Winds of change subtle on Lions -- or not

Matt Millen is staying and Rod Marinelli is forging ahead, as enthusiastic and determined as ever, in the Lions' ongoing and seemingly never-ending battle to escape the depths of the NFL standings. More inside, including an update on Detroit's new defensive coordinator, the status of Mike Martz and more.

Matt Millen is staying and Rod Marinelli is forging ahead, as enthusiastic and determined as ever, in the Lions' ongoing and seemingly never-ending battle to escape the depths of the NFL standings.

For those still counting, 2007 is year seven of the rebuilding program launched by owner William Clay Ford when he hired Millen as the team president after his team turned in a disappointing 9-7 record and missed the playoffs on the final day of the 2000 season.

Since then the Lions have won 24 games and lost 72, and they haven't come close to winning nine games in any one season. Their high-water mark over the past six years was 6-10 in the 2004 season.

Their 3-13 finish in 2006 guaranteed them the No. 2 pick in April's draft and also gave rise to speculation that Millen might be dismissed.

Ford apparently did not consider it enough of an issue to clear the air, leaving Millen in the unusual situation of giving himself a vote of confidence in a postseason session with a handful of reporters.

Millen said he and Ford have talked "a bunch" but added: "It never even got to anything other than just keep on doing what we're doing."

That apparently does not apply to the .250 winning percentage, but Millen says he will never quit, and, with Marinelli, he feels he finally has laid the groundwork for the kind of improvement he's been seeking the past six years.

Although the Lions won only three games, Marinelli seems to be on the way to overcoming the culture of losing that has pervaded the team for so many seasons. If it had not been for the rash of injuries that cost the team three starters off both the offensive and defensive lines, the Lions might have won more.

Marinelli never used the injuries as an excuse, however, and two days after the end of the season he was back in the office, making staff changes -- releasing defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson and offensive line coach Larry Beightol and making a hurried adjustment after the unexpected retirement of special teams coach Chuck Priefer.

Marinelli says he and Henderson remain close friends but felt it was best to go their separate ways because of philosophical differences: Henderson never got entirely comfortable running the Tampa-2 defense that is Marinelli's lifeblood.

One day after Henderson was fired, Marinelli had hired a replacement -- his son-in-law, Joe Barry, who was hired by Tony Dungy at Tampa Bay in 2001 and also worked with Lovie Smith in the Tampa-2.

Marinelli declined to give a reason for the firing of Beightol, but it is believed Beightol and offensive coordinator Mike Martz had differences in their approach to running the offense. A replacement was not named immediately.

The biggest surprise in the year-end wrap-up was Priefer's decision to retire at age 65 after spending the past 10 years with the Lions.

"He caught me off guard, darn him," Marinelli said. "But he's just a tremendous special teams coach, just a tremendous football coach, a great coach for young coaches to be around."

Marinelli didn't have to look far for Priefer's replacement, however. Stan Kwan, who was an assistant to Priefer the past three seasons and worked with him from 1997-2000 also, accepted the job.

As he has all season, Marinelli took full responsibility for the Lions' disappointing results, but he was enthusiastic regarding the foundation of hard work and commitment he established. He said he expects it to pay dividends in the future.

"I think sometimes the route I'm going is the harder route -- how tough I want this football team to play and changes in attitudes in changing a long culture of losing," Marinelli said. "Just like I've said before, you can have instant coffee or you're going to percolate it.

"I'm going to percolate it, I'm going to do it at my pace, the way I believe it should be done. No panic, just poise."

Barry Has Everything Marinelli Needs
Joe Barry had all the credentials Rod Marinelli was looking for in a defensive coordinator: hired by Tony Dungy, worked with Lovie Smith and trained under Monte Kiffin.

The fact that Barry is married to Marinelli's daughter Chris and the father of four Marinelli grandchildren, he says, is beside the point.

"I hired one of the best," Marinelli said. "If we didn't get him, he'd be defensive coordinator some other place right now. So I went and got the best guy to run this defense.

"People can look at it how they want to look at it, I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in winning. ... I've worked with him, I know what he's got, and that's what I'm excited about.

Barry says he has no problem working with his father-in-law.

"Rod and I, we do have an unbelievable relationship," said Barry. "The simple fact is that Rod's the grandfather to my kids, the father to my wife. We do have a great relationship in the sense that when we walk out of the building, we are family.

"But the thing Rod and I were able to do so well, especially in Tampa for five years, when we were at work, when we were in the confines of work, I didn't look at him as my father-in-law, he didn't look at me as his son-in-law. We looked at each other as coaches. He was the D-line coach, I was the linebacker coach. Now, he's my boss. Bottom line."

Marinelli Surprised, Disappointed By Retirement
The comings and goings of assistant coaches has become an accepted part of the routine in NFL coaching circles but Lions coach Rod Marinelli was clearly surprised and disappointed when special teams coach Chuck Priefer decided to retire at the end of the season Sunday.

Although Marinelli and Priefer had no history of working together until Marinelli was hired a year ago as the Lions head coach, he found Priefer's approach jibed perfectly with his own

"To watch a man teach young coaches how to meet, how to prepare, how to organize, how to work on the field, construct and be consistent ... I mean, he's been as consistent as any coach I've been around -- win, lose, no matter what," Marinelli said.

"That's a loss, that's a tremendous loss. A personal loss for me, and I really think the world of him."

Since coming to the Lions as a member of Bobby Ross's staff in 1997, Priefer has produced some of the NFL's most consistent special teams play. He was a no-nonsense coach on the field but personable and friendly away from the field, known among the writers covering the team for his interest in the Cleveland Indians.

Priefer, 65, and his wife, Sheila, built a home in North Carolina three years ago, and he decided it was time to spend some more time there.

"It's just something that I feel," Priefer said. "I know how old, I am but I don't feel that old or act that old until I leave the field and my body feels that old."

Lions president Matt Millen and Marinelli have indicated they would like to keep Priefer involved, perhaps in an advisory capacity, with the Lions for at least a while longer.

Martz On Coaching Carousel?
The big question is whether Mike Martz will remain as the Lions' offensive coordinator or will be wooed away from the Lions by another NFL team in the market for a head coach.

Martz is on the record as saying he likes the situation with the Lions and would like to continue the job he started this year with quarterback Jon Kitna, running back Kevin Jones and wide receivers Roy Williams and Mike Furrey. If the right offer comes along, however, it is understood Martz would be tempted.

"He wants to get back, he loves it here," Marinelli said. "In this profession, opportunities get open (and) you never know, but I think he really, really likes it here."

Aside from the uncertainty regarding Martz, the other staff changes were made within the first three days after the end of the season.


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