One of those guys was Steve Mariucci. The former Cal-San Francisco-Detroit head coach cut his teeth as the Packers' quarterbacks coach from 1992 to 1995. Once considered the NFL's brightest rising star, Mariucci has been fired twice since the turn of the millennium. Delving into the history of his rise and mini-fall, I am convinced that Mariucci is not just a blast from the Packer past but the perfect coach for the future of the franchise.
Like most of Holmgren's original staff, Mariucci became a hot commodity. Former employer Cal was first in line, making him head coach in 1997. Whiz-kid Mariucci was snapped up by the San Francisco after just one successful season at the Golden Bears' helm. When the Niners' cut him loose after six seasons, it must have been because they were tired of making the playoffs. Mooch crafted a career mark of 57-39 and made post-season appearances in four of his six seasons. He held the reins when San Fran lost to the Packers in the 1997 NFC Championship game, and again when the Niners' broke the Packers' hearts and ended the Mike Holmgren era in the 1998 NFC wildcard round. Mariucci's dismissal followed a 10-win, division-title season and reportedly came without the knowledge of the San Francisco GM. Since then, the 49ers have won just 13 games over three seasons and finished last in their division the past two years.
The Detroit Lions were the next to tap Mariucci's NFL potential. He was hired in his home state soon after he left the West Coast, but the honeymoon was short. After two losing seasons and a poor start to a third, Mariucci was fired in the middle of this season following a Thanksgiving Day loss to Atlanta which left the Lions 4-7. Detroit lost four of their remaining five games under interim head coach Dick Jauron.
The dreadful record in Detroit isn't going to help Mariucci's resume, but his 11 wins in his first two seasons actually more than doubled the Lions' totals from 2001 and 2002. GM Matt Millen can throw scapegoat Mariucci and all the "Fire Millen" T-shirts into his franchise's abyss, but it's going to take more than a new head coach to put the Lions back on solid ground.
Mariucci needs the right situation to prove his worth as an NFL skipper. Green Bay needs someone who fits its unique situation. Here's what makes the Packers and Mariucci a match made in football heaven:
1) Mariucci has already taken a team from rock-bottom back to the top with relative speed. After San Francisco hit rock-bottom at 4-12 in 1999, Mariucci's team struggled one more year before climbing back into the playoffs with back-to-back 12-4 and 10-6 seasons.
2) The Packers face a complicated quarterback situation. They must appreciate what they have in Favre for as long as possible, and they must have a rock-solid plan for what to do next, whenever next is. The last time the Packers had to groom a new QB, Mariucci did the job better than anyone in the NFL ever has, taking Favre from raw material to MVP in three short seasons.
3) Mooch hails from a not-exactly-sophisticated area not too far from the Packers' home in not-exactly-sophisticated Northeastern Wisconsin. A guy from the U.P. certainly isn't going to turn up his nose at Green Bay's weather, or its skyline. 4) He "gets" the Packer mystique. That's important. Please refer to Mike Holmgren's introductory press conference in 1992.
5) At 50, Mariucci has a lot of career under his belt. That could mean that he might be looking for a long-term relationship and wouldn't use success in Green Bay as a stepping stone. Please refer to Mike Holmgren's final Packer press conference in January 1999.
If the Packers do look to the past to plan for the future, they won't be alone. The Buffalo Bills recently named septuagenarian Marv Levy director of football operations. With the Packers at a crucial crossroads, it could just be the worst time for Ted Thompson to close a door to the past. It just may be the same one that leads to the future.
Laura Veras Marran
Note: Laura Veras Marran was raised in Green Bay and is a longtime sports writer from Kenosha, Wis. E-mail her at email@example.com.