(DETROIT, MI) -- There was an optimistic tone crackling with enthusiasm as Steve Mariucci took the podium and was introduced as the 22nd head coach of the Detroit Lions.
There was also tension.
There were the whispers that either Johnnie Cochran or Cyrus Mehri, two leading civil rights advocates who are leading the charge to have more minority candidates interviewed for NFL head coaching vacancies, would appear at the press conference to give their take on what they felt was a violation of the process by the Detroit Lions.
While neither appeared, it was clear everyone in the Detroit Lions organization was on the same page; they were truthful with all the candidates and felt that the lack of interviews of minorities was more the fault of the candidates and the process than the Lions organization.
"Matt handled it, and I think he did a good job, I really do," said Lions vice-chairman Bill Ford, Jr. "When asked by the African-American candidates whether Steve was a leading candidate, Matt honestly said 'Yes'," said Ford, Jr. "I suppose he could have said 'No' and then kept things going. I think Matt's honesty in this case was right. Steve was the leading candidate. On the other hand, he wasn't a 'slam-dunk'. Something could have gone wrong at any moment. You'd have to ask Matt which coaches he contacted -- there's a list of them -- all declined to come in for an interview. I can't fault Matt for the way he handled this."
When asked to react to Pittsburgh Steelers owner and NFL diversity council chairman Dan Rooney's statement that the Lions had violated the spirit of the NFL policy, Ford continued, "I can understand why Dan said that. I'm not sure what Matt could have done differently except to say to the candidates "No, it's wide open", but in fact Matt really did have Steve as a front-runner."
If such is the case, then is the NFL's policy flawed? "I think that will be debated forever," said Ford, Jr. "Certainly the goal is right. I don't think anybody quarrels with the goal, certainly I don't," said Ford, Jr.
Lions executive vice-president and chief operating officer Tom Lewand said the Lions were done in by perceptions that they did not create.
"The timing was such that the decision about [Marty Mornhinweg] was made subsequent to the decision the 'Niners made to terminate Steve. Maybe that contributed to a level of perception that we didn't create," stated Lewand.
"[The perception] was created both in internal NFL circles and it was created through the media [and] through word-of-mouth. It created such a powerful sense of perception that when we approached candidates through the process and they asked legitimate questions that you found a process that also had to be handled with honesty and integrity. I think that's what Matt did throughout this process. He wasn't going to answer questions disingenuously, when people asked whether Steve was a strong candidate."
Lions president and CEO Matt Millen was told that NFLPA chairman Gene Upshaw had stated that the Lions were in violation of the policy. "Then I dont know how to adhere to [that] policy. It takes two people, it takes two sides. That's a tough one for me," said Millen. "These are guys I know and they know me. I'm going to be nothing but honest with them. I'm going to tell them straight. Then it's their choice. I'm not going to say 'Hey look, I'm going to get this [Mariucci deal] done' and that's the way [it is]...that's baloney."