By: Jamie Samuelsen
I’m not going to start this post with a lie.
When I saw the news this morning that the Jaguars fired head coach Mike Mularkey after only ONE season, I had the same reaction that you did. I thought of the Lions.
Like you I wondered why every other NFL franchise seems to be willing to make a bold, aggressive move while the Lions normally seem content to honor contracts and give failed coaches and GMs a second chance. Like you I wondered if the news that Bill Cowher was planning to coach again one day might have been the final nail in Mularkey’s coffin. (Although that thought perished quickly. If Cowher does return to the sidelines, it sure as heck won’t be in a stadium where they have to tarp off the upper deck just to get their home games on TV.)
But the more I thought about it, the more I think the Lions made the right choice in bringing Schwartz back for the 2013 season.
Before you fire away with emails and attack my Twitter account, let me explain.
Of course I’m aware of Schwartz’s numbers as Lions head coach. He’s 22-42. He engineered an eight-game losing streak to end this past season. His team has had issues on and off the field. And he has made silly, emotional mistakes on the sideline that have literally cost the Lions some games.
But have you noticed the crazy game of musical chairs that’s going on in the league?
Since the regular season ended on December 30th, eight head coaches have been fired. Andy Reid was bounced by the Eagles and landed a few days later as the Chiefs head coach. Ken Whisenhunt was let go by the Cardinals and appears to be a strong candidate to land the opening in Cleveland. Lovie Smith led the Bears to a 10-6 record, but he was fired and now is a leading candidate for the Eagles job. Who knows, maybe Mularkey getting fired was a stroke of good fortune for him because he can jump back on the carousel and land the Chargers job before too long (although his career 16-32 record might prevent that).
The key to this whole saga is to have a plan and to have a target. To the Chiefs credit, they clearly wanted Reid and anticipated him being out of a job. This is not to say that a coach should keep his job simply because there’s no alternative in mind. As Lions fans, I think we all know that Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli deserved to go regardless of who might or might not have been waiting in the wings.
But Schwartz is an intriguing enough coach that it’s not worth parting ways with him just because of the disappointing 2012 season. If the Lions could get Chip Kelly or Cowher or Jon Gruden, of course I’d vote for the change. But none of those guys appear to be out there…this season.
And that’s the key. Take a look at the ‘candidates’ for these coaching vacancies. Can you sit here and say that any of them would be a clear upgrade over Schwartz? Can you say that they’d justify eating (reportedly) nine million dollars just to make a change? Remember, we’re just a calendar year separated from Schwartz leading the Lions into the postseason and earning praise across the league as one of the best young coaches out there.
If this sounds passive and Lions-like, it’s not. I’m as annoyed by the 2012 season as you are. I’m saying that the Lions should make a change if there is an obvious change to me made. This year, there’s not. Next year, if Cowher and Gruden are back in, perhaps there will be. And perhaps there will be fewer than eight teams in the exact same boat look to attract the exact same coaches.
Schwartz may not be the answer. But he’s earned the chance to give it one more year. And more than that, he may be closer to ‘the answer’ than any of the other coaches out there right now.