Fixing the Franchise - Part 2: Find A Coach!

Part two of a multi-part series, "Fixing The Franchise." The coaching staff is the most important hire that the front office will make because it is the on-the-field expression of the franchise philosophy, writes Lions' insider Mike Fowler.

ALLEN PARK - The Detroit Lions are about to embark on the most critical journey they will make over the next three years.

At the end of the Detroit Lions - Pittsburgh Steelers contest on Sunday, the Lions will in earnest, begin interviewing candidates for their head coaching position.

This will be the fifth time that Lions president Matt Millen has made a decision on a head coach.

His first act was the fire Gary Moeller, the former UM head coach who was thrust into the role after the abrupt resignation of Bobby Ross. Millen then hired San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator and current Philadelphia Eagles assistant Marty Mornhinweg.

After Mornhinweg posted just five wins in two season, Millen fired him and hired the man he wanted for the position all along, former San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci. After 5-11 and 6-10 seasons, Millen again fired his hand picked choice of head coach, this time at mid season following a lackluster performance on Thanksgiving Day to a mediocre Atlanta Falcons squad. Since that time, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, the team's defensive coordinator under Mariucci has been interim head coach.

Jauron will not return after failing to do what Millen wanted him to do, play younger players. Jauron instead threw away a great opportunity to put the franchise on solid footing for 2006 by getting players valuable playing time, instead going with veterans, many of whom have no future in the organization.

This underscores the importance of having a coaching staff that is in lockstep with the front office.

Coaches, by their very nature, are conservative. Why? Because they are second-guessed and criticized by television color commentators, newspaper columnists and writers, radio talk shows hosts and fans. Some in these positions are former players and coaches and their criticism carries a lot of weight. Therefore, coaches tend to play it close to the vest, playing the percentages to avoid having their actions criticized. Lose a couple of close games and some coaches go into a shell. This results in bland, ineffective offenses who simply play for field position and hope to take advantage of defensive lapses to score.

Simply put, its boring and mostly losing football.

Our idea is to put in a philosophy of an attacking team on both offense and defense (see Fixing the Franchise Pt 1). Now, comes the hard part; finding a coaching staff that is willing to execute that philosophy.

It's the coaching staff who's neck is on the line when the inevitable defensive lapses comes and the opposition scores or when the offense, playing wide open football, throws an interception. It's tempting for coaching staffs to revert back to the old 'bend-but-don't-break' and 'three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust' style of football that doesn't draw as much criticism as the aggressive, attacking, risk-taking style of football.

How can you ensure your philosophy is actually carried out on the field?

It starts in the interview process. Certain coaches are know for taking calculated risks and playing a wide open, "spread" style of football. Other coaches are known for being aggressive defensively with a get after the quarterback mentality.

Didn't the Lions know what they were getting when they hired Steve Mariucci?

Mariucci has been known for years to be a conservative head coach. Mariucci was blasted by his former receiver Terrell Owens, who said of the coach back in 2002, "We have no killer instinct, period," after a 20-10 win over Washington. "I think I wasn't the only one who felt like that. For whatever reason, we did what we had to do."

Should it have been surprising that Mariucci would revert to his conservative ways on a team with far less talent than the 2002 49ers that went to the NFC Championship game? The fact is, you don't buy a pickup truck if you want tight handling in the corners, it just doesn't work.

If the Lions are going to be an attacking team, you must hire a coach with an aggressive attacking personality. One of those coaches is Mike Martz, currently on medical leave from the St. Louis Rams and who is unlikely to return to the franchise.

Martz sports an aggressive, attacking philosophy offensively. His goal is to get after the opposing defense, not taking what they are giving, but rather, dictating the pace of the football game.

Martz also possesses an abrasive and often confrontation personality which can border on being arrogant.

Case in point, when the Rams lost a critical game that cost them the NFC West division title to New England, Martz criticized the effort of his entire team publicly. When asked if that was the right thing to do, Martz stated "We don't hold hands and get in a seance and sing 'Kumbaya, My Lord.' I'm not into that. We've got a direction we're going and you're on the train or you're not. Get out. Period."

He admits he can be tough to deal with, "My personality, I'm not the easiest person to get along with," he said. "My whole deal is to make this a better organization. As I tell our players and our coaches, everything we do we are trying to do the right thing.

"It's hard thing to do, but it's easy to say."

The flip side is you have a coach who will be aggressive and attacking to a fault, he is what this organization needs. Martz is not the only coach who fits the philosophy.

Al Saunders of the Chiefs has constructed a dynamic offense that has led the league two seasons in a row, Donnie Henderson of the Jets has an aggressive defense that, despite injuries has managed to keep the Jets in almost every game. That unit continues to play hard in spite of having on three wins. Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is known as an innovator who's defenses are uniquely ahead of the curve in most matchups despite having his squad filled with young players. Ron Meeks of the Colts and Ron Rivera of the Bears both have aggressive, get after it philosophies that would work well with Detroit personnel.

No matter who the coach is, the organization must insulate the coach from the temptation to revert back to conservative football in tough times. If the coach is given a three year deal, he must be certain he'll have the full three years. You must give him everything he reasonably needs to succeed and get out of his way and let him do his job, his way.

The timetable and the expectations must be spelled out clearly so that there is no guesswork about what must be accomplished on the field.

The Lions need a forward thinking coach who is confident enough in his own ability that he isn't phased by second-guessing, meddling ownership or rebellious players. They need someone who can come in an put in a system that takes calculated risks and gets big rewards. They need someone who is an innovator, highly motivated and self-confident.

Coaches will inevitably come and go, but the philosophy should never change.

Know who you are, know what the finished puzzle should look like and never deviate from your philosophy for anyone or anything.

Once that philosophy is in place, you must find someone who fits the it regardless of whether he is a 'hot candidate'. Look no further than to the West at the Chicago Bears, who have always been a defensive oriented organization.

From Papa Bear George Halas, to Mike Ditka, to Dick Jauron, to Lovie Smith, defensive oriented coaches have always been the pick in Chicago and it's little wonder success routinely follows. They know who they are.

Detroit needs to install their philosophy and let it guide them through every aspect of the organization.

Our choice to run an aggressive, attacking team: Mike Martz.


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