tollner betrayed Lions fans like no coordinator I’ve seen. He crowed all summer about throwing the ball downfield -- "stretching" the field for his array of young receivers -- but it is clear he is nothing more than a Mariucci Marionette, calling plays that have so much of his boss written on them, you can practically see the copyright symbol on the TV screen. Ted Tollner can go, too, after he kisses every Lions fan from Ypsilanti to Traverse City right between the back pockets.

It’s too bad, of course, that it had to be this way. The town was alit when the Lions hired Mariucci, a reltively big name who could have gone to other places, but chose Detroit. It doesn’t take much for us to get excited about the football around here as it is, and when Mooch was hired, there seemed to be genuine reason to dance in the streets and slam the car doors.

But it’s been almost three seasons now, and while normally I don’t think that’s proper enough time to evaluate a coach -- read: Alan Trammell -- I also don’t see any significant progress, nor any reason to believe there will be any. Mariucci is a stubborn, conservative play-calling son-of-a-gun, and do you really think that’s going to change any time soon? He never had confidence enough in his quarterback to be anything else, frankly. Joey Harrington might not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he isn’t chopped liver, either, and I believe another coach, another offense might have provided him with a better chance of success. Maybe we’ll find out soon enough. Maybe they’ll both be gone.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite, either. For I have often observed that folks sure like to fire coaches, but they don’t always have an idea of who they’d like to see as a replacement.

So if I were Bill Ford (or Matt Millen), I’d go looking for the most innovative offensive mind available -- coordinator or position coach. It doesn’t matter, anymore, if the new coach has any head coaching experience. That isn’t necessarily mandated for success. The league is full of capable head coaches who got their training as a coordinator -- on both sides of the ball. I’d go looking for that person, do my due diligence, conduct some intense, involved interviews, and make the new man look me straight in the peepers and promise me he’ll make my football team exciting to watch again. Then after I got him to sign on the dotted line I’d remind him that I don’t take such promises lightly.

But that’s just me.


Jason said...

The Lions are messed up from top to bottom. The owner can't control his management team, Matt Millen is borderline crazy, Mariucci seems to be doing an ineffective job, and Harrington is terrible. Bring in a new coach and a new QB and I'm sure the Lions would make the playoffs. Talented WR corp and good defense. RB isn't bad either.

Leelanau Sports Guy said...

Sounds like you would love to see Mike Martz come to Detroit! Me too!

Ian C. said...

I love the idea of Martz as offensive coordinator. As head coach, not so much. Joe Vitt's run as Rams coach might expose Martz a bit. ("Hey, how about I run Steven Jackson more?")

Of the names I've heard make the rounds so far, Gregg Williams intrigues me. I'm not sure he got a fair shake in Buffalo, and he would put together one bad-ass defense here in Detroit. Just hire a good offensive coordinator (see above?) and this thing could look pretty exciting next season.

Brian said...

Nice work, Greg. I have to agree with the sentiment, but Millen must depart with Mooch. He's the guy that hired him (and Morningweg) without really interviewing anyone else for the job on either occasion.

Why should anyone believe his next "search" will yield any better results?

He's also the one who took those three WRs in a row, the one who signed the ineffective free agents (see offensive line, Az Hakim, Schroeder, et al) and has losing record here even worse than Maricci's.

I don't like calling for firings, either, but what else can they do?

dolphinfan said...

You have to think that if Mariucci goes then Millen is gone with him.