Five Potential Replacements for Jim Schwartz

December 18th, 2013

Brian Billick has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, something no coach has ever done in Detroit (Photo from SI.com)

Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

Fire Schwartz! That seems to be the overwhelming sentiment across the Mitten State after Monday night’s disaster. Most everyone expects the Ford family to engage the killswitch on the embattled coach once the season ends, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that Schwartz is out.

The Lions still have more realistic playoff chances than the bitter, fatigued fan base realizes. Of course those aspirations revolve on the Lions winning against the Giants and Vikings over the last two weeks, which is (rightly) the source of the pessimism.

However, making the playoffs under the current circumstances would show a great deal of coaching aptitude. Navigating these rough waters and sailing into the playoffs would give the Fords a strong reason to consider keeping Schwartz at the helm.

On the presumption that Schwartz and his coordinators, Scott Linehan on offense and Gunther Cunningham on defense, are indeed terminated if the Lions fail to make the playoffs, here are five candidates to succeed him as head coach of the Detroit Lions. They are listed in order of my personal preference.

Brian Billick

Currently a pretty solid color man for Fox’s NFL coverage, Billick brings a whole lot to the table. He comes from an offensive background, masterminding one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history during his tenure as Offensive Coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1990s.

You might remember those teams. His final four seasons, 1995-98, the Vikings were an offensive juggernaut. They had a team loaded with skill position weaponry. They ranked near the top in yards and points despite being saddled with the relatively pedestrian Brad Johnson at quarterback. That offense blossomed when Randall Cunningham took over in ’98. In fact, the 1998 team he guided to a NFL record 556 points doesn’t look all that different from what Detroit has right now.

They had a dual attack out of the backfield, with lightning Robert Smith and powerful Leroy Hoard, just as these Lions have Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. They had arguably the most talented and athletically gifted wideout in the game in Randy Moss. Say hello to Calvin Johnson. The Minnesota line was solid; this Lions line might actually be better. A healthy Nate Burleson fills Jake Reed’s role as the dynamic third receiver. Give these Lions a legitimate second option at wideout–those Vikings had a declining but still effective Cris Carter–and all the pieces are in place for Billick to recreate his magic. Think Kelvin Benjamin or Sammy Watkins with a first round pick would do the trick?

Yet the biggest reason why Billick is so appealing is what he did next. As head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, he took over a defensive-oriented team. Rather than try to build the team into what he had in Minnesota, Billick adapted his strategy. He coached to the strengths of his talent, and guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship behind a punishing defense and a conservative (some would say lousy) offense.

He’s stayed close to the game in his broadcasting capacity, including calling several Lions games. If anyone can maximize Matthew Stafford’s enormous potential, it’s Brian Billick.

There are detractions. Billick loves to tell everyone he’s the smartest guy in the room, even if the room includes brain surgeons and nuclear physicists. He’s earned a reputation as a micromanager, which can wear thin quickly.

However, he is overdue for a second chance to prove he’s learned from his mistakes. Brian Billick should be at or near the top of any potential coaching list.

 

Jay Gruden

No, not his more celebrated older brother. Instead of chasing Jon Gruden with tens of millions to try and lure him from the comfort of the Monday Night Football booth, the Lions would be better off going after brother Jay.

Currently the Offensive Coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, Jay Gruden has proven to be a highly competent offensive mastermind. His Bengals offense has similar structure and pieces to what he would inherit in Detroit, with one notable exception: these Lions have Matthew Stafford at quarterback, a potentially significant upgrade over Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

Gruden does have head coaching experience from the Arena League, where he won four titles as a quarterback and two more as a head coach. He also coached the Florida Tuskers to the UFL Championship game in 2010.

Gruden might be the best possible choice to help develop Stafford, who is the centerpiece around which the offense must be built for the next few seasons. If he could bring along some assistants from Cincinnati, notably Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Lions would be in excellent hands.

 

Bill O’Brien

Currently the head coach at Penn State, O’Brien has proven he can successfully manage a very difficult situation. O’Brien has masterfully calmed the tumultuous waters in the wake of the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky fall from grace.

What makes O’Brien attractive is his NFL background. He is, like Schwartz, a former assistant under Bill Belichick. He served as Offensive Coordinator in 2011 after several years as Tom Brady’s quarterback coach. O’Brien is a balanced but focused presence on the sideline, and his players clearly revere him.

Notice a prevailing theme here? Getting the most out of Matthew Stafford is the biggest selling point any potential replacement for Jim Schwartz can make.

Detroit isn’t at the top of the line for O’Brien, however. He is reportedly the primary target for the Houston Texans, who have an owner that isn’t afraid of a multi-million dollar buyout at Penn State or a hefty annual contract.

 

Eric Mangini

Most folks hold a low opinion of the former Jets and Browns head coach, and perhaps with valid reason. “Mangenius” carried himself with an arrogance that makes Billick seem humble, and his legendary thirst for complete control of everything from picking players to picking salad dressings in the cafeteria cast a long shadow.

His final year in Cleveland showed real growth, despite the unsavory ending. Working under Mike Holmgren in a forced marriage of contrasting philosophies, Mangini forged a surprisingly competitive team out of a roster with nowhere close to the talent he would take over in Detroit. They finished 5-11 but seven of those losses were within a touchdown despite having an offense built around plodding Peyton Hillis taking handoffs from Colt McCoy and the carcass of Jake Delhomme, with Chansi Stuckey and Mohammed Massaquoi as the top receivers. Think of what he could craft with Megatron, Stafford & Co.!

Since then, Mangini has transitioned quite nicely into television. He lost some weight but gained some much-needed humility and humor. His inner tactician is still there, but now he’s improved his people skills. There is inherent risk in trying to sell a wildly unpopular and unsuccessful coach to a perennially skeptical Lions fan base, but Mangini deserves one last chance to prove himself.

 

Darrell Bevell

Seattle’s Offensive Coordinator figures to be a hot name, especially if the Seahawks parlay their front-running status into a Super Bowl title. The former Wisconsin quarterback has never been a head coach, but he does have years of NFL experience.

Bevell made his name as Brett Favre’s QB coach in Green Bay. Even though he’s actually a few months younger than Favre, he helped spark a relative renaissance in the veteran at the end of his Packers tenure. Bevell became the OC in Minnesota under Brad Childress in 2006. With Favre once again, he crafted a prolific offense that made it all the way to the NFC Championship game.

Since he joined forces with Pete Carroll in Seattle, Bevell has displayed creativity and infectious energy. His work with Russell Wilson has produced one of the best young quarterbacks and leaders in the game. Bevell is noted for his ability to relate with players and to tailor opponent-specific game plans.

 

Others:

Anytime there is a coaching change, many names surface seemingly out of the ether. Brian Kelly from Notre Dame will certainly get mentioned, though he’s better-served sticking in the college game. So will Todd Bowles, the former Dolphins interim coach now serving as Defensive Coordinator in Arizona. He fulfills the Rooney Rule requirement, though he merits a long look regardless.

The man Bowles succeeded in Arizona, Ray Horton, deserves strong consideration as well. Horton is now in that capacity in Cleveland. He’s a 3-4 defensive guru, which might not mesh well with the current Lions talent base on defense, as the Lions seldom deploy more than two linebackers now.

Then are the pies in the sky. Bill Cowher. Jon Gruden. David Shaw from Stanford. Kevin Sumlin from Texas A&M. Even Nick Saban, because nobody really believes he wouldn’t. Forget those sexy names, Lions fans, because they are not going to happen.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffRisdon

 

 

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17 Responses to “Five Potential Replacements for Jim Schwartz”

  1. Beat me to this one, lol. Not much of a Billick fan, but you make a good case. I wasn’t aware Bevell was Favre’s QB coach, and with the personnel we have, how much of a match would that be?

  2. The Strategy Expert says:

    I’m really disappointed that Brian Billick would get a suggestion. He is arguably the worst commentator we have had in a while and he says the dumbest stuff on TV, and he misses all kinds of things going on in the games. Billick has no idea what the heck is going on, and his football mind is constantly proven to be completely worthless. This guy actually said that QBs prefer to not have a Hail Mary chance at the end of a half because it’s more likely to be an INT than a score, so they would rather not even try, so he doesn’t like asking them to do it. This is coming from a former HEAD COACH! This guy is a complete idiot and football LOSER! If they hire him, oh my goodness it would piss me off like you wouldn’t believe. I’d rather have any previous Lions Head Coach have the job over him. Although I actually liked Steve Mariucci, I think he’s a pretty useful football guy if you give him a good roster to work with, although he’s probably best used as an OC or Offensive Assistant coach.

    Brian Kelly is a strategy dud, I noticed that from his work at Notre Dame on a number of things that have put him on my blacklist. Although I’d rather have Kelly than Billick because at least it’s possible for Kelly to maybe contribute something of use, Billick would just be way too depressing so I’ll take anybody over Billick.

    Of the sexy names, Bill Cowher sounds revolting, but Gruden sounds great. He’s my #1 choice if I’m the GM to interview with first (prior to other interviews and Rooney Rule compliance of course). I think Gruden would be the perfect coach for any NFL team that has the right GM and roster and other support coaches that will mesh well with him.

    Also honorable mention to Merril Hoge, he could be the RB coach. The guy works hard, has passion, and he cares. Those things are VERY important to me in any coach.

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      Just wanted to add really quick that Merril Hoge claimed on the last episode of NFL Matchup that he spent 102 hours on film study this week. Obviously we can’t know if that’s exactly correct, but you get the point as to why I like him so much. This is a really serious football guy and that’s the kind of attitude and effort you need to have if you want to be the best at what you do. This guy LIVES for football, and that’s what separates champions for losers, at least in the SPIRIT and EFFORT categories.

      Plus he wears his heart on his sleeve when he talks. He’s just soaking wet with football passion.

    • tk says:

      you Dumas what does it matter weather or not he is a good analysis. it matters if they’re good coach

    • chris says:

      Merle hodge…sucked when he played..is a moron with innaccurate tunnel vision…or hey maybe jaworski..another shitty player..who pretends to be an expert..yeah maybe matt millen could help them both out…lol

  3. Strategery Expert says:

    You should read Nate Jackson’s book Slow Getting Up. If you did, you would not mention Eric Mangini as a head coaching candidate. Maybe he has grown up – but he truly sucked the life out the Jets when he coached them. Dehumanized the players in such a chilling fashion.

    Really really recommend reading Nate Jackson’s book. Nate describes the feeling much better than I could. I would really feel bad for the Lions players if he became their head coach. Would rather take my chances with Schwartz.

    • adminLions says:

      I know several Browns folks that were there under Mangini and they all hated him to a man. A relative of mine is one of them.

      I wouldn’t worry about him in Detroit, he will not be an option. The Lions are keeping Mayhew & Xanders as the personnel guys, and Mangini wouldn’t work under guys like that.

  4. Strategery Expert says:

    I do understand that people change – but the way Jackson describes Mangini – sounds like something fundamentally off with the guy.

    This is not like a Tom Coughlin situation where the guy is strict and learns to loosen up a bit. This sounds way more psychopathic.

  5. Strategery Expert says:

    Went back and looked at my copy of Nate Jackson’s book – his bad experience with Mangini was on the Browns, not the Jets.

  6. Strategery Expert says:

    One quote:

    “To a man, the entire Browns team seems to be deep in despair. There is a natural sluggishness that occurs during training camp, but this is something different. The men seem positively broken. They have no fight in them…..That night at my first team meeting, I learn why”

  7. chris says:

    The lions should do what they always do…get draft picks..(one great one barry sanders..calvin is good ..but runs shitty routes..and is always hurting..the lions are mediocre have been since i was a kid and im fifty now…met charlie sanders when i was a kid..great player and human being..

  8. chris says:

    Gruden would do zilch for the lions we need a coach withbig balls..

  9. Deven says:

    I would gladly put my money on Bill O’Brien. The Lions players don’t respect Schwartz’s authority; they just like him as a friend, not a leader. That really explains the lack of discipline. To be revered and liked are two completely different things. The players “like” Schwartz, but they need someone they will revere, respect and follow into battle and do what it takes to win; not just barely get by then choke.

  10. adminLions says:

    Get used to hearing the name Brian Kelly. A lot.

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      Well as long as he hires a guy to be on the sidelines with him so he doesn’t screw up using a TO or make a bad decision on 4th down when he should be doing something else then I can live with it. Just don’t make any stupid tactical decisions like what happened at ND this year. As just one example he used a TO against MSU. It was a very small mistake because there was only 33 seconds left and he called TO when he was at no risk to still get off at least 3 plays for a TD. If he scores on the first play then that leaves MSU with a big chunk to maybe still score a FG in the half. He should have allowed a few seconds to burn since he was at no risk of still getting his 3 plays before a FG if those 3 didn’t get the TD. It basically gave a chance for MSU to have as much as an extra 25 seconds to work with that could have been reduced with no threat of running out of time. But that’s very simple math, and he doesn’t know the strategy for that situation, and he’s even further removed from being able to figure out more complicated and advanced strategies.





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