Analysis: No Rift. Harrington is Lions' Man

It might seem as if there's a rift between Lions President and GM Matt Millen and head coach Steve Mariucci over the Lions quarterbacking position, but there really isn't. Lions' insider Mike Fowler breaks down what <i>really</i> is going on behind the scenes in Detroit -- and just how the decision to maintain the status quo went about.

(ALLEN PARK) - It might seem as if there's a rift between Lions President and GM Matt Millen and head coach Steve Mariucci over the Lions quarterbacking position, but there really isn't. Mariucci contemplated pulling Harrington in favor of fourth-year veteran Mike McMahon as the starter for Sunday's contest vs. Minnesota for two reasons; one, to avoid killing his confidence in front of a what is setting up to be a very hostile home crowd and two, to get a look at Mike McMahon on the football field in a game setting with all things being equal.

But when all was said and done, the Lions brass agreed to stay the course they set at the beginning of the season, starting Harrington the entire year. "He's been the starter all along and while we've had some discussion about the quarterback position and some other position as well, we've decided to stay the same at that position. It's that simple," stated Mariucci Mariucci firmly asserted that the decision was his decision.

"It's a coaching decision. It's my decision. We discuss a lot of things as an organization with the front office and ownership and we discuss a lot of things every week and I have to decide who plays and for how long." Simply put, Millen and Mariucci are on the same page when looking at the big picture. Millen doesn't want to sit Harrington because he feels he needs every game, every snap, every rep to improve and be ready to be productive in 2005.

The last thing Millen wants is a full blown quarterback controversy, especially one involving a quarterback that he doesn't believe can do the job. Millen has seen the best and worst of McMahon going back to the horrific 2-14, 2001 season, and he isn't going down that road again.

Millen hasn't yet completed his final assessment of Harrington, neither has Mariucci. Joey has shown flashes of brillance in his three-year tenure. Millen believes with three full years under his belt, he'll have a better shot a making a quantum leap next season and even if he doesn't, Millen will back fill the position with a real challenger with experience on the NFL level, likely through a trade. Mariucci doesn't disagree with that tactic.

Additionally, Millen believes next year - with a healthy Charles Rogers and a healthy Boss Bailey, along with another year's worth of free agents and draftees -Detroit will be set up to be a true playoff contender. Mariucci understands that and buys into that. But....... he would love to give McMahon a shot to see what he can do in a game, not just in practice. He looks at McMahon's athleticism and strong arm and sees a raw Jeff Garcia. He believes that McMahon has shown enough in practice to warrant a shot and that worse, some of the players feel that McMahon is getting a raw deal. Some players even believe that behind McMahon, they could possibly win the next three games and make the playoffs.

Mariucci knows that there is a growing undercurrent of disbelief in Harrington in the locker room. But the other school of though is what if "good" Joey shows up on Sunday against Minnesota? He could win back those wayward teammates, renew the fans faith in him and all would be set up perfectly for 2005. So Millen and Mariucci have agreed to stick to the plan. Harrington will get the entire season, despite his struggles. McMahon will only get in the games only if one of two situations develop; one, something that is a confidence killer for Harrington or two, due to injury. Mariucci might want to tinker with McMahon, but he understands the financial aspect of the NFL as well. One thing is for certain, he won't do anything to undermine Millen. He knows and believes in the chain of command. He realizes he's been well rewarded financially and otherwise by the Lions organization, including Millen who went to bat for him - taking a big time hit from the NFL's diversity committtee in the process - to bring him here. Plus he and Millen are as close as any tandem in the NFL. Anything written to the contrary is nonsense.

So while Mooch may want to see McMahon, Millen has seen that ship and believes it has sailed. Marty Mornhinweg may have convinced him that McMahon was viable once, but he's not going to be fooled twice. Joey's "the guy" and if McMahon gets any playing time, it will only be under the above well laid out circumstances. He'll have to convince some other organization that he can be a viable alternative. Bottom line is, for better or for worse, the Lions brass have agreed that McMahon is not the guy and doesn't figure into the future. Now they have to solve the bigger question in their minds, is Harrington that guy? That's why he is getting the start on Sunday and likely for the rest of the season.

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