Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Available Head Coaching Job: Detroit Lions

Former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz helped change the culture in the organization in his five years in Detroit. Taking over an 0-16 team in 2009, Schwartz led the Lions to a playoff berth and a 10-6 record in 2011, their first playoff appearance in over a decade. 

Despite success in 2011, Schwartz complied an eyebrow raising 29-51 record in five seasons, including a 7-9 record in 2013. After defeating the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving, the Lions lost four straight games which caused them to not clinch the NFC North title and miss the playoffs. It also saw a frustrated Schwartz screaming at the fans in week 16 against the New York Giants after the fans booed at him for not going for the win and instead running down the clock to go into overtime. 

The disappointing 2013 season convinced team President Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew to let go of the 47-year old. Both felt that the talent on last year's team didn't match the performance on the field.

"The simple fact is we have fallen short of the expectations of our ownership, and those expectations are simple," Lewand said on ESPN.com. "They, very strongly, want to bring a consistently winning football team to the fans of the city of Detroit."

Veteran Lions players took to the media and explained their feelings toward the firing of their head coach. Their opinions are similar to Lewand's in that they want to bring consistently to the fans and the city.  

"It's a business," wide receiver Nate Burleson said on ESPN.com. "When you don't get the results that the organization wants and what the people want, then decisions like this have to be made. So I understand it, but it's tough to deal with."

ESPN's Michael Rothstein said that Schwartz told his players about the decision in a team meeting. Center Dominic Raiola told the media that he feels bad for letting his coach down after what Schwartz has done for the team. 

"This place is totally different than when he first came here," Raiola said on ESPN.com. "For the culture he created, I can't stress enough that this job that he took was one nobody wanted. Who wants that job? A complete rebuild, a complete overhaul -- nobody want that job. But he took it, and he took it as far as he could take it.

"I feel awful for Schwartz, I feel like we let him down," Raiola added. 

Through the first nine games of the season, the Lions started off 6-3 and 3-1 in the NFC North. They accounted for only 13 turnovers with a +1 turnover margin. Stafford also had a total QB rating of 66.7. In the last seven games of the season, the Lions finished 1-6 with over 21 turnovers and a TO margin of -13, both worst in the NFL. Stafford's performance also declined, finishing with only a 33.5 QBR.   

The Lions have also fired offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and wide receivers coach Tim Lappano. All other assistants will be retained for now, including defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.  

With Lewand and Mayhew leading the search for a new head coach next season, they have begun the process of sorting out the right candidates for the job. Mayhew has reported that the players will not have any input in the search of a new head coach. Stafford has told reporters that he wouldn't mind having input but most likely won't happen. 

The next head coach of the Lions will take over a team that hasn't won a game in December in the past two years. They have finished in the bottom six in the NFL in giveaways every year Schwartz has coached. They also held a fourth quarter lead in 13 of the 16 games they played last season, but still finished 7-9. 

One candidate that could be a replacement is San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt. He has helped the Chargers clinch a wild card berth, as well as turning QB Phillip Rivers into a dominating Pro Bowl caliber player. Wisenhunt has also coached in the Super Bowl, almost winning in 2009 with the Arizona Cardinals and now retired QB Kurt Warner. He has also won the Super Bowl in 2006 with the Pittsburgh Steelers during his tenure as an offensive coordinator. 

Bringing in Wisenhunt will provide the Lions with an offensive minded head coach that can mentor and groom Matthew Stafford. He has an excellent portfolio in coaching quarterbacks to play at their full potential every week. 

Another potential head coach is Lovie Smith, who has spent nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he complied a record of 81-63. With the Bears, he won the NFC North three times and appeared in a Super Bowl once with backup quarterback Rex Grossman. As a defensive minded coach, Lovie has led some of the best defensive units in the NFL, ranking in the top 10 in takeaways and scoring defense multiple years. He has though struggled coaching offenses, hiring and firing many offensive coordinators during his tenure in Chicago. Its reported that Smith is a front runner for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job, so the Lions will have to act fast if they want to hire Smith. 

Regardless of who takes over the Detroit Lions coaching position, they will be in a much different situation then when Schwartz took over in 2009. The Lions already have their franchise quarterback in Stafford, whoever comes in won't have to find their quarterback of the future through the draft or free agency. He will also have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL, as well as a top 5 player in the NFL in wide receiver Calvin Johnson. 

With the right leadership next season, the Lions could easily win 10-13 games and potentially clinch their first division title since 1993. 

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