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Monday, January 27
Updated: March 31, 12:38 PM ET
Lions fire Mornhinweg after two poor seasons

Associated Press

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Marty Mornhinweg was fired as coach of the Detroit Lions on Monday after a 3-13 season, the second-worst record in the NFL.

Mon, January 27
The firing of Marty Mornhinweg is unexpected in that he was given a vote of confidence four weeks ago by general manager Matt Millen, but in the end it comes down to the fact that Detroit is 5-27 over the last two seasons without a single road victory. So while the timing is poor on the part of the Lions, it is understandable that they want to go in a different direction.

I spent some time with Marty at the Senior Bowl and he is a likable guy, but his coaching decisions were coming into question late in the year and the Ford family obviously felt it was time to make a change. And when you sign the paychecks you can do whatever you like with your team. This is a tough situation for Mornhinweg and his staff, though, because the rug has been pulled out from under them after feeling they had a new lease on life.

It may be that Mornhinweg did something to upset the front office over the last few weeks or that the dismissal of Steve Mariucci has convinced the Lions to take a run at the former 49ers coach, but whatever the case this scenario at least buys the Fords a couple more years to try and get the franchise turned around.

There are some viable candiates out there to fill the job, and while Mariucci or former Vikings coach Dennis Green would make a great replacement I doubt that former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson would come out of retirement to coach in Detroit.

Detroit was 5-27 under Mornhinweg over the last two seasons, including a road record of 0-16. The Lions lost their last eight games this season, and only Cincinnati finished with a worse record.

Lions chief executive Matt Millen, with the blessing of team owner William Clay Ford Sr., said on Dec. 31 that Mornhinweg would return as coach.

On Monday, Millen said Mornhinweg was fired as part of the process of moving forward.

"We have to continue to make the best decision to get this franchise going in the right direction,'' Millen said.

"I want to win, and I want to win now," he said.

So did Mornhinweg, who wanted to see the Lions rebuilt as a winner.

"Now I find myself in a position where I'm unable to finish the job, and really that is the only disappointing thing,'' Mornhinweg said from his home in suburban Detroit on Tuesday. "I believe that part of my job was going to be coming in here and building this organization into one of these elite organizations in this league.''

Mornhinweg became the fifth NFL coach to be fired since the end of the season, following dismissals at Cincinnati, Dallas, Jacksonville and San Francisco.

Mornhinweg matched Chris Palmer's two-year record of futility for a new coach since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Palmer coached the Cleveland Browns in 1999 and 2000.

Palmer, though, was coaching an expansion team. Mornhinweg took over a team that went 9-7 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

Possible replacements include former Minnesota coach Dennis Green and former San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, a Michigan native, who was released earlier this month.

"I spoke to Steve and I would like to speak to him again,'' Millen said.

Asked if Mariucci's availability was a factor in firing Mornhinweg, Millen said, "It's certainly a factor, but I don't think it's a big factor or a main factor.''

Millen said he would consider minority candidates, a process mandated by the NFL this season.

Mornhinweg had never been a head coach at any level before taking the job with the Lions. He replaced Gary Moeller, who took over for Bobby Ross midway through the 2000 season

Mornhinweg was widely criticized this season for choosing to take the wind instead of the ball after the Lions won an overtime coin toss against Chicago. The Bears got the kickoff and drove to the winning field goal.

When Mornhinweg was hired he set the team's sights on a first Super Bowl trip. The Lions have had only one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.

"The bar is high,'' he said. "The goal for this organization is to win Super Bowls.''

Mornhinweg had insisted the team's weak record stemmed from failed drafts from the previous regime, along with aging or injured players.

The past two years, the Lions have gotten rid of five one-time first-round picks -- Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton, Bryant Westbrook, Terry Fair and Aaron Gibson. The Lions also lost Ron Rice, Kurt Schulz and Stephen Boyd to career-ending injuries.

The Lions will have the second pick in April's draft, and expect to have enough salary-cap space to sign a couple free agents.

The Lions began the season excited about rookie quarterback Joey Harrington and returning downtown from suburban Pontiac for the first time since 1974 to play at Ford Field.

Harrington, the third pick in the draft, showed some flashes after he became a starter in Week 3, but he regressed before being sidelined with an irregular heartbeat in the 14th game.

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