Column: Identity Crisis in Detroit

Here's a piece of advice for the Lions before they make any more moves that can make a bad situation even worse: Figure out who you are.

ALLEN PARK - It's one thing to lose on the field, its another thing to start losing in the front office, too. With yet another season in the tank before Thanksgiving Day, the Lions have now started to mess with the one thing they seemed to have gotten right, their base of young, talented players.

The Lions provocative move in filing a grievance to reclaim a staggering $10.1 million in signing bonus money from receiver Charles Rogers is yet another sign of a disfunctional organization running amok. Who decided to do this and why? What exactly do you expect to accomplish here?

This smacks of a move to deflect attention from an organization that is continually passed by its competitors at every turn. Think about some of the questions that confront this organization as it heads toward its fourth consecutive losing season under president Matt Millen.

Who's going to suit up in 2006 for this team?

Will it be Joey Harrington? The third overall pick in the 2003 has long been rumored to be headed for his outright release after he lost his starting job to Jeff Garcia. Garcia is likely to start Thursday and for the rest of the season after the offense behind Harrington could only muster seven points in a loss.

It won't be wide receiver Charles Rogers, the second overall pick. The Lions have filed a grievance with the NFL to reclaim $10.1 million of his $14 million signing bonus. Rogers contract likely has language allowing the Lions to reclaim the bonus if he is in "default" of his contract. A suspension qualifies as default. Reclaiming the bonus isn't going to change the fact that once gone, Rogers will be another first round pick wasted on a player who's going to be with another organization in 2006.

How about Jeff Backus, the 12th overall pick in the 2001 draft? Backus, who is in a contract year may not be around next season after struggling all season to block speedy pass rushers while battling a high ankle sprain. If Backus isn't here, a pourous offensive line could get even worse.

While all three have had their share of problems on or off the field, at least some of it is due to the dysfunctional atmosphere of the Detroit organization that still hasn't found itself.

While we're asking questions: Who's going to coach this team?

We've heard all season it would be a wasted year if Detroit didn't make the playoffs, now an unattainable goal. Mariucci is said to be on the outs with president Matt Millen for the team's lack of production offensively and its dismal won-loss record.

Millen took a $250,000 fine from the NFL's diversity committee for failing to interview a minority candidate for the head coaching job, all because he just had to have his 'Mooch'. This is the same Mariucci that by some accounts he's ready to fire at season's end.

If Mariucci's gone, does the organization have to change styles and personnel to fit the new coach? How long will that take? And by the way, who's that proven winner who's going to replace Mooch, who was by all accounts, the proven winner Detroit needed?

More importantly do you trust Millen to find and hire the right man for the job? After all this is the guy who drafted Rogers, Harrington and Backus and signed Mariucci. Want a bad situation to get worse? Let's hope those Butch Davis rumors circulating are just rumors.

Much of the Lions problems lies in an organization that has no philosophy, no building plan, no clue of how to build a winner. The entire organization is mired in mediocrity from ownership down to the playing field.

Need proof?

Take a look at the teams that were in the dumps with the Lions three season ago when Detroit posted its 3-13 mark. Jacksonville (6-10), Cincinnati (2-14), divisional rival Chicago(4-12) and Dallas (5-11) are all now 7-3. All those teams are squarely in the playoff hunt while only the Lions and expansion Houston are still mired in the NFL dungeon at 4-6 or worse and headed towards their fourth consecutive sub .500 record.

Millen drafted all the players and signed the head coach that may or may not figure in the Lions plans beyond this year and yet, he's the only one in this organization who's not on the hot seat? Something's wrong with that kind of thinking.

The fact of the matter is that the Lions need to develop a philosphy and have that philosophy run through every thread of the organization. Is Detroit a west coast offense team? If that's the case they need to believe and support that philosophy with every player drafted, every coach signed and every move made in the front office. The continual second guessing of Mariucci - the only proven winner in the Lions front office - can do nothing but undermine Mariucci's success. If you didn't believe in Mariucci's system then why did you bring him here?

If you were going to run the WCO, why did you draft Joey Harrington, a quarterback who's tailor-made for a pro-style, ball control offense? The conflicting moves have the organization continually shooting itself in the foot trying to decide on what they want to be.

That housecleaning the Lions claimed to perform in 2000 when Millen came aboard, it wasn't really a housecleaning at all. The only real change was that Millen replaced Chuck Schmidt and the Lions swept out figurehead Larry Lee. Everyone else who was there before is still in their old jobs.

Here's a piece of advice for the Lions before they make any more moves that can make a bad situation even worse: Figure out who you are. Find out what you want to be. Are you going to run the West Coast offense or a Indianapolis Colts style spread attack? Are you going to be a defensive minded, ball-control team ala the Bears or the Ravens? Figure it out. Then surround yourself with the best people who run the philosophy and stick with it.

For Detroit, they have to figure out who to trust with their organization. When the dust is cleared and the blame is dispatched for another losing season, who will be the last man standing? Will it be Millen after yet another housecleaning? Will it be Mariucci after perhaps a Millen resignation? Will it be the capable Tom Lewand or maybe a surprise like Sheldon White? Will it be someone entirely new?

There's nothing worse than losing year-after-year and having no clue of how to fix it.


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