4 Detroit Lions Moochmania is just the first positive step on the long road back for a struggling franchise

August 31, 2003

They broke out in loud cheers and applause at first sight of him
and roared even more when he acknowledged them with a nod and a
wave. The greeting that Lions fans gave new coach Steve Mariucci
at an open practice last month was the kind usually reserved for,
well, a savior. And though he detests the mere mention of that
word, Mariucci can't deny that his hiring last February has been
received in Detroit with religious fervor. At Ford Field on that
day in early August, the players and the coaches were stunned to
find that almost 28,000 fans had come to worship.

"I'd never seen anything like it," says defensive end Robert
Porcher, who, in beginning his 12th season with the Lions, is an
expert on such matters in Detroit. "When our bus got close to the
stadium, and there was a lot of traffic, we were like, What's
going on here?"

Moochmania, that's what. In a city that has suffered through an
NFL-high 27 losses over the past two years, the arrival of
Michigan native Mariucci--he was born and raised in Iron City--is
like a godsend. In six years as coach of the 49ers he was 57-39
and went to the playoffs four times, but he was fired last Jan.
15 because of philosophical differences with the front office.
Content to sit out the year (San Francisco owed him $2.2 million
for the last year of his contract), Mariucci had planned a May
vacation to Italy's Amalfi Coast with his wife, Gayle, and their
four kids. "Had the flights booked, had the hotels booked, it was
going to be great," he says. "And then this happened." This was
the firing of Marty Mornhinweg on Jan. 27, less than a month
after Lions president Matt Millen had announced that Mornhinweg
would return for a third season. Of course, that was before
Mariucci became available.

Mornhinweg, who had been an offensive coordinator under Mariucci
in San Francisco, was a horrible fit in Detroit and lost the team
with his ham-handed attempts at motivation through intimidation.
In Mariucci, Millen gets the man he wanted all along, even if it
did cost him $25 million over five years. "When Matt called, I
told him that for me to come back, it'd have to be a special
job," Mariucci says. "It was tough to leave [the Niners] the way
I did, and I wasn't looking [for a job]. But the chance to come
home was too much to pass up."

No-nonsense and ultraorganized, Mariucci has made an immediate
impact on his players as well. "He has that credibility, having
won all those years in San Francisco," says second-year
quarterback Joey Harrington. "He demands focus, holds us all
accountable. The guy sees everything on the field."

Unsure of himself as a rookie starter, Harrington seems far more
relaxed this year and is helped by the similarities in his former
and current coaches' West Coast sets. Though he was sacked only
eight times in 12 starts last year, Harrington struggled with his
progressions, often throwing the ball away before even looking
for his third option. He had a paltry .501 completion percentage.
"At this time last year my head was swimming," Harrington says.
"There were times I had no idea what the play I was calling
needed. It's hard to be accurate when you don't know where you're
throwing. I feel better now, especially with the guys I have
around me."

The passing offense, which ranked 25th in the league a year ago,
is more threatening with the arrival of Michigan State wideout
Charles Rogers, the second pick in the draft. Though he suffered
a dislocated left ring finger during camp, the 6'2", 202-pound
Rogers flashed the game-breaking speed that makes him Detroit's
biggest offensive threat since Barry Sanders. The Lions are also
hoping for another solid year from running back James Stewart,
though they would love to get him more carries. Last season only
the Rams ran the ball fewer times than Detroit did.

Even in a best-case scenario the Lions don't project as a playoff
team this year. But in Mariucci they have someone to rally
around. "This city's waited a long time," he says. "The fans are
hungry. They deserve a winner." --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: DANNY MOLOSHOK/GETTY IMAGES YARDSTICK Stewart averaged 4.4 yards a rush last year, but he needs more carries for the Lions to be successful. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS ROGERS COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

The Lions overpaid for free-agent cornerback DRE' BLY (five
years, $25 million) but did it out of necessity. Last year
Detroit ranked 30th in the league against the pass. With
second-year man Andre Goodman holding down the other corner spot,
the Lions are counting on Bly to bring stability to a vulnerable
secondary.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"They don't have a single guy on defense that you have to
account for. Earl Holmes isn't the answer at linebacker; he's
just average against the run.... [Rookie linebacker] Boss Bailey
was a reach, even where they picked him [early in the second
round]. He wasn't on a lot of teams' draft boards because his
knees [two ACL tears in college] will shorten his career.... The
defensive line is getting old fast. Luther Elliss is hanging on,
and Robert Porcher may have lost a step.... Their safeties will
be fine, but their corners won't be.... Joey Harrington will be
more comfortable this year, especially if Charles Rogers comes
along.... James Stewart is a serviceable running back, but you
can't ride him every week. That will make it tough because Steve
Mariucci will want to run the ball more than the Lions have
recently. Stewart's just not an upper-echelon back.... They have
a nice little core on offense, and Mariucci will make them
better this year. The players will give him the respect they
didn't give Marty Mornhinweg.... But that defense scares no one,
even in a weak division. They're probably two years away from
contending."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 ARIZONA
14 at Green Bay
21 MINNESOTA
28 at Denver

Oct. 5 at San Francisco
12 Open date
19 DALLAS
26 at Chicago

Nov. 2 OAKLAND
9 CHICAGO
16 at Seattle
23 at Minnesota
27 GREEN BAY (Thurs.)

Dec. 7 SAN DIEGO
14 at Kansas City
21 at Carolina
28 ST. LOUIS

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 27
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .473
Games against playoff teams: 4

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 3-13
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 29/25/28
DEFENSE 17/30/31

COACH: Steve Mariucci; first season with Detroit (57-39 in NFL)

JAMES STEWART

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 45 231 1,021 4.4

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
46 333 7.2 6

JOEY HARRINGTON

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 82 429 215 50.1

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,294 12 16 59.9

CORY SCHLESINGER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.

FB 249 49 139 2.8

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
35 263 7.5 2

CHARLES ROGERS (R)[1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 58 68 1,351 13

MIKHAEL RICKS

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 202 27 339 3

JEFF BACKUS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'5" 309 lbs. 16 16

ERIC BEVERLY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'3" 300 lbs. 15 3

DOMINIC RAIOLA

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'1" 295 lbs. 16 16

RAY BROWN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 318 lbs. 16 16

STOCKAR MCDOUGLE

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'6" 367 lbs. 12 11

BILL SCHROEDER

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 180 36 595 5

DEFENSE

RE JAMES HALL 49 tackles 2 sacks
RT SHAUN ROGERS 48 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
LT DAN WILKINSON[1] 16 tackles 0 sacks
LE ROBERT PORCHER 45 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
OLB BRIAN WILLIAMS 11 tackles 0 sacks
MLB EARL HOLMES[1] 128 tackles 0 sacks
OLB BARRETT GREEN 73 tackles 1 sack
CB DRE' BLY[1] 64 tackles 2 int.
SS COREY HARRIS 79 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
FS BRIAN WALKER 44 tackles 0 int.
CB ANDRE GOODMAN 42 tackles 1 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K JASON HANSON 232 31/31 XPS 23/28 FGS 100 PTS.
PR EDDIE DRUMMOND 329 18 RET. 7.7 AVG. 1 TD
KR EDDIE DRUMMOND 329 40 RET. 26.0 AVG. 0 TDS
P JOHN JETT 91 PUNTS 42.2 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"The players will give Mariucci the respect they didn't give
Marty Mornhinweg."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)