Lions' Schwartz Looks for Answers

The Detroit head coach leads his team in the search for gradual improvement...

The last time Detroit ruled the pro football world, Hall of Famer Jim Brown was a rookie with the Browns and rushed for 69 yards and the first of his team's two touchdowns in a one-sided 59-14 loss to the Lions at Briggs Stadium in the NFL Championship Game.

Detroit's many stars that year included Bobby Layne, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Joe Schmidt, Yale Lary, Jack Christiansen, Lou Creekmur and John Henry Johnson, all of whom are Hall of Famers. Also, Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Howard "Hopalong" Cassady was a running back/kick returner. 

President Dwight Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Ark. that year to quell a mob and protect school integration.

About four months before the championship game, amidst much ballyhoo, even including a TV show, Ford unveiled the ill-fated Edsel in Detroit.

Cleveland Indians fireballer Herb Score had his meteoric career grounded when he was hit in the eye with a line drive off the ball of the Yankees' Gil McDougal almost six months before the game.

If you're a little fuzzy on some – or even all – of these names and events, then don't feel bad. It was a long, long time ago – 52 years, in fact. We're talking about 1957, when "Leave It to Beaver" debuted on TV, "West Side Story" debuted on Broadway and "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Twelve Angry Men" debuted on the big screen.

Check out AMC or TVLand if you want to see any of those.

Indeed, a lot of history has transpired since then, which is why first-year Lions head coach – and former Browns scout – Jim Schwartz has such a monumental task facing him in trying to turn around the long-suffering franchise.

Whoops! Don't use the term "turning around the franchise" in front of Schwartz when talking about his effort to rebuild the Lions.

"Your goal is not to turn it around," Schwartz, whose 1-8 club faces the 1-8 Browns on Sunday at Ford Field, said in a conference call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday morning. "Your goal is to improve, do the right things in building the team and keep your eye on the target.

"If you're looking to turn it around, it's like losing weight. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you can do it in a weekend by going on one of those diets, like a liquid diet. It'll come right off. But we all know what happens next. You put it right back on.

"If you really want to lose the weight and keep it off, you get on the treadmill every morning and limit your calories. That's the right way to do it.

"That may not be the best analogy, but what I'm trying to say is that there's a right way and a wrong way to do things. With this, we want to do it so it lasts."

When asked for his "perspective" on how the season has gone thus far for the Lions, Schwartz looked at it in a similar fashion by saying, "I'm not much for perspective on seeing where we are during the year. I'll leave that for the end of the season. Each week, we're just fighting to win games. We're keeping the focus on Sunday. All we're talking about is winning games."

That's been hard for the Lions to do over the years. Since winning that NFL title in 1957, their third crown in six years, all at the expense of the Browns (Cleveland also beat them once during that stretch), the Lions have posted just 16 winning records in 51 seasons and have made the playoffs only nine times, and not since 2000. They haven't won a postseason game since 1991 and, like the Browns, are one of just five current teams to have never made a Super Bowl appearance.

At 0-16 last year, the Lions were the first team to go through a season winless since the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14). The Lions' best mark since 2001 is 7-9 in '07, and four times since 2001 they've won three games or less.

That's haunted history.

"We've not taken time to address the past," said Schwartz, who was hired away from the Tennessee Titans, whom he had been with since 1999, serving as defensive coordinator since 2001. "The whole offseason, we were way too busy to revisit last year or the year before that or any other year.

"But the one thing we have tried to instill here is a sense of urgency to get things done. We've turned over half the roster and done some cosmetic things to let people know we're making changes."

He added, "I've been excited with the way things are going. We're determined to get this thing on the right track. I know it hasn't shown thus far in terms of wins, but I'm confident it will.

"The bottom line, though, is putting wins on the board. There are no moral victories. We're not going to cop out and point to things other than success on the scoreboard. The only progress chart we have is the standings, the wins and losses."

The Lions have hired Schwartz and made him the face of the franchise as they move forward and try, after all these years – these decades – to get it right. Schwartz is featured prominently in the Lions media guide.

But he's never been a head coach before at any level, so there's no guarantee that he can make that last step on the coaching ladder – a step that a lot of successful assistants slip and fall on, for whatever reason.

Despite the fact Schwartz's success is tied to that of the Lions, he even refuses to offer any perspective on how his year – his transition – is going thus far.

"Where I am is not important," he said. "What's important is where this organization is, and where this team is. I think we drafted very well this year. We got a quarterback (No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford from Georgia) who can lead us into the future."

But fans in Detroit – and the fathers and even the grandfathers of those fans – have heard all of this before and it has never panned out going all the way back to 1958.

If Jim Schwartz can change this – change the course of history – then he'll be forever canonized in Detroit, right up there next to Buddy Parker, who coached the Lions to the 1952 and '53 NFL championships, and George Wilson, who was head coach of that last title team in 1957.

And if he doesn't, then he'll be the unlucky 13th, following the 12 coaches since Wilson who have tried to turn the Lions around – er, build the Lions the right way and make them a champion, finally giving their fans a bridge from Yale Lary, Dwight Eisenhower, the Edsel and "Leave It to Beaver" to the present.

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