By: Eric Thomas
Bill Ford Jr gave a…um…let’s go with “taciturn” response to reporters at Allen Park when asked about Jim Schwartz’s future as coach of the Lions. Compare that with his sunshine endorsement of Martin Mayhew, and you can draw a fairly accurate map of what the owners think about the head coach under their current employ. Combine that with reports that the Lions have an interest in Notre Dame red-faced-screamer Brian Kelly and you get a good ol’ fashioned Lions carnival of constant unease. Cue the music.
Seasoned Lions fans have seen this before. If you can read the tea leaves you might be breathing into a paper bag right now. This stuff was supposed to be over.
Should Jim Schwartz be in the hot seat? The team lost six more games than they did two years ago, so it makes sense. Should the owners look at the payroll and wonder why the team isn’t better? YES. If management had any second thoughts about at all Schwartz then why oh WHY didn’t they fire him THIS year?! Many would have disagreed, but it would be better than what they have now. When the coach is on shaky ground, it’s every man for himself. The team could completely collapse – AGAIN – when the locker room falls apart under the sound and the fury of rampant speculation.
When you watch the games, it’s hard to see how the Lions’ specific brand of ineptitude falls on the coach. The 49ers lined up their linebackers ten yards off the ball in game two last year, is the problem personnel or coaching? Thanksgiving festival flags aside, the coaching itself has been fine. There were times that the secondary overachieved last year despite their woeful lack of talent. It’s the mark of any Lions fan to have spectacularly low expectations, but many fans walking away from games last year remarked how long the defense kept them in the game after the offense repeatedly went three-and-out.
Before the season, the team expected Jahvid Best to return from his concussions. He didn’t, and Matt Stafford threw the ball 727 times. That was the most in the league by almost sixty. The Lions were 23rd in rushing yards last year, most of them came when they were down by a century and teams played Prevent. Also, NONE of those backs could reliably catch out of the backfield in an offense that’s designed around options underneath. Is that scheme? No.
The Schwartz critics tend to settle on the “you gotta win” paradigm. Simply stated, it’s the idea that head coaches are responsible for the overall record, regardless of mitigating circumstances with the roster or unforeseen injuries. This is utter lunacy. If you base a coach’s performance only on the record, why watch the game at all? Jim Schwartz threw a flag at the wrong time. Mike McCarthy did that too. Is he on the hot seat?
The “you gotta win” paradigm brought you Matt Millen. The team was one kick away from the playoffs and they burned the thing to the ground. They ignored the actual improvements made after Bobby Ross quit in the middle of the season, focused only on “you gotta win.” The rest is history, and the ignominy of following that strategy became a scar that will never, ever heal. Only one team went 0-16, the one you cheer for.
Who decided to keep Jahvid Best when his family was pleading for him to retire? Who decided to draft Titus Young when, according to Stephen Tulloch, he had a DIAGNOSED mental disorder? Who passed on Jonathan Joseph when he was deemed too expensive? WHO picked a player in the first round that didn’t START his rookie season? If that was Jim Schwartz, he should have been fired last year. If it wasn’t, the person who made those decisions should wear the cone of shame and not Schwartz.
Tom Coughlin has made a career on the hot seat, so it’s possible that this could work. That’s rare. The far more likely scenario is that this will create a chasm in the locker room. Let’s be clear: If you change the coach, you start over. The window is closing. If the Lions change coaches, that window is closed.
This feels familiar. Very familiar. I’m not going to say it. You can say it.