The 2008 season that saw the Lions go 0-16 obviously led to a lot of fan upheaval. But it also led to a lot of front office changes.
Long time general manager Matt Millen, head coach Rod Marinelli, and the rest of his coaching staff were all let go. It was without a doubt the right time for change, and Lions owner William Clay Ford was ready to make that happen. He hired Millen’s assistant GM Martin Mayhew as the new GM, and from there, they hired highly coveted Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as their new head coach.
It is never easy after losing every game during a season, but Schwartz brought in his good friends (and highly respected former head coaches) Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham to run his offense and defense. In their first year together, the Lions went 2-14. The following year, the team finished the season on a four-game win streak with a 6-10 record.
Then in 2011, the trio led the Lions to their first playoff appearance since 1999 with a record of 10-6. The team would eventually lose to the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, but it finally seemed as if Detroit’s days of football misery were over. Mayhew awarded Schwartz with a multi-year contract extension, which awarded him $6 million per season through 2015, making him one of the highest paid coaches in the NFL.
The following year, Schwartz made a mockery of his extension, leading his team to an abysmal record of 4-12. Had all of his progress gone out the window? Did Jim take this team as far as they could go with him in charge? Was it time for Mayhew to give him the axe?
Financially, the organization had no choice but to retain Jim as their head guy. Paying a man six million a year for three more years not coach was out of the question.
Now, after another season that will see the Lions watching the big January and February games on the couch, the question has come up again whether or not Schwartz deserves to be fired. There are a couple interesting viewpoints this situation can be perceived, so let us take a deeper look.
Why He Should Be Fired
During Schwartz’s five year tenure in Detroit, he has piled up the second most wins of all Lions head coaches over the past 13 years. Though that sounds great, his winning percentage during that time is less than .35. Not only that, his performances in games during December and January is something no one should have to look at. He has lost nine games in a row during that time and he could make it 10 when the team goes out to Minnesota to face the Vikings Sunday.
Schwartz not only struggles to win big games, but he has a tough time controlling his players and holding them accountable for their actions.
Since 2009, the Lions have been in the bottom half in the league of most penalties committed per game, where in 2010 and 2011, they finished second-to-last and third-to-last respectively. Combine that with the astonishing fact that during the Schwartz era, there have been more than five arrests, several due to marijuana possession.
Schwartz has also done a horrible job of enforcing his team to hold on to the football. In three of his five seasons, Detroit has a negative turnover margin differential. This means that the Lions commit more turnovers than they force.
During those three seasons, the Lions have been either the worst or second to worst team in that category for the entire NFC. One might argue that it is not Schwartz making the poor throws or having the ball stripped out of his hands, and I agree to a certain extent.
However, when it happens over and over again, week after week, season after season, clearly it shows that Jim does not instill upon his players that keeping possession of the ball is important. His players know that there will not be punishments for their sloppy play, so they continue to do it.
Looking more specifically into this season, the team was given several gifts. They were continually the healthiest team in the NFC North, having their starting quarterback while the other three teams have to play their backups. Also, according to cbssports.com, the Lions had the second easiest schedule in the league this season, with an opponent’s winning percentage of .46, meaning that Detroit continuously played and lost to teams with losing records.
Why He Should Not Be Fired
Schwartz came into Detroit with a solid pedigree and lofty expectations. The former assistant coach of both Bill Belichick and Jeff Fischer had one goal in mind, and that was to “Restore the Roar” in Lions football.
His winning percentage might not be glamorous, but Jim did find a way to bring the Lions up the football ranks into somewhat of a respectable team. He raised some incredible, raw talent into what we see now as some of the best players in the league.
Nate Burleson, Stephen Tulloch and Stafford love playing for him because he allows them to play the game at their own will.
When asked about people criticizing Schwartz, Tulloch said, “It sucks because the man puts us in a good situation, he prepares us well, guys believe in him. He’s a players’ coach. We all believe in him, we all respect him as a man.”
What Will Happen?
At this point, it is anyone’s guess as to whether or not Schwartz gets canned. Most fans however, like myself, are more than ready to see him go. The big problem with firing him is the aspect of money. As I mentioned earlier, paying someone six million a year for two seasons not to coach is a lot of money.
Many experts believed the Lions were ready to fire Schwartz after last year’s poor performance, but the Lions could not get themselves to fork over all the money they still owed him without some sort of return.
When it is all said and done, I do believe that Jim will be let go. His lack of preparation and motivation to his team are astonishing and unforgivable. Five years is more than enough time to turn a bottom feeder into a contender, and to only reach the playoffs once is not acceptable. The Ford family might have a long, forgiving leash, but at some point, you just have to say enough is enough.
Look out for part three Saturday night.
Cameron Billes is the host of Horsepower for Impact Sports