By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – When it comes to whether 25-year-old Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford should get input in the selection of the team’s next coach, former MVP and Super Bowl winner Phil Simms said it best.
“It’s the owner, the general manager, coach, and then the quarterback,” Simms said on CBS’s Monday QB segment. “Once you disrupt that order, you’ve got chaos.”
The Detroit Lions evidently chose to mess with that hierarchy of authority this week, allowing Stafford to meet with head coach candidate Jim Caldwell when the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator visited Detroit.
In what was estimated to be an hour-long meeting in the midst of a day of talking with various members of the Lions organization, Caldwell broke down game film of Stafford for the quarterback, showing him where he could improve.
Here is what is wrong with this picture: the employee is helping select his new boss.
The message that comes across is that Stafford is part executive, part player. He is on a different level than the other guys in the locker room, getting to participate in big decisions of the organization.
The Lions make a bad move by putting Stafford on a pedestal in this way. NFL teams are autocracies, not democracies. The general manager hires the coach, and the players answer to whoever that coach is. End of story.
By involving Stafford in the selection process, the Lions elevate him and blur the lines about who is really in charge. It should be the head coach, but the fact a player gets to help choose that coach makes the chain of command fuzzy.
What kind of authority is a head coach expected to exercise over a player the organization values that highly? How can the coach hold accountable someone the organization puts in that position?
On one hand, the Lions will be paying Stafford an obscene $131 million over nine years – $78 million for six years for his original contract plus $53 million for the three-year extension he signed last summer. Since the team is laying out that kind of cash for Stafford, it would make sense to try to make completely sure Stafford will work well with the new hire, and that Stafford will be receptive to that individual’s feedback and critiques, especially considering how the quarterback’s numbers have declined the past two seasons.
One would think, however, that after five seasons with Stafford, team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew know Stafford well enough to know with whom he would or would not work well. Additionally, the front office should trust its judgment enough to pick a head coach itself. In the same vein, one would think Stafford would be professional enough to work with whoever his bosses choose.
Any way you slice it – front office needing to please quarterback, quarterback picky about who he will work with, front office not confident of making selection without quarterback’s input, etc. – it is not a good sign for the Lions.
“The bottom line is as soon as you start letting a 23-year-old kid, 25, 26, 27, whatever Matthew Stafford is, somewhere in that neighborhood, get involved with decisions like this, you’ve lost control,” another former quarterback, Steve Beuerlein, said in the same Monday QB segment. “You’ve got to have an owner that is smart enough to understand you get a football guy to make that decision. If you don’t have that general manager in place, you find somebody that you trust who’s going to help lead that search.
“You’ve got to consider what that quarterback is good at, what his personality’s like, how that relationship’s going to work, but you don’t let them have input into who that head coach is,” Beuerlein added. “That’s a huge mistake.”
Maybe the Lions realize all this, since Stafford was reportedly out of town for the interviews with two more candidates. Maybe Stafford just wanted to get out of the frigid Detroit weather.
Either way, the Lions would be much better off to choose their head coach without player input and let Stafford focus on becoming a better quarterback. For the present, that should be plenty to keep him occupied.