Len Pasquarelli

Message Board
NFL en español
NFL Draft
Photo gallery
Power Rankings
NFL Insider

ESPN Auctions
Tuesday, February 4
Updated: March 25, 2:48 PM ET
Lions, Mariucci complete terms on five-year deal

By Len Pasquarelli

Steve Mariucci is officially headed to the Lions den.

ESPN.com has learned that Mariucci and the Detroit Lions on Tuesday morning completed the final details of an agreement on a landmark five-year contract. He is enroute to Detroit and will be introduced at a Wednesday press conference.

The contract, ESPN.com confirmed, will pay Mariucci $5 million annually. He was to have earned a base salary of $2.25 million under his old contract with the 49ers. That salary for 2003 was to have been paid out over a 30-month period. The deal, negotiated over the past four or five days by agent Gary O'Hagan of IMG, equals the one awarded Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier last year.

Sources close to negotiations insisted Monday night that the last remaining item to be completed was not a deal-breaker and that Mariucci has definitely decided to accept the job. That proved to be the case, In fact, sources said, Mariucci spent the past couple days mulling over potential staff members.

"It's too far along now not to happen," said a league source at the time. "Actually, it probably could have been done a few days ago, but (Mariucci) just wanted to sleep on it a while. But it's about as done as done can be without having officially signed the thing."

The Lions issued a statement Monday afternoon which said that a deal was not yet in place but that an agreement could be reached Tuesday.

"While there was significant progress . . . no deal has yet been finalized that would make Steve our next head coach," spokesman Bill Keenist said in the statement. "We are hopeful that an agreement can be reached with Steve by the end of the day (Tuesday)."

In addition to financial implications, with Mariucci set to move to new status as one of the league's highest-paid head coaches, he will have more input into football decisions than during a six-year San Francisco tenure.

Mariucci, 47, will have the title of head coach only, but the contract with the Lions will permit him to review and participate in football-related decisions. His new job represents a homecoming of sorts for Mariucci, who was born and raised in Iron Mountain, Mich., and who played collegiately at Northern Michigan, where he was a three-time All-American quarterback.

The hiring of Mariucci figures to be a popular one with long-suffering Lions fans, whose teams won just five games over the last two seasons, under the stewardship of Marty Mornhinweg. Ironically, Mornhinweg was offensive coordinator for Mariucci in San Francisco before taking the Detroit job.

Detroit has not advanced to the playoffs since 1999, as a wild card entry, and Mariucci will inherit a team that is clearly in a rebuilding mode. There is, at least, a solid cornerstone in quarterback Joey Harrington, the team's top pick in the 2002 draft.

The addition means the end of a two-year pursuit by Lions president Matt Millen, who originally wanted Mariucci for the job in 2001, but could not extricate him from his 49ers contract then. It also means that Millen won his gamble in dismissing Mornhinweg last Monday.

After initially indicating Mornhinweg would be back with the Lions for the 2003 season, Millen reversed direction, and fired him once Mariucci became available. Millen acknowledged that the only circumstance that changed was the availability if Mariucci and, had he not landed him, the failure would not have sat well with Lions fans.

Mariucci, in fact, was the only candidate ever publicly acknowledged by the Lions or by Millen.

It remains to be seen how, or even if, Detroit will come into compliance with a league guideline that mandates franchises interview minority candidates for head coach and high-ranking front office positions. The club was turned down by some black coaches, who perceived that Mariucci was the only true candidate for the job, and who did not want to be part of a sham process.

Then again, there could have been candidates whose identities were never made public.

In his six seasons with the 49ers, Mariucci compiled a 60-43 record and took the club to the playoffs on four occasions.

He was fired last month, after the 49ers' loss at Tampa Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs. San Francisco officials suggested Mariucci had sought additional power in the organization, which they said did not fit into their structure. Mariucci denied he ever wanted to be anything but head coach.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. To send Len a question for possible use on ESPNEWS, click here.

 More from ESPN...
Pasquarelli: Tough road ahead
Without a lot of talent ...
Lions hope to reach deal with Mariucci on Tuesday
The Detroit Lions hope to ...

Mariucci, Millen continue talks during weekend
Detroit Lions chief executive ...

Pasquarelli: Second chance
Matt Millen probably bought ...

Len Pasquarelli Archive

 ESPN Tools
Email story
Most sent
Print story
Daily email