Mariucci out as Lions' coach

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Oct 14, 2005

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions fired coach Steve Mariucci on Monday and promoted defensive coordinator Dick Jauron to succeed him on an interim basis.

Mariucci's record with the Lions was 15-28. His 2003 hiring was hailed by fans and media alike, but he was not able to turn around a team that has won one playoff game since 1957.

"It's hard for me to stand up here in this position because Steve is a friend," said Jauron, who had a 35-46 record as head coach of the Bears from 1999-2003.

After Detroit lost 27-7 to the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving to fall to 4-7, reports swirled that the team was considering firing Mariucci. When Mariucci was not let go over the weekend, some thought his job was safe for the final five games of the regular season.

"We started off this season with high expectations. I believed this was a roster that was capable of making a playoff run," team president Matt Millen said at an afternoon news conference. "We have not lived up to our expectations. We have underachieved as a football team."

Millen, who said the decision to fire Mariucci was made Monday, also fired offensive line coach Pat Morris and tight ends coach Andy Sugarman.

The Lions have lost four of five games since a solid start put them atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. The team has collapsed on and off the field with players failing to produce and some bickering with one another and questioning the coaches' game plans.

Offensive tackle Jeff Backus said players had not been notified of the move.

"Something had to give, I guess," Backus told The Associated Press. "It's not my job to judge whether Mariucci did a good job or bad job, but we're in a bottom-line business and our bottom line hasn't been very good."

Mariucci has more than two years remaining on the $25 million contract he signed in 2003. The Michigan native came to the Lions from San Francisco, where he was 60-43 over six seasons.

Mariucci was cut some slack in the past because the team he inherited was crafted by Millen, but expectations were high heading into his third season.

"I think we need to [make the playoffs]. We want to, and we're going to make it happen," Mariucci said before the season. "If we win 10 or 11 ballgames and make the playoffs, it would make us happy and make the fans happy."

Millen hired both Mariucci and his predecessor, Marty Mornhinweg, and drafted or signed most of the players currently on the Lions -- and Detroit is an NFL-worst 20-55 since 2001. Millen, a former NFL linebacker and TV analyst was given a five-year extension before this season.

Jauron, Detroit's defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was fired in 2003 after four losing seasons in five years with the Bears. He was selected as NFL coach of the year during his lone winning season in Chicago.

"We need to take these next five weeks, and we need to play ... and see what we can get out of it," Jauron said. "I don't have plans other than the next game."

The Lions are the first team since the NFL and AFL merged drafts in 1967 to draft receivers in the first round three straight years.

Charles Rogers missed most of his first two seasons with injuries and was suspended for four games this year for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Roy Williams has made his share of plays, but has struggled to stay healthy. Rookie Mike Williams, also slowed by injuries, has shown few flashes of promise.

Detroit's quarterback situation also hurt Mariucci's chances for success.

Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in 2002, has failed to be consistent throughout his career. The Lions added a veteran to push Harrington, or replace him, but 35-year-old Jeff Garcia has been nagged by injuries and an inability to throw deep passes.

The Lions' porous offensive line has added to their passing- and running-game woes while a decent defense has been hampered by being on the field too long, and by injuries.