Changing Everything, From Lockers to Players

First-year coach Jim Schwartz has begun the monumental task of turning around the Detroit Lions. In doing so, the former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator has left no stone unturned. The new-look Lions, whose 0-16 season ended last year in Green Bay, return to Lambeau Field on Sunday.

First-year Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz admitted this ploy wouldn't mean the difference between winning and losing, but it shows the extreme tactics he's used to wash away the historically bitter taste of last year's 0-16 season.

"We switched lockers. Is that going to cause you to win a game? Probably not," Schwartz said on Wednesday morning during a conference call with Packers beat reporters. "We wanted to make sure the returning players — we turned over about half the roster, anyway — but the players that did return from last year, from the time they walked back into the building when we began our offseason program, that they weren't in the same locker, they didn't have the same person next to them. It was just a signal that things were different. I think the players were receptive to it."

Schwartz and the man who hired him, first-year general manager Martin Mayhew, accepted what could very well be the most difficult job in the NFL, other than being the puppet for Al Davis in Oakland. Beyond being the only team in NFL history to lose all 16 games — 10 of which were decided by at least 10 points — the Lions haven't had a winning season since 2000.

"There was a lot (on my agenda), obviously," Schwartz said. "Sometimes, when you take over a team or when other people have taken over a team, there have been specific areas to fix. Whether it was offense, defense, special teams, just one area. In this case, obviously we have work to do in just about every area. We really started from scratch. It started from the way we lifted weights to the way we organized practice, different coaches, different schemes, travel different. Just about every way you can do something different, we did. Some of it was by design, some of it was by philosophy. We made sure that we were going to start from the very beginning in doing things a different way."


Jim Schwartz
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The new view has provided a new outlook. Rather than starting the season 0-5 like last year, Detroit is 1-4 entering Sunday's trek to Green Bay. The Lions slayed more than a year's worth of demons by beating Washington 19-14 in Week 3. They hung with host Chicago for more than a half the following week, and pushed the defending Super Bowl-champion Steelers to the final seconds before losing 28-20 at home last week.

The 43-year-old Schwartz, who arrived in Detroit after eight successful seasons as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator, is a man with no interest in moral victories — even though moral victories are a bit easier to stomach than last year's 15.6 points-per-game differential.

"This is a bottom-line business. Everybody knows that," he said. "I think that we've played well at times. Other than against the Redskins for our win, it really wasn't a complete game. That game, we should have ended that game a lot earlier. We shouldn't have been hanging on at the very end to win that game. So, we've had our ups and downs. We've played well at times, we've played very poorly at times. We're still a work in progress when it comes to being where we want to be. We need to execute better. It's hard to see progress. To quote Bill Parcells, ‘You are what your record says you are.' We're a 1-4 football team that needs to win."

Obviously, of greater importance than a new seating arrangement are the new players and coaches. This "Extreme Makeover — Ford Field Edition" includes a whopping 13 new starters. That fact wasn't lost on veteran center Dominic Raiola, who has spent all nine NFL seasons with Detroit while making 113 starts.

"I think the biggest thing (Schwartz has) done," Raiola said, "is he came into training camp and he put everybody's job on the line, said to everybody, ‘You've got to earn your job, or you're not going to be here.' He didn't care how much money you made or anything like that. So I think everybody's job was on the line and I think that makes a lot of people more on the edge of their seat."

That influx of new faces was the paramount objective in trying to change a culture of losing that had permeated through coaches Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron (interim) and Rod Marinelli. Long losing streaks and a decade's worth of futility mean practically nothing to more than half of the roster. Among the veteran additions, for instance, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, linebackers Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, fullback Terrelle Smith and safety Marquand Manuel have played in Super Bowls.

"One of the big things here is we had been down for a long time," Schwartz said. "Maybe that did pertain a little bit more to here than some other jobs. There was work to do here. But, when you turn over half the roster, when you turn over the coaching staff, that can lead to changing that right away. We brought in guys like Larry Foote, who won two Super bowls. Different coaches, a lot of different players — had a lot of draft picks this year — and quite honestly, when we talk about changing culture, we never really addressed last year. We addressed it by not addressing it. We just moved on, said we were too busy trying to improve, we have too much to do to dwell on what happened last year."

If nothing else, the "burden" of a numbing losing streak, as Schwartz put it, is behind the Lions. Including a loss in the 2007 finale and defeats in the first two games to start this season, "everyone had us 0-19," according to Schwartz. That all came to an end against Washington. Tears of joy usually are reserved for hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, not posting an early-season victory at home over a struggling opponent. But, as the saying goes, a trip of a million miles begins with the first step.

"It was a relief on Sunday to win for a lot of people in the organization, for a lot of players that were here in the past," Schwartz said. "They were carrying that burden. My message to them was, ‘We've got to get to the point where we don't celebrate Week 3 wins with champagne and parades downtown. We shouldn't be popping confetti when we win a Week 3 game. We should expect to win every week.' That's part of it. It's good to celebrate a win, but what we really should be celebrating are postseason wins, wins that put us into the postseason."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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