Detroit Lions Season Review – Part 3

At the moment, there is a lot of fan and media speculation as to who the next potential coach of the Lions might be. Here are a few potential candidates and why they would or would not be a good head coach for Detroit.

Ken Whisenhunt

This is the coach I ultimately believe ends up in Detroit.  Also considered a quarterback guru, the former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals holds an impressive resume.  In his six seasons in Arizona, Whisenhunt led the Cardinals to four seasons of .500 or above, and a playoff record of 4-2.  He won the NFC West two times in back-to-back seasons, and in 2008, he led the Cardinals all the way to the Super Bowl.

Currently he is the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Ken works very closely with Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers who, just like Stafford, was once a turnover machine but held a tremendous amount of potential.

This season, Rivers has cut down his interceptions by five and improved his passer rating by almost 20.  For those who do not know, a passer rating takes in the quarterbacks attempted number of passes, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes, and interceptions, to figure out how effective of a game they are having.

To put this in perspective, Rivers this season ranks fifth among all qualified QB’s in passer rating, while last year he ranked eleventh.

Whisenhunt could do wonders to Stafford’s game and the Lions know it.  According to the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and NBC Sports, the Lions have already contacted Ken about potentially becoming their next head coach.

Whisenhunt is considered to be one of the most sought after coaches on the market, but Detroit offers a team with many key pieces in place and a pretty high draft pick, so many experts consider it a very desired destination.

Lovie Smith

This is a name that Lions fans are oh so familiar with.  Smith was the former head coach of the Chicago Bears. And unlike the other two names, he is a defensive minded coach.  Lovie spent nine seasons in Chicago, where he only had three seasons that finished under .500.  However, Smith only reached the playoffs three times, and posted a record of 3-3 with one of those losses coming in the 2006 Super Bowl.

Smith was fired in 2012 after a 10-6 season and third place NFC North finish.  Lions fans would kill for another 10-6 season and Lovie could easily bring it to them.

The biggest concern with Smith is who he would hire as his offensive coordinator.  During his time in the Windy City, Smith’s offenses were always his biggest weakness.  With Jay Cutler as his starting quarterback, Cutler never had a passer rating over 87 and had only one season where he threw less than 14 interceptions.

Cutler was not the only problem for Lovie. It was his entire offense.  From ‘09-’12, the Bears offense ranked in the bottom half of the league in total yards and points per game.  Obviously the Lions have plenty of weapons on offense, but the lack of success Smith’s offenses have is relatively alarming.  Smith could bring in an offensive mastermind to be his offensive coordinator. But in his time in Chicago, he had three different OC’s, all of whom are currently out of the league.

Smith will also be heavily sought after this upcoming offseason.  He is currently rumored to be the Houston Texans’ top target, with many other teams chasing after his services.

Jon Gruden

Gruden has spent the last five years working for ESPN, primarily as a color commentator for Monday Night Football.  In 2012, Gruden signed a five-year contract extension, but there has been constant speculation that the former Super Bowl champion wants to return to the sidelines.

Gruden coached for 11 years, four of those with the Oakland Raiders while the other seven were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Jon has a career record of 95-81, and a career playoff record of 5-4.

As I previously mentioned, Gruden did win a Super Bowl back in 2002, which was his first season with the Bucs.  In the following six seasons, he failed to reach the playoffs four of those seasons.  No coach in the history of the NFL has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams.  As a matter of fact, only a handful of coaches have ever coached two teams to a Super Bowl.

Clearly the numbers are not on Gruden’s side, and I would still question if his heart would be in it as well.  When he agreed to his extension with ESPN, Jon said, “I loved doing this with these guys, keeping me close to the game. We have a lot of fun and hey, we love football.”

I do not question that Gruden knows the game very well, but he is not used to coaching in the new look NFL where offense is everything.  We all saw how the last great broadcaster worked out for the Lions, and I do not think anyone wants to go through another Matt Millen situation anytime soon.

Bill O’Brien

This is the final name on this list, but I believe it is also the most unrealistic option.  O’Brien seems to be the hot pick around the league.  It would be a surprise if you knew who O’Brien was, as he has never had a head coaching position in the NFL and has spent the last two seasons as the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Before going to the college ranks, O’Brien was the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots for one season and their primary play caller for three seasons.  Bill is considered to be a quarterback guru, which is seemingly a perfect match for the Lions to help Matthew Stafford fix his mechanics and limit turnovers.

Surprisingly, Bill Belichick’s assistant coaches have struggled to succeed as head coaches in the NFL.  Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, Nick Saban, and of course Schwartz, have all spent time as a Belichick assistant and NFL head coach.  At the moment, Schwartz is the only one on the list who still holds a job as an NFL head coach, and all of Belichick assistants combined hold a career head coaching record of 125-193.

When O’Brien joined Penn State, he joined a program that was in complete disarray after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and he agreed to a contract that saw a hefty NFL buyout clause. Originally the price was set at close to $20 million, but the two sides agreed to a new settlement this season at $6.48 million.

For that reason alone, I do not believe O’Brien will be taking his talents to Motown.  Do not get me wrong, I would love to see his 15-9 record at Penn State come to an end. But to pay $6.48 million to Penn State, six million to Schwartz and then pay O’Brien whatever amount of dollars he agrees to would be outrageous.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the Lions might be too late to hire O’Brien, even if he was their top choice.  Reports came out late Saturday that O’Brien and the Houston Texans are discussing a contract and he is now highly favored to be their new head man.


The Bottom Line

This is the Detroit Lions. And for better or worse, you watch them and constantly put up with the discouraging product they put on the field.

This is arguably the most talented group of players Ford has ever assembled, but that typical Lions stank is something that can not be washed, bought or coached away.  This franchise has never won a Super Bowl. And although they are the closest they have ever been, they are still miles away from even sniffing a ring.

It is truly disheartening what Lions fans must put up with year after year. But until ownership changes hands, this team will forever be the laughing stock of the NFL, and one of the worst franchises in sports history. You should not expect anything different.


Cameron Billes is the host of Horsepower for Impact Sports