Is Mariucci the right fit?

Oh, boy, it's going to be an interesting off-season in Green Bay. Steve Mariucci's firing in Detroit has ratcheted up the intrigue surrounding Mike Sherman's future in Green Bay several notches.

Even with Sherman having signed a two-year contract extension in August, the chair in his office must be getting hotter as his mistake-prone team skids toward the worst 16-game record in franchise history. Game plans such as Sunday's against Chicago, when the Packers inexplicably threw 58 passes in a game they trailed by no more than a touchdown for the first 56 minutes, 54 seconds, no doubt will get Thompson's attention.

If Thompson puts more emphasis on the results instead of all the obstacles — namely, youth and injuries — then the Sherman Era will have come to a disastrous conclusion.

Assuming Thompson doesn't want to be forever known as the man who sent Brett Favre into retirement, he'll take into account what his veteran quarterback wants. Favre, who has been all over the map on the retirement issue, sent a strong signal in November, when he linked his future to Sherman's.

"I don't think there's one specific thing that would make me say yeah or no," Favre said in a Nov. 3 interview with The Associated Press. "It's just a culmination of a lot of different things, that being one of them. Maybe you're on the verge of saying yeah, and then you say, ‘You know what, do I really want to sit in meetings and have to learn (the offense) all over again?

"That could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."

The sudden availability of Mariucci, on the surface, gives Thompson an opening to fire Sherman. Mariucci was Favre's first — and, Favre says, best — quarterbacks coach, when he was part of Mike Holmgren's first staff. In Mariucci's final year in Green Bay, 1995, Favre won his first league MVP award. Of all of Favre's contacts across the league, Mariucci perhaps is Favre's closest friend. Mariucci runs the West Coast Offense, so there wouldn't be much for Favre to learn.

Thompson, of course, isn't publicly discussing Sherman's future, much less commenting on Mariucci's availability. Here are two points, and counterpoints, that Thompson will have to consider, should he decide to change coaches.

Is Mariucci an upgrade over Sherman?

Point: Well, it depends on who you blame for what happened in Detroit. If you blame the Lions' problems on Matt Millen, then look at Mariucci's success in San Francisco. He took over an aging, Super Bowl-caliber team, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, and guided it to a 13-3 record in his first season, 1997, and a 12-4 mark in 1998.

A salary-cap purge led to 4-12 and 6-10 records in 1999 and 2000. The young players, however, developed into winners, with the 49ers rebounding to a 12-4 mark in 2001 and 10-6 record in his final season, 2002.

Counterpoint: But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and Mariucci didn't do anything other than lose in Detroit. It's generally acknowledged the Lions have some of the best young talent in the league, yet they went 5-11 in 2003, 6-10 in 2004 and 4-7 this season under Mariucci.

The Packers obviously are in a rebuilding mode. They need a coach who can turn promising young players into superb veteran players. Mariucci failed at that in Detroit.

With Mariucci hired, maybe Favre won't retire

Point: First, it must be determined if Favre's game has slipped as much as his recent play suggests.

In the first half of the season, Favre was playing at a Pro Bowl level. He was tied for the league lead in touchdowns, his completion percentage was at a career high, and his passer rating was above 90. In his last six games, however, he's thrown just five touchdown passes and been picked off 13 times. His passer rating is 59.7.

If you're Thompson, you must determine if Favre's shaky play is simply a matter of him trying to turn chicken feathers into chicken salad, or if age has finally caught up to him. If you determine Favre's your guy, then you stay with Sherman or see if Mariucci is a good fit. If you think it's time to go another direction at quarterback, are you prepared for a firestorm if you fire Sherman and hire a coach with an entirely different offensive philosophy, which could chase Favre into retirement?

If you hire old friend Mariucci, perhaps Favre returns with a new sense of enthusiasm. Mix in a healthy Javon Walker, a revamped running game, a lofty first-round draft pick, a more seasoned defense and tons of salary-cap space, and Favre has a chance to exit, not on top, but at least as a winner.

Counterpoint: Let's look past Favre, for a minute. Favre isn't going to be the quarterback forever, regardless of who's coach.

Let's look to a future with Aaron Rodgers. This year's first-round pick hasn't played a meaningful snap all season, and there's no sign Sherman is going to replace Favre, even for a series or two a game.

That means — assuming a coaching change, of course — that the new coach is going to be the man in charge of turning Rodgers into a quality starter. Look at Mariucci's track record in Detroit. Joey Harrington was selected with the third pick of the first round in 2002, yet he's done nothing to make anyone think he's a bona fide NFL starter.

In 55 career games, Harrington has 56 touchdown passes and 61 interceptions. His career completion percentage is 54.6 while playing in a West Coast Offense that demands the quarterback complete at least 60 percent of his passes.

And it's not like the Lions haven't given Harrington any weapons. He has three first-round picks at wide receiver and another at running back. His left tackle (Jeff Backus) is a first-round pick, his center (Dominic Raiola) is a second-rounder, and his right guard (Damien Woody) is a first-round pick who played for two of New England's Super Bowl teams.

Given Harrington's physical tools, and all the talent around him, do you really want Mariucci developing Rodgers?

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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