Lions finally land Martz
The on-and-off marriage of the Detroit Lions and Mike Martz is back on again, as the team on Wednesday afternoon announced that it has hired the former St. Louis Rams head coach as its offensive coordinator.
Unable to reach terms on a contract agreement, Martz last Thursday had backed out of a verbal commitment to become offensive coordinator on the staff being assembled by new Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli. ESPN.com was one of the media outlets that reported last Wednesday that Martz had agreed to become the offensive coordinator for Marinelli, a job for which he interviewed on Tuesday, but that there remained a fairly significant caveat, since the two sides had not negotiated a contract.
But apparently, whatever hurdles existed last week were navigated, and Martz agreed to come aboard and preside over an offense sorely in need of his expertise.
Contract details on what is believed to be either a two- or three-year deal were not yet available. Last week, the Lions were believed to be offering a three-year contract worth about $2.7 million, with a $700,000 salary for 2006.
Martz and the Rams had reached a settlement on the one-year, $3.25 million remaining on his contract. Because the Rams essentially dismissed Martz "with cause," he likely received, in the settlement, only about half the salary due him.
Appearing at a Wednesday afternoon press session at the primary hotel for the Super Bowl last week, Marinelli termed the parties "close" to a deal. "We still have plenty of talking and working through some things to do," Marinelli said. But by the next morning, it was obvious the deal was unraveling. There were then rumors the last two days that the two sides had re-opened negotiatins.
Martz, 54, missed the final 11 games of the 2005 season as he recovered from endocarditis, a bacterial infection of a heart valve. He was cleared by specialists treating his heart condition to return to work on Jan. 1. He recently interviewed for the Oakland Raiders head coach vacancy, but then withdrew his name from consideration.
It was clear from his remarks last week, however, that Marinelli wanted Martz on his staff and that, as a first-year coach, he had absolutely no reservations or insecurities about having a more experienced head coach on board.
"That man knows how to win and how to move the football," Marinelli said at the time. "I like him and I would love to have him."
In each of his full seasons in St. Louis, the Martz-designed offense ranked among the top 10 in the NFL and twice rated No. 1 overall.
Even for the innovative Martz, reviving the moribund Lions offense might be a challenge, given the unit's recent history. The Lions have not finished in the top half of the NFL's offensive standings since 1998, and were 20th in 2005. Also, the quarterback situation remains unsettled, as is the future of former first-rounder Joey Harrington.
Not counting the 11 games he missed last season, during which Joe Vitt served as interim head coach, Martz compiled a 56-36 record with the Rams. He led St. Louis to four playoff appearances, two division titles and a Super Bowl XXXVI berth. In his five full seasons in St. Louis, the Martz-designed offense statistically ranked in the top 10 every year, and was No. 1 in 2000 and 2001.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.