Saunders rumors better not be true

The rumors better not be true because if they are, the Lions franchise would be in big trouble. It's not that Saunders isn't an outstanding coach, its the fact that Detroit would be in violation of the league's diversity act for a second time. That would likely bring stiffer sanctions including a fine for the franchise and the loss of draft picks, perhaps as high as a #1.

ALLEN PARK - First off, I do not believe the rumors coming out of Kansas City that say that Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders is going to be named the Lions head coach as early as Monday morning.

Second, the rumors better not be true, because if they are, the Lions franchise would be in big trouble.

It's not that Saunders isn't an outstanding coach, it's the fact that Detroit would be in violation of the league's diversity act for a second time. That would likely bring stiffer sanctions including a fine for the franchise and the loss of draft picks, perhaps as high as a #1.

That would be catastrophic for the Lions and grounds for firing vice president Matt Millen. Millen basically ignored the league's diversity act the first time around and it set off a firestorm of protest when he hired Steve Mariucci without so much as interviewing any other candidates.

No other league franchise has ever been sanctioned for a violation of the policy.

At the time, Millen felt Mariucci was uniquely qualified for the job, after all, he had sold Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. and Bill Ford, Jr. on the idea of creating a "San Francisco East." The Lions were going to benchmark the highly successful, five-time Super Bowl winning franchise and duplicate its success in Detroit.

But there was trouble on the way to paradise.

Mariucci never got a quarterback who could run the scheme. He and Millen clashed on philosophy, personnel, assistant coaches and free agent acquisitions. The result was the inevitable "philosophical differences" and Mariucci was gone.

Millen said at Mariucci's firing that "when we do conduct a search for the next head coach, it will be in accordance with all of the applicable NFL guidelines."

That means following the league's diversity policy that state minority candidates must be interviewed. And itt's not like there are not imminently qualified candidates of color throughout the league.

Colts' defensive coordinator Ron Meeks (African-American) presides over a defense that was once the laughing stock of the league to one that ninth in the NFL surrendering just 15.6 points per game.

Bears' defensive coordinator Ron Rivera (Hispanic-Puerto Rican) currently runs the league's stingiest defense and should be high atop any short list of potential candidates.

Rivera has turned a talented group of individuals into a rock solid unit that gives up a miniscule 11.2 points per game. A former Super Bowl champion as a player, Rivera commands respect in the locker room.

But there is nothing wrong with Saunders, either.

Saunders, a 25-year NFL veteran is among the league's geniuses offensively. The Chiefs offense led the league in 2004 and going into the season finale are ranked #2 in the NFL behind only Seattle. Saunders has taken Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz's spread offense to another level.

It is known that the Chiefs brass think highly of incumbent quarterback Joey Harrington and think he could suceed in the their system. That could be another reason that Detroit might be hot for Saunders.

Further, Saunders is expected to be #1 candidate in Kansas City should Vermeil resign following the season as some expect him to do. Saunders is also highly sought after by several teams, including division rival Minnesota, should they dump current coach Mike Tice.

Still, Millen cannot act rashly or foolishly by making a premature hire.

Hopefully he saw the error of his ways when he jumped to hire Mariucci way too soon. He must go through the process. In doing so he may find that Meeks, Rivera, Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, Steelers assistant head coach Russ Grimm, former 49ers head coach George Seifert or former Rams head coach Mike Martz are better fits.

At all costs, go through the process and perform due diligence. Detroit cannot afford to lose draft picks or have the ignominious distinction of being labeled a biased franchise.


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