The Last Days of Marty Mornhinweg

Monday's announcement that Marty Mornhinweg was being fired as head coach of the Detroit Lions shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone other than a casual observer. The only thing that seemed a little out of place was the timing. Mike Fowler breaks down the final 30 days of Mornhinweg's coaching career in Detroit.

(ALLEN PARK, MI) -- Monday's announcement that Marty Mornhinweg was being fired as head coach of the Detroit Lions shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone other than a casual observer.  The only thing that seemed a little out of place was the timing.

After all, wasn't it on December 30th that Matt Millen spoke to the media and said that there would be "no changes" and that both he and Marty would be back?

Sure, so what happened between December 30th and January 27 that got Marty Mornhinweg fired?

After talking with some league scouts, beat writers, reporters and longtime Lions observers, here's the picture of how Mornhinweg managed to lose his job in less than a month.

First, following the final game of the season, Matt Millen was of the mindset to fire Mornhinweg immediately.  When Detroit finished with a 3-13 record, two full years without even one win on the road and an eight-game losing streak,  Millen was convinced that Mornhinweg was unable to do the job.  But more importantly, Millen felt he could no longer trust Mornhinweg's judgement on issues relating to the franchise.

Previously, Millen had given great weight to Mornhinweg's judgement on several personnel issues. Mornhinweg convinced Millen that Mike McMahon was ready to play and would be a suitable short-term replacement for incumbent Charlie Batch.  But the Lions got off to an 0-2 start and it appeared that McMahon was not ready to play at all.  He really showed no more of a grasp of the Lions offense than did rookie Joey Harrington.  So Detroit was force-fed Harrington in week three before he was ready to play.  After an intial hot start when Detroit went 3-3, Harrington cooled off and appeared to be regressing as Detroit lost their last eight games.

Mornhinweg convinced Millen that Detroit would be better off keeping Lamont Warren and Aveion Cason instead of impressive undrafted rookie free agent James Mungro.  So Millen allowed Mornhinweg to try to sneak Mungro onto the practice squad.  But Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy claimed Mungro and the rookie kept the Colts playoff drive alive with back-to-back impressive performances, including a 100 yard game against the Philadelphia Eagles while subbing for the injured Edgerrin James.   Detroit struggled to get any kind of rushing totals at all when James Stewart was injured.

Couple those personnel decisions with several questionable clock and game management decisions which likely cost Detroit two additional wins and  Mornhinweg was on shaky ground.  Rumors were swirling, that Steve Mariucci would be fired as head coach of the San Francisco 49'ers unless the Niners made it to the Super Bowl.  This situation would be ideal. Mariucci was the guy Millen really wanted all along.  Millen dismissed all of this as mindless speculation believing there was no way Mariucci would be fired.

After a long series of weekend meetings with Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr., and Millen -- meetings at which both Millen and Mornhinweg could have been fired -- Mornhinweg basically convinced Ford, Sr. and Millen that he was a part of the solution to the Lions problems.   Millen was impressed and with Mariucci not available anyway,  why not give the guy his last year?  So it was that the Lions president issued a statement to the media that the team would stand pat. There would be "no changes" in the Lions regime..... for now. 

But a bizzare series of events over the next two weeks proved to be Mornhinweg's undoing.  First, the San Francisco 49'ers narrowly escaped the New York Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs and the whispers that Mariucci would be out as head coach increased.  Still, Millen dismissed those as speculation.

Then their was the Senior Bowl disaster.  Under Mornhinweg, the South squad lost 17-0, the first time a team had ever been shut out in thirteen years.  This despite the presence of Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and Texas' Chris Simms, son of the New York Giants legendary Phil Simms running Mornhinweg's offense.  The South squad looked lost under Mornhinweg.  Even running the simplest of plays seemed to be too much for this collection of all-star talent.  Something clearly was wrong and it wasn't with the players.

When Millen arrived he spoke to people around the league, scouts, GMs, longtime talent evaluators and asked them for their honest opinion on what he could do to turn things around.  Speaking candidly many pointed fingers squarely at Mornhinweg as the root problem.  Some told Millen he would never win with Mornhinweg as head coach. 

Several scouts complained to Millen about the way Mornhinweg ran practice.  Most disturbing was when the coach sent the South squad to the sidelines to workout Auburn placekicker/punter Damon Duval.  Duval attempted thirteen field goals while the rest of the South squad looked on.  Scouts complained, some seethed, they had flown to Mobile to see the practices so they could evaluate players.  Now here was Mornhinweg wasting valuable time on a kicker?  "What is this?" many of them thought.

Mornhinweg zeroed in on several players, from his work at the Senior Bowl, that he felt were prime players that the Lions should consider taking.  When discussing some of these with Millen, their early evaluations were widely divergent.  Millen didn't want to go through the another "Harrington vs Jammer" debate again. If his job was going to be on the line, he was going to make the call on draft picks.

Shockingly on January 15, the San Francisco 49'ers fired Steve Mariucci, the coach Millen had sold Bill Ford, Jr. on as part of his "process" to rejuvenate the Lions four years ago.  Millen didn't get the job then, but he always like Mariucci.  Now he was available and Mornhinweg was increasingly being viewed as a liability.

From that point forward, Millen determined to fire Mornhinweg.

For the next two weeks, Millen avoided Mornhinweg, not returning phone calls and ducking him in the Lions offices.  In the meantime, Millen was making phone calls to Mariucci.  He called to console him after he was fired in San Francisco and who knows how far that conversation went?  Except Millen admitted yesterday that Mariucci's firing "was a factor" in his decision to fire Mornhinweg.

Yesterday, the decision Millen made to fire Mornhinweg was announced to the media.   

For Marty, he's probably better off.  He was a good offensive coordinator, but seemed overmatched as a head coach.   A class guy, Mornhinweg is holding a press conference today at his home to brief the media on his side of the story, but will not bash either Millen or the Lions.

Look for Mornhinweg to land a job as an offensive coordinator with another NFL franchise, perhaps Seattle. The last thirty days weren't Mornhinweg's best. Here's hoping he enjoys the next thirty having a cold beverage somewhere warm with his beautiful family. 


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