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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Published: 5/1/2005

Tollner is right man to get Lions going

Who is Ted Tollner, and why should the Detroit Lions be thanking their lucky stars he's on their side?

First things first.

Tollner isn't a Steve Mariucci lackey, a yes-man, a preferred hire from the good ol' boy network. He's an accomplished 64-year-old disciple of the pass-first, ask-questions-later Air Coryell-inspired offense whose time has come for the Lions.

Why Tollner? Because Mariucci believes Tollner gives the Lions' offense the best chance to be successful.

You wanted a new look, a new Lions offense with plenty of bells and whistles?

Tollner, the new offensive coordinator, is going to flood the field with receivers. He's going to play three and four-receiver sets. He's going to lock himself in his office and come up with an offense that's capable of winning a game all by itself.

There may be more to the selection of receiver Mike Williams in the first round of last week's NFL draft than the Lions are willing to admit.

Even though the Lions were needier on defense, team president Matt Millen and Mariucci seemed almost giddy that Williams, who scored 30 touchdowns in only two seasons at Southern Cal, was available with the No. 10 overall pick.

"We've talked about helping out our defense. Well, a guy [Williams] that can score points certainly helps your defense in many ways," Mariucci said.

Mariucci described Williams in such glowing terms that if you didn't know any better, you'd swear the Lions had planned to take him all along.

And, who better to create ways for Williams to score touchdowns than Tollner?

"I've followed him a lot," Tollner admitted. "When I was at BYU coaching for LaVell Edwards, Norm Chow [Williams' offensive coordinator at USC] was our receivers coach. Of course Norm had him at USC and we stayed in touch a lot and talked about Mike. So I know more about him from Norm than what we studied on film."

The hiring of Tollner didn't thrill Lions fans and members of the media because he's not a "name" coach with an exciting personality.

Mariucci thinks the world of Tollner. Tollner gave Mariucci his first big coaching job as an assistant under Tollner at USC in the 1980s.

But the fact that Mariucci and Tollner are friends who go way back is incidental.

It would be an insult to both to suggest that Mariucci hired Tollner as payback for helping Mariucci early in his coaching career.

Mariucci and Tollner share the same philosophy - the West Coast offense - but Mariucci is a more conservative play-caller.

Mariucci wants to run the football. He doesn't like taking chances.

Tollner likes to open things up.

Last year, an average NFL quarterback named Tim Rattay playing for the San Francisco 49ers completed 38 of 57 passes for 417 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-28 overtime win over the Arizona Cardinals. Tight end Eric Johnson caught 13 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown, and six other 49ers had at least three receptions.

San Francisco's offensive coordinator? Ted Tollner.

Look. It may not work. The Lions' new offense could fail. But give the Mariucci-Tollner era in Detroit a chance. Tollner has a laid-back personality but his aggressive coaching style is long overdue.



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