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Lions hire Mariucci

Feb. 4, 2003 at 3:40 PM   |   Comments

ALLEN PARK, Mich., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The Detroit Lions Tuesday name Steve Mariucci, who had a 60-43 record in six years with the San Francisco 49ers, their next head coach.

The Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday that Executive Vice President Tom Lewand and Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagen, already had reached agreement on all the significant points of a five-year contract worth between $3.5 million and $4 million annually.

The Lions had issued a statement Monday afternoon stating that a deal was not yet in place, but that an agreement could be reached Tuesday. The hire was announced Tuesday afternoon.

ESPN is reporting that Mariucci received a five-year contract worth $25 million, which would tie him with Steve Spurrier of Washington for having the highest annual salary in the NFL. Mike Holmgren of Seattle makes $4.5 million a year, and recently-hired Bill Parcells of Dallas signed for $4.25 million per year.

Mariucci, 47, born and raised in Iron Mountain, Mich., became the immediate front-runner for the job when Millen, the Lions' President and Chief Executive Officer the last two years, fired Marty Mornhinweg as coach on Jan. 27.

Lions owner William Clay Ford had announced on New Year's Eve that both Millen and Mornhinweg would return in 2003, despite Detroit's 5-27 record in their first two seasons, but when San Francisco fired Mariucci on Jan. 15, Millen decided to seize the opportunity to hire Marriucci, and fired Mornhinweg less than two weeks later.

Millen wanted Mariucci to coach the Lions two years ago, but was unable to lure him out of San Francisco. Instead, he settled for Mornhinweg, Mariucci's offensive coordinator from 1997-2000.

The Lions interviewed only Mariucci for the job. That drew strong criticism from civil rights attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri.

The NFL mandates that franchises interview minority candidates for head coach and high-ranking front office positions.

"The Lions have seriously threatened to undermine and potentially violate the new NFL minority hiring policy approved by team owners in December," Cochran and Mehri said in a statement. "Prior to conducting a single interview, General Manager Matt Millen essentially crowned Steve Mariucci as the Lions' new head coach. He might well have put up a sign at Lions headquarters reading, 'Head Coaching Vacancy: Minorities Need Not Apply.'"

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions approached five minority candidates, including former Minnesota Coach Dennis Green and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, but they were rejected because Mariucci was the obvious front-runner.

Sherman Lewis, who was named the Lions' offensive coordinator last month, denied a report that he interviewed for the job.

The hiring of Mariucci figures to be a popular one with Lions' fans. Detroit has not made the playoffs since 1999. Mariucci took the Niners to the postseason four times in six years.

However, after winning the NFC West title with a 10-6 record and

leading the Niners to the second-greatest comeback win in playoff history in the wild card round, Mariucci was fired three days after a 31-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional playoffs.

The Niners claimed Mariucci wanted to expand his role in the organization and add the title of Vice President of Football Operations, a claim Mariucci has denied.

Mariucci upset the Niners' front office last winter by openly campaigning for a contract extension through the media. He then talked with the Buccaneers about becoming their coach and general manager. He hesitated when it came time to accept the job, and Tampa Bay ultimately made a trade for Jon Gruden.

In Detroit, Mariucci will take over a team that is in a rebuilding mode after finishing 2-14 and 3-13 in two years under Mornhinweg. However, the Lions at least appear to have a building block in quarterback Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in the 2002 draft. They own the second choice in April's draft of 2003.

One of Mariucci's closest friends is Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, who grew up with Mariucci in Iron Mountain. Mariucci starred as a quarterback at Northern Michigan, leading the school to an NCAA Division II championship in 1975.

He served as quarterbacks coach with the Green Bay Packers under Mike Holmgren from 1992-95, and was the coach at the University of California in 1996.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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