Lions Made The Right (and Only) Move

The optimism of Jim Schwartz's hire even ran roughshod through the beaten and battered Detroit Lions fan community. Welcome to the Honeymoon stage. But the excitement over Schwartz's hire isn't necessarily premature. More inside.

Coaching Experience
1989-1990
1991-1992
1992
1993-1995
1996-1998
1999-2000
2001-2008
2009-????
Maryland
NC Central
Colgate
Browns
Ravens
Titans
Titans
Lions
LB Coach
Secondary Coach
LB Coach
Personnel Dept
Def. Assistant
Def. Assistant
Def. Coordinator
Head Coach

An ESPN reporter didn't like the hire. Most local and national writers remained objective. Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp wrote his first positive Lions article since the advent of the ink pen.

The optimism even ran roughshod through the beaten and battered Detroit Lions fan community.

"Welcome to Detroit, Mr. Schwartz," said one fan in the Lions online forum, The Den. "You are bright, articulate and a welcome change after that last guy. Win and you will own the city (or at least what's left of it)."

Welcome to the 'Honeymoon' stage.

And while any post-Steve Mariucci hire should be met with a level of caution, consider Jim Schwartz the most appropriate man for the job of turning around the Detroit Lions.

Regardless of how this thing turns out.

Defense First

Yes, we've heard this before. But before, the Lions were built by an inexperienced GM, who hired an inexperienced coach, who believed he could win with limited talent in a defensive system that required a large quantity of it.

Martin Mayhew has personnel experience, and while Schwartz is, indeed, untested, he has a penchant for developing his system around the players.

Ranking the Titans
(Under Jim Schwartz, DC)
Year Pts Allowed Rank Yds Allowed Rank
2008*
2007*
2006
2005
2004
2003*
2002*
2001
14.6
18.6
25
26
27.4
20.2
20.2
24.2

2nd
8th
31st
29th
30th
13th
11th
25th

293.6
291.6
369.7
319.4
357.8
306.3
310.2
344.7
7th
5th
32nd
19th
27th
12th
10th
25th

(The Lions will no longer force Paris Lenon to be Brian Urlacher, for example.)

While the Detroit Lions could move the ball occasionally in 2008, they had a much more difficult time stopping it. They allowed more points than any team in the league dating back to 1981, and its secondary refused to intercept a pass until Leigh Bodden secured the group's first (and only) pick of the year in mid-October.

Under Schwartz's direction, the Titans responded from being among the league's worst defenses between 2004 and 2006 to a Top 10 defense the past two seasons. Where the Lions allowed 172.1 rushing yards per contest in 2008, the Titans allowed just 93.9.


Jim Schwartz worked with Jeff Fisher for 10 years in Tennessee.
AP Photo

How many times have the Lions failed to stop opponents on third down in the last ... decade? That happens to be Schwartz's specialty.

The statistical variances are endless.

More importantly? The Titans didn't assemble a collection of All Pro athletes on defense via free-agency. Defensive linemen Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth, and defensive backs Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope weren't Pro Bowlers when they joined the Titans; Schwartz, a linebacker in college, turned them into Pro Bowlers.

Additionally, that doesn't mean Mayhew won't spend money to support Schwartz's efforts. While there is reasonable cause that the Lions may not spend some of its rather large salary cap space to acquire free-agents (they want to build via the draft), that would conflict with Mayhew and Lewand's previous statements that they want to field a larger team. And they want to start on the defensive side of the football.

Their top priority? Perhaps 2009 Pro Bowl selection and defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth.

Brandt: Schwartz is a young Belichick

One ESPN writer noted that the Detroit Lions were the only team to interview Jim Schwartz, insinuating that he was Detroit's only real option. That isn't only misleading, it's not necessarily true.

The Cleveland Browns had scheduled an interview with Schwartz before bringing in Eric Mangini, and it is rumored that Scott Pioli - upon taking the job as Kansas City's GM - had plans to replace current coach Herm Edwards with Schwartz, whom he worked closely with in Cleveland.

Speaking of Schwartz's Cleveland ties, the greatest compliment any newly-minted head coach could receive is a comparison to New England's Bill Belichick. Not only did Schwartz work closely with Belichick in Cleveland between 1993 and 1995, but former Cowboys' chief talent scout Gil Brandt, considered among the many bright minds in the league at the ripe age of 75, told the New York Times that Schwartz reminded him of a young Belichick.

If he could, he would "hire him in a minute," said Brandt in November.

Furthermore? Belichick once said Schwartz was one of the smartest coaches he has been around.

While talk is cheap, that's all anyone has right now. Schwartz obviously has the resume to back up most of those compliments, but nothing is guaranteed until the result is seen on the field, which leads to our next discussion ...

Best. Available. Candidate.

Coaching Connections
Jeff Fisher (Tennessee Titans)
Brian Billick (Baltimore Raven
Bill Belichick (Cleveland Browns)

It isn't as though the Lions could enter the season without a head coach, so one had to be selected.

What about Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants defensive coordinator? Spagnuolo wouldn't have been a bad choice, but there was two drawbacks: he was obviously more interested in the New York Jets position, and the Lions would have ultimately ended up in a bidding war for a guy who has just two years of experience as a coordinator versus Schwartz, who has eight.

Plus, it hasn't hurt Spagnuolo that his accomplishments have taken place in the New York market. Schwartz has flown under the radar by contrast, and in addition, his pedigree suits Detroit's  ... unique situation.

0-16 is unique. In a really bad way.

Unlike any other coaching option, Schwartz's track record proved that not only can he coach a formidable defense, but that he can turn around a group of individuals. It isn't just about the statistics he evaluates, or as talented as a chess player he might actually be. Because while the system comes easy for some coaches, Schwartz has demonstrated that he can instill belief. Whether or not he can do it on a major scale obviously remains to be seen.

Schwartz has a background as a personnel man, too. And he also won't have to do any of this alone.

If Mayhew evaluates players in the same fashion he ran the interview process, then Schwartz will have the tools. A luxury no previous head coach, not even Steve Mariucci, has ever had.

"There's no better feeling than turning a situation around," he said earlier this week.

He couldn't have chosen a better opportunity.


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