COLUMN: Mornhinweg's Crazy Like a Lion

The Detroit Lions have driven every coach crazy since Buddy Parker thought the team quit on him during training camp in 1957. So Parker himself quit his job on the eve of the regular season. Just to show him up, the Lions took new coach George Wilson to the 1957 NFL championship, and won. That's crazy. And that stop-go-stop-go precisely and maddeningly defines Detroit Lions football.

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Mornhinweg's Crazy Like a Lion

by Frank J. Bunker - LionsFans.com

The Detroit Lions have driven every coach crazy since Buddy Parker thought the team quit on him during training camp in 1957. So Parker himself quit his job on the eve of the regular season. Just to show him up, the Lions took new coach George Wilson to the 1957 NFL championship, and won.

That's crazy. And that stop-go-stop-go precisely and maddeningly defines Detroit Lions football.

Today, Lions' head coach Marty Mornhinweg is trying to do something -- change a team with an unparalleled history of stunning mediocrity since that 1957 season into contenders. That's a job that can drive anybody crazy. And has.

Now, judging from what some are saying — on bulletin boards, through the airwaves, and in newsprint — young Mornhinweg may be crazy too. Hmmm, hold your Broncos.

Some would say Mornhinweg would have to be crazy to accept the job. Fair enough. Take a second and see if you can get past the surface craziness, and yes, you may still find there really is something loony underneath the strange exterior. In Mornhinweg, however, it's called genius.

Allow me to explain. I'll be brief. You hope.

Now that's crazy!

Behavior that looks sufficiently strange from what's considered normal and accepted as traditional is thought of as crazy. Without getting too clinical, this wounding evaluation goes for innovation and science, where new theories often are ridiculed, ignored and discarded by the established order.

Think of Einstein and his theories. How can clocks slow down when they're moving faster than something not moving? How can matter and energy be interchangeable? How can space and time depend on the velocity and positions of observers? That can't be! That's crazy!

And if Relativity isn't enough to get you re-thinking about seeing the world in a new, er, light, consider the less than gracious welcome that met the scientists who developed and introduced Quantum theory, where particles and energy don't behave in ways that seem logical to human minds and where the observer and observed affect the reality being measured. That drove even Einstein batty!

When a theory has a kernel of truth, the idea may find itself getting picked up out of the garbage can, dusted off, and hung up for the world to see, test, and verify. And, if found true, a new theory will continue to hold up when held in the light of day and subject to the rigors of testing and evaluation. Who knows? Others may go on to add new knowledge to the theory and help fashion an even more complete and correct model or methodology. That's science.

Football is not immune to craziness

Believe it or not, the same holds for professional football and head coaching. New ideas and theories come along and displace and supercede the old. And in both, science and football, it's the new Turks who try crazy theories.

Let's see what Mornhinweg has put into practice. Those who diagnose madness in him claim the release of James Jones and Jim Harbaugh, and the hiring of Ty Detmer are prima facie proof of looniness. They add the training-camp episode where everyone got sent home for lack of intensity and focus represent a childish temper tantrum.

He had reasons for each of the above: The reliable Jones no longer was the best player at the position. Harbaugh has the guts, but not the tools for the back-up job. Detmer, warts and grins and all, understands the ins and outs of the WCO.

The pedagogic psychologists report there's something extraordinary to be said for the unexpected in learning. People tend to remember complex information when something new and unusual is associated with it.

To those I'd add, Mornhinweg's the field boss and he's got to make the moves he finds necessary to get the team in a position to win. To change the team's institutional mediocrity, he may have to bend their minds more than once, too. Nothing crazy there.

Takes one to know one

"OK," you might say, "What about the QB shuffle? That's stark, raving loony!"

Yes, it appears that way. No, it really isn't crazy when you consider the season goes for 16 games. And this team may need more than that number to get with the program, if you know what I mean.

Here's the real history for those just rescued from Gilligan's Island: Batch goes out and promptly looks lost. The team also looks lost, some say the defense blames it on the sacking of Jones. Regardless, the inglorious result: defense and offense get clobbered, team chalks up loss, Batch gets benched.

And, as they are wont to do, things don't work out like planned or expected. Week 2's games were postponed in respect to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The cancelled games meant Detmer's first at QB in more than a year would be on the road at his former home field. That makes his job exponentially tougher.

Recapping from what's imprinted vividly into my memory: Detmer trots out and gets clobbered. He doesn't give up, though, and tries to make things right by forcing the ball to his friends in the now-opposing Cleveland Brown uniforms for a Detroit franchise record tying seven picks.

Ty tied. We cried. And the most important thing: Ty tried. Here's why:

Mornhinweg needed one luxury no amount of salary cap space could buy him — time. And that's what Ty affords him.

Time for the offensive line to gel. Time for most of the receiving corps to recover from their chronic injuries. Time for the defense to heal and learn.

He's not crazy. He just acts that way

Sheesh! So, what's a head coach to do? With just the quarterbacks alone, you'd think it was like Martylocks and the Three Lions. (Thought I'd write "Stooges," eh? Wrong.)

Mornhinweg's got to play Detmer now, to teach the other players how it's done and to give Batch time to learn. Batch, like we've heard more than twice, will get a chance this year to show what he's got. The talented rookie Mike McMahon also may get a chance to play. All the best to him and all the Lions QBs.

He's got to protect the quarterback, whoever he is. And he needs time to teach Batch a new way of doing things and McMahon the art of survival in the NFL. At least that's the crazy idea that makes the most sense to Steve, the Lion Fan in Oklahoma City, and me.

The important thing is that when they do play, they'll have the best chance to succeed. And that's why Detmer's out there. That's crazy, but not insane (as Firesign Theatre was wont to say).

So what if the coach flies off the handle when the weather's hot and the team is lackadaisical? OK, what if he doesn't look or sound or act like all the other coaches to come along and coach the Lions? Who cares if he's stubborn or acts arrogant?

Good, say I! Mornhinweg's self-confident because he


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