Rod Marinelli drew some chuckles in his news conference Monday when he raised his right hand, flattened it out and said: "That bar is high." It reminded reporters of Marty Mornhinweg, who was famous for saying virtually the same thing virtually the same way once upon a time.
Mornhinweg will always be remembered for that quote because he went 2-14 in his first season, 3-13 in his second season and didn't make it to a third season. He was replaced in 2003 by Steve Mariucci, who lasted less than three seasons himself.
"The bar is high" has seemed to symbolize the futile hopes of Lions coaches. But while people laughed with Marinelli on Monday, no one was laughing at him. He went 3-13 in his first season, but he has the Lions at 6-2 heading into Sunday's game at Arizona.
"That bar is high," Marinelli said. "Have they got there? No, and that bar is high. You have to set them high."
Marinelli referred to something he said Sunday after the Lions blew out Denver, 44-7.
"Here's the thing I believe, and I believe it in raising kids or whatever you do," Marinelli said then. "If you set expectations for people, they usually raise themselves to the expectations. You tell a young person you're nothing, that's what he'll probably be."
The Lions have been told they're nothing for years. They have been so bad for so long, it hasn't created a black cloud of negativity. It has created a black hole. No light escapes. Say something positive, even just suggest it, and you hear wisecracks about drinking the Kool-Aid and eating the cornbread.
Marinelli has told the Lions they can be an elite team. This is a guy who grew up saying he would be an NFL coach someday, paid his dues for years and finally made it at age 56. He believes when you want something, you must be strong enough to say it, even if people laugh at you. He believes you have to hold yourself accountable to your dreams.
Repeatedly, Marinelli says it's not about him, it's about the team. But he has built the team in his image.
Notice Marinelli has a team leader, quarterback Jon Kitna, who started out as a 12th-stringer at Central Washington, wasn't drafted, played on the practice squad, played in Europe and still made it. No wonder Kitna stated his belief before the season the Lions would win 10 games or more.
The Lions have a lot of guys like that, and the attitude is rubbing off on others. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, a malcontent in the past, is playing with so much enthusiasm that Sunday he celebrated a sack with a somersault.
"You have to set that bar high," Marinelli said. "I've set it high. It's one thing just setting it. Two is driving them to get there. That's what they want. That's what they want, and they do. It's our job to make sure they get what they want."
Individual Player Notes