Column: Mariucci Has Been Here Before

This is not the first time that Steve Mariucci has been close to a situation like the one he currently faces with the Lions. From 1992 -1995, Mariucci served as Mike Holmgren's quarterbacks coach with the Green Bay Packers, and in October of 1994 both men were at a crossroads with a young, wondrously talented, under-performing quarterback named Brett Favre.

Steve Mariucci’s decision to stick with Joey Harrington as the Lions’ starting quarterback may have surprised some, infuriated others, and caused the rest to cross their fingers and hope for the best. Harrington has done little this season to give anyone much optimism that he will be the Lion signal-caller to lead Detroit out of the NFL cellar. However, this is not the first time that Mariucci has been close to a situation like the one he currently faces with the Lions. From 1992 -1995, Steve Mariucci served as Mike Holmgren’s quarterbacks coach with the Green Bay Packers, and in October of 1994 both men were at a crossroads with a young, wondrously talented, under-performing quarterback named Brett Favre.

On October 20, 1994, in a game against the Minnesota Vikings, Favre spent the final three-quarters on the sidelines nursing an injured hip. Brett’s understudy Mark Brunell had played well in his place, however the Packers still lost 13-10. The defeat dropped the Packers to 3-4 on the season, and Favre fully expected his Green Bay career to be all but over.

Favre had played in 38 games to that point in his Packer career, and he had almost as many interceptions (44) as he had touchdown passes (46) to show for it. Holmgren had told Favre at the beginning of that season, "I will not hesitate to pull you if we’re losing games with the same mistakes we made last year."

Now seven-games in, Holmgren had reached the breaking point and for the first time was truly considering giving up on the kid he had spent two-plus seasons trying to mold.

The next few days were tense one’s around the Packer compound, illustrated by Favre throwing a tantrum in Mariucci’s office in frustration over trying to master Holmgren’s complex offense. It was a breakdown that Mariucci later called, "the lowest point" of Brett’s professional career. Holmgren had told those close to him that "it was just galling to see a player of this magnitude continue to self-destruct."

During that week’s coaches meeting, Holmgren polled his staff on whom they felt should be the starting quarterback, Brunell won the vote. The coaches considered the future Jacksonville star to be a better decision maker than Favre. So with all of this as his backdrop, Holmgren was left alone to make the biggest coaching decision of his career.

So what did Holmgren do? He called Favre into his office and told him, "Buddy, it’s your job. . . . We’re joined at the hip. . . . Either were going to the Super Bowl together, or we’re going down together." As we all know, they didn’t go down.

After that watershed moment, the Packers went 30-11 over the next 41-regular season games. Favre threw 101 touchdowns and 33 picks during that span, and added three-straight MVP awards and a Super Bowl Championship to boot.

One has to wonder if Mariucci’s experiences with Favre and Holmgren in Green Bay influenced his decision to remain with Harrington as his starter here in Detroit.

While the most popular football player in Motown has always been the backup quarterback, most logical observers know that Joey Harrington is the Lions’ quarterback of the present, as-well-as the future. Harrington has started in just 19 games to this point of his NFL career, and it is clear that the game has not slowed down for him yet. It doesn’t help Joey’s situation with the fact that none of the Lions’ healthy skill-position players could make the starting lineup of any other roster in the NFL. Team that with a woefully undermanned, out-gunned defense and an injury riddled special-teams, and you have the makings for another trip to the NFL cellar for this year’s Detroit Lions.

There is much more wrong with the current state of the Lions than simply the performance of their quarterback. With all that has gone wrong one thing remains certain, if the Lions are going to reach the Super Bowl within the next decade it will be with Joey Harrington, or another quarterback not currently on the Lions’ roster.

No one is saying that Harrington will be the next Favre. Joey just needs time, just as Brett Favre did. Lucky for Harrington, no one understands that better than Steve Mariucci.


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