The Detroit Lions fired coach Rod Marinelli on Monday, a day after the team became the first in NFL history to finish with an 0-16 record.
“You can’t go 0-16 and expect to keep your job,” Marinelli said at a news conference.
The Lions completed their winless season with a loss to Green Bay on Sunday, pushing aside Tampa Bay’s 1976 season of 0-14 as the league’s worst.
Marinelli, though, said the team was not the worst ever in his opinion because the players didn’t quit, pout or point fingers.
Lions owner William Clay Ford also dismissed defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Marinelli’s son-in-law, assistant offensive line coach Mike Barry, his son-in-law’s dad, and secondary coach Jimmy Lake.
Defensive line coach Joe Cullen’s contract was not renewed and offensive coordinator Jim Colletto was demoted to offensive line coach.
The Lions promoted Tom Lewand to team president and Martin Mayhew to general manager.
Marinelli won only one of his last 24 games and was 10-38 in three years after former team president Matt Millen gave the former Buccaneers assistant his first head coaching job.
Millen was fired as team president three months ago, but the players he left behind coupled with the former Tampa Bay players Marinelli wanted created the perfect storm for a historic season of futility.
“They don’t fire players, they fire coaches,” Marinelli said.
Marinelli was the third coach Millen hired — following Steve Mariucci and Marty Mornhinweg — in what has been the NFL’s worst eight-season stretch for a team since World War II.
Fans and reporters cut Marinelli some slack during a 3-13 first-year because of the Millen-created mess he inherited. Hopes rose when Detroit was 6-2 midway through last year but were quickly dashed when the team finished 7-9.
The Lions fired offensive coordinator Mike Martz after the 2007 season but retained Marinelli’s son-in-law to lead the defense.
That led to more scrutiny and an exchange with a columnist that made Marinelli a martyr of sorts.
Detroit News columnist Rob Parker asked Marinelli if he wished his daughter married a better defensive coordinator after a 42-7 loss to New Orleans.
Marinelli didn’t answer the question during his news conference, but lashed out the next day with anger he hid after his string of losses.
“Anytime you attack my daughter, I’ve got a problem with that,” Marinelli bristled.
Marinelli kept his composure for the most part in public and steadfastly stood by his one-snap-at-a-time mantra and choice of work ethic over talent.
“You don’t look for wishy-washy people, who give in when the press thinks you should do this or somebody is complaining about practicing in pads,” Marinelli said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. “I have a belief. I state it very clearly. And I live it.”
The Vietnam veteran said he would never quit, saying he was insulted when a reporter asked about the option.
Marinelli waited for three decades to be a head coach. He finally got his chance with a team in the middle of one of the worst stretches of futility in NFL history.
“He was put in a really difficult situation,” quarterback Dan Orlovsky said.
Marinelli’s relentless ways helped him make a deliberate rise through life and the coaching ranks.
The 59-year-old of Italian descent grew up in Rosemead, Calif., a working-class town near Los Angeles.
He has fond childhood memories of hitchhiking to witness Sandy Koufax pitch during his incredible run for the Dodgers and watch the NFL’s best in the Pro Bowl at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Marinelli’s college career — starting at Utah in 1968 and ending at California Lutheran in 1972 — was interrupted by a one-year tour in Vietnam. He knew some would be interested to hear his perspective of how serving in the war shaped his life and career, but he politely declined.
His career started in 1973 as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Rosemead High School, where the football field is named after him.
Marinelli went on to work on the staffs at Utah State, California, Arizona State and Southern California before Tony Dungy gave him a shot in 1996 to work in the NFL as defensive line coach in Tampa Bay.
A decade later, Detroit was desperately looking for a coach to turn around the laughingstock of the league. Millen hired Marinelli after an extensive search.
Now, the Lions are looking for another coach to take on the monumental task of turning them into a winner.