NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Detroit Lions President Matt Millen $200,000 yesterday for failing to interview any minority candidates before hiring Steve Mariucci as the team's head coach in February, the league announced.

The Lions are prohibited under NFL rules from paying the fine on Millen's behalf, a league spokesman said.

Under the threat of litigation, NFL team owners resolved in December that any club with a head-coaching vacancy would interview at least one minority candidate. The measure was recommended by the league's diversity committee, a group of six owners appointed by Tagliabue and headed by Pittsburgh Steelers President Dan Rooney.

Tagliabue informed Millen of the fine in a letter delivered yesterday, according to the league.

"As the president of the Lions, you participated in the decision by NFL clubs to commit to interview minority candidates when hiring head coaches; and you made that commitment for the Lions on the Dec. 20 league conference call after full discussion of the diversity committee's recommendation," Tagliabue wrote to Millen. "As club president, it was your responsibility to ensure that you and the Lions organization met the commitment or demonstrated to this office that it was impossible to meet for some justifiable reason."

Tagliabue's decision was applauded by Kellen Winslow, the Hall of Fame tight end who serves as executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group formed on behalf of black coaches and executives in conjunction with the legal efforts of attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran Jr.

"We're happy that the league has decided to put some bite into the so-called 'Rooney Rule,' " Winslow said in a telephone interview. "I don't care how much money you make -- $200,000 is a lot of money."

Millen said when he hired Mariucci on Feb. 5, one week after the club fired Marty Mornhinweg as its coach, he had attempted to interview minority candidates but they had declined to interview for the job because they believed it was certain Mariucci would be hired.

Tagliabue wrote: "While certain of the difficulties that you encountered in seeking to schedule interviews with minority candidates were beyond your control, you did not take sufficient steps to satisfy the commitment that you had made."

Millen was not available to comment. In a written statement released by the team, Bill Keenist, the Lions' senior vice president of communications, said: "While we respectfully disagree with the decision made by the commissioner and the league's diversity committee, we continue to enthusiastically support all initiatives which promote diversity in hiring with respect to coaching and front office positions in the NFL, and remain proud of the Lions' long-standing record of diversity within our employment ranks. We will have no other comments on this issue, choosing rather to focus on the start of training camp and the 2003 football season."

According to the league, Tagliabue told the owners during a league meeting in May in Philadelphia that any future violations of the minority interviewing policy could result in a fine of $500,000 or more as "conduct detrimental" to the NFL. At that meeting, New York Jets Coach Herman Edwards -- one of three black head coaches in the league -- told a gathering of assistant coaches anyone given a chance to interview for a head-coaching job should do so, even if it appears another candidate is virtually certain to be hired.

Former Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis became the league's third black head coach when he was hired by the Cincinnati Bengals in January. He joined Edwards and the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy.

MILLEN