ALLEN PARK - The Lions have three Pro Bowl players (Shaun Rogers, Dan Wilkinson, Dre' Bly) on defense, they have a lot of young talent on the defensive side of the ball. They have six first round picks (Jeff Backus 2001, Joey Harrington, 2002, Charles Rogers 2003, Roy Williams 2004, Kevin Jones 2004, Mike Williams 2005) on the offensive side of the ball, but they have very few wins to show for it.
What's wrong with the Detroit Lions? Why can't they move the football? Why can't they score points? Why can't they stop team in the clutch?
Among many reasons why the Lions haven't had success is the fact that they have no identity.
A faceless, clueless organization, the franchise doesn't know who they are or for that matter what they want to be.
Because of that they've acquired draft choices, free agents and coaches in a haphazard manner. They have pieces that don't mesh well together. Offensive and defensive schemes that don't complement each other and clashing philosophies on how to win.
What kind of team are the Detroit Lions? You don't really know and neither do they and therin lies a huge part of the problem.
When you look at the Chicago Bears, for example, you see the quintessential NFL franchise. Started by George Papa Bear Halas in the 30s, the Bears have always been a tough, hard-nosed, defensive minded club that plays ball control on offense. Throughout the years, from Halas to Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan to Dick Jauron to Lovie Smith, the Bears philosophy has never really changed. Their identity is solidly in place.
What should be the Detroit Lions identity?
FACT: Detroit plays a guaranteed nine games per season indoors each year. Win those and they are a playoff team. Add a couple more wins and they have home field advantage in the playoffs. Playing indoors on turf begs a team built for speed that runs past its opponents on offense and flies to the football on defense.
Athletic, agressive, attacking.
Fortunately, much of the talent that Detroit has assembled fit that philosophy on the offensive side of the ball. All is not lost, they should quickly establish a philosophy of being the wide-open, speed team that endeavors to spread the field and outscore their opponents.
Case in point: Detroit has three speed burners in Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Kevin Jones. In Joey Harrington, they have a quarterback who is more adept at throwing the ball into the intermediate and deep zones than the short ones. Don't allow that talent to walk away to other franchises waiting to pick it up at bargain basement prices. Instead, find a coaching staff that can exploit that talent and use it the way it was meant to be used.
On defense, Detroit has a big run-stuffing presence inside (Shaun Rogers, Dan Wilkinson), young linebackers with speed (Teddy Lehman, Boss Bailey, Alex Lewis, James Davis) and a super talented corner (Dre' Bly) who is capable of playing on an island.
Detroit defensively should be a team that attacks relentessly in an effort to get the ball back to the offense. They might get beat on plays at times, they will win at other times, but in any event the objective will be back quickly into the hands of the offense.
Once the identity is established, that should be propagated to every aspect of the football team. Now the objective should be to draft the best players that fit into this identity. On offense, find speedy sure-handed playmakers who are productive. Tough agressive offensive linemen who are durable and get after their opponent.
On defense, find the corners who can play on an island, mano-a-mano. Get sure-tackling ball-hawking safeties who have solid recovery speed. Find defensive linemen who can get upfield and get after the quarterback. Draft and sign only those players who fit into the system, not the "best player available" but the best player available that fits the system.
A second aspect of the new Lions identity should be impatience.
Give the new leaders of this organization a solid mandate; win immediately. Make the playoffs in three years or less, the Super Bowl in five years or less.
No excuses, no extensions.
Winning gets rewarded, losing gets you fired.
Third, use some of that innovation that Ford family talks about in their automobile ads. Give something back to the extremely loyal fans who support the franchise week in and week out.
How about giving a car away at each home game? Add some cheerleaders (it works for the Pistons). Wear white uniforms on the road, black at home and blue on special occasions only, like Thanksgiving and future Sunday and Monday night games. Lower ticket prices until you win. Have autograph signing sessions for kids before the games.
Don't think you know all the answers. Talk to winning GM, President, player personnel gurus and scouts. Benchmark the best organizations and duplicate best practices. Continue improving skills sets and make use of statistical analysis for all that's worth.
Become obsessed with winning and don't let anyone who isn't get comfortable.
Think like a winner, act like a winner, be a winner.