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O'HARA: Darryl Rogers' quick wit is remembered

Darryl Rogers had a memorable start to his tenure as head coach of the Detroit Lions and a memorable quote near the end.

Unfortunately, his fortunes faded quickly, but the quote – a flip remark in keeping with Rogers' quick wit that has been misconstrued – is remembered.

Rogers, who coached the Lions from 1985 until he was fired after 11 games of the 1988 season, died earlier this week in Fresno, Calif., where he played college football at Fresno State. He was 84.

Rogers was hired by the Lions in 1985 on the strength of his success as a head coach in college, where he built a reputation for being an innovative offensive coach. His stops before coming to the Lions included four seasons at Michigan State (1976-79) and five at Arizona State (1980-84).

The Lions got off to a strong start under Rogers. They got to 5-3 at the halfway point of the 1985 season with back-to-back wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins at the Pontiac Silverdome.

It was a remarkable accomplishment, considering that the 49ers had beaten the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX the previous season.

The Lions took an immediate downturn after those two wins, going 2-6 in the second half to finish at 7-9. That set the tone for the rest of Rogers' tenure. The Lions had won-loss records of 5-11 and 4-12 in 1986-87.

With losses mounting and the offense misfiring, reports circulated almost daily late in the 1987 season that Rogers was on the hot seat. Near the end of the season, late Lions Owner William Clay Ford attended practice and told the small contingent of media who covered practice daily in those days that Rogers would be back for the 1988 season.

When asked after practice about Ford's comment, Rogers quipped: "What's a guy have to do to get fired around here?"

Over the years, many have taken it to mean that Rogers wanted to get fired, but that was not the case.

Retired Detroit Free Press sportswriter Curt Sylvester, who was on the Lions' beat at the time, recalled this week that the comment was typical of how "Darryl was always joking," and that he wanted to remain on the job. It was also Rogers' way of saying how much he appreciated Ford's patience and kindness to his staff, Sylvester said.

Rogers did not make it through the 1988 season. He was fired after 11 games with a 2-9 record. Defensive coordinator Wayne Fontes took over as head coach on an interim basis and was named full-time coach after the season.

Rogers' overall won-loss record with the Lions was 18-40. He was 129-84-7 in college and has been a nominee for the College Football Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife, Marsha, and two daughters, Stacy and Jamie.

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