The Lions and Coaching Purgatory

December 9th, 2013

Justin Simon, DLD Writer

Are the Lions for real? That’s the question everyone seems to be asking themselves this season. Everyone from local and national media, to fans, and everyone in between can’t seem to figure out why the Lions aren’t better than their record would indicate.

They have by far the most talented roster we’ve seen in the last decade. The offense is lead by a more than capable quarterback in Matthew Stafford. They have the best wide receiver in the game in Calvin Johnson. And they finally look to have a dynamic run game with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. On the other side of the ball, the defense is also not short of talent. Everyone knows about Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the defensive line. Linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are both playing at near Pro Bowl levels. The Lions have their best pair of safeties I’ve ever seen in Louis Delmas and Glover Quin. So what am I missing?

After starting 6-3 and sitting alone atop the division the Lions just can’t seem to get over the hump. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this season isn’t a fluke, it’s a microcosm of life under Jim Schwartz.

Let’s go back to when Schwartz was hired. The Lions were coming off the most demoralizing season in NFL history. The Lions as a team and a fan base were beaten up. They badly needed a change from the previous regime. Enter Jim Schwartz. He was highly thought of around the league as a great defensive mind, and after the disastrous 2008 season in which the Lions gave up the most yards in NFL history up until that point, he looked to be just the guy for the job. He was smart, well spoken, and had an attitude that fit Detroit to a T.

Back to reality. After yet another loss on Sunday, the Lions did themselves no favors in the race for the playoffs. For the past month and a half, they’ve had every opportunity to take reign of the NFC North. Both Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have been out well over a month. And the Lions have been one of the healthiest teams in football. While they should preparing to host a playoff game for the first time in since 1994, they simply cannot get out of their own way.

It’s my belief that Lions are currently sitting in a disastrous place known as Coaching Purgatory. If you haven’t read it already, you should go read Joe Bussell’s ( @NFLosophy on Twitter) article on Quarterback Purgatory. It will give you a good sense of where this is coming from. Essentially, the Lions coaching staff (headed by Schwartz) has been good enough to get them passed 0-16, but will never be able to get them over the hump, or greatness. He was just the guy they needed to get back relevance, but I have my doubts that he’ll ever be able to put together a consistent winner.

Under Schwartz the Lions have played aggressive football. It was a nice change to see the Lions be the aggressor on the field rather than simply sitting back and getting hit in the mouth. But with that bravado comes an expectation–an expectation to win. You can only talk about being tough and winning games for so long before you have to actually, you know, start winning games. The Lions looked to be on the way in 2011 when they made their first playoff appearance in over a decade. Schwartz looked like a genius in his third year, and he even got a contract extension. Things were looking up in Detroit. But then reality hit.

I’ve had conversations that have compared the Detroit Lions under Schwartz to the University of Michigan basketball program under Tommy Amaker. Amaker took over a team that under Brian Ellerbe, had a combined record 62-60 record in four seasons couldn’t finish better than eighth in the Big Ten his final three years with the team. Amaker was brought in to rebuild a program, and for he did a decent job. Under Amaker the Wolverines had a combined record of 109-83. They made it to the NIT three times in his first four seasons, and they even won it in his fourth year as head coach.

The problem, of course, is that college basketball coaches don’t get paid to win the NIT; they get paid to make to into the NCAA tournament, where much like the NFL playoffs anything can happen.

In his final two years, Amaker’s teams didn’t even make it to the NIT let alone the big dance. He could never get them over the hump. Enter John Beilein. The Wolverines hired Beilein after letting Amaker go. The coaching change has since resulted in a much more consistent team who has made the NCAA tournament four of his first six seasons, and even making it to the final game last season–that, is real improvement.

It’s easy for teams to be competitive in the NFL. The talent gap isn’t that extreme between teams, and the phrase “any given Sunday” is, in fact, true every week in the NFL. The main problem is that for the decade under Matt Millen that phrase didn’t ring true. The Lions talent gap wasn’t anywhere near those of other teams, and it all came to a head at the end of the 2008 season when the team couldn’t even win a single game. Jim Schwartz and his regime have gotten compared to those under Millen, which is nowhere near the right barometer.

This is why I believe regardless of making the playoffs this year that Jim Schwartz should be let go. I’m not saying it will happen, but I am saying it should happen. I happen to believe that Schwartz is far nearer to Amaker than he is Beilein. I’ve been a Schwartz supporter in the past, even after the debacle in 2012. I preached the need for cohesion amongst the players and staff.  I preached Schwartz needing to get “his guys”. And I preached a need for consistency. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last five years it’s this: the only thing this team will do consistently is be inconsistent. From play to play, game to game, and year to year I’ve seen nothing but inconsistency.

I think one of my friends summed it up pretty well yesterday, saying, “Today, I saw the Detroit Lions game described as crazy, nuts, and insane. I’d like to add one more adjective to that list: typical.”



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12 Responses to “The Lions and Coaching Purgatory”

  1. adminLions says:

    I’ll add my two cents:
    I’ve said it before, Schwartz was the right man for the job when the team was 0-16. But he’s not the coach to get this team to the level the talent dictates it should be at. It’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist. The dentist can diagnose stuff and clean things up, but when you really need serious work, he turns you over to someone with more skill. That’s where the Lions are right now.

    • Freebird22 says:

      Excellent analogy. I’m convinced the Lions will never go anywhere with Schwartz as head coach.

      The Lions need someone more like Atlanta’s Mike Smith who can bring some discipline to all that talent.

  2. Matthew Malek says:

    I have come to te conclusion that you might be right after all. But I still can’t let Martin Mayhew off the hook. Still not a decent corner on the team and core all our talent ……still not a number 2 WR worth a damn to take the final edge off of any team. My believe is that Mayhew has consistently failed to get us complimentary talent to our stars. Chris Durham and Darius slay would not be playing anywhere else on the NFL. Look at what happens when the packers lose a WR. They have another stud waiting. We don’t. And it is something every team takes advantafe of every game.

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      Well that’s encouraging for me because I have only shared with you less than 1% of my thoughts on how to make the Lions better. I spend a tremendous amount of time at figuring out how to win at football and there’s a lot of things we can simply THINK better at that will manifest itself to an increased advantage to win. But when you get down to all the complex layers of running a football franchise under a logic-oriented system, then there’s tremendous upside that is beyond what anybody would ever thought was possible. I’ve described the ultimate upside in the past and repeatedly been told I was delusional though. Some people think my football ideas are insane. I just don’t care and am determined to out-think any other person’s football ideas to the best of my ability, and well I think I’m the best there is in that arena.

      Oh and not even 10 picks before Ryan Broyles was Alshon Jeffrey, did you see some of his latest catches? Not to say Broyles can’t do something later, but just interesting to note. Plus Lavonte David was drafted AFTER Broyles as well. I also hated on the Broyles pick because it didn’t make strategic sense to me. I was crazy in the eyes of some. Same when I dissed on the Titus Young and Jahvid Best picks. Obviously Best got a bad break, but it still wasn’t the right strategy play at the time.

      And looking at what other teams do wrong is just one other way to find ways to get better. There’s 31 other teams out there in the NFL making all kinds of mistakes too. I choose to learn from all 32 teams’ mistakes to enhance my strategy set. Nobody beats me in football strategy. I won’t tolerate it. I have to be better than everybody else. Because I can be. Logic shows me the path.

      • The Strategy Expert says:

        And yes I pretended that was for me, just had a lot more to say after this Chicago game starting to cramp out spot in the standings.

      • The Strategy Expert says:

        Brandon Marshall just gave a GREAT interview after the game about the effects of his program that not only works on the physical stuff, but the MENTAL stuff, and he talked about how that has helped Alshon Jeffrey to develop with an advantage to the MENTAL game that he Brandon Marshall didn’t get help with early on his career. Pretty interesting stuff to hear and think about.

      • Freebird22 says:

        I couldn’t believe it when the Lions took Titus Young over Torrey Smith. A big fast man is always better than a small fast man with the Panthers Steve Smith, Desean Jackson, and Wes Welker being among the few exceptions.

        I hope the Lions take a WR in Round 1 this year and I hope he’s not another smurf like Young or Broyles.

        • The Strategy Expert says:

          Yeah I have to agree. I had a very low rating on Titus Young myself, I never even met the guy and scouted him a lot better than the Lions. We do a very bad job at evaluating talent and making draft/FA/trade decisions. We just don’t know how to identify talent or good value moves. And they blow so many decisions with stuff that is absolutely mind boggling to me. I can understand how not every single draft pick will pan out, but the way they go about making their choices just is really frustrating sometimes because I think they are WAY off and too often.

          I just got done arguing today with people about Stafford and Joique Bell. Lions homers think Bell is a very special player and I think he’s quite overrated and I’m getting sick and tired of hearing people talk about Bell like he’s a superstar RB. But the main problem is when you have a guy like Stafford and he gets paid such an enormous amount of money, it just makes dealing with every other position more difficult.

          The guy I was arguing with today see’s Stafford as a huge value, but I see him as not only NOT a huge value, but a NEGATIVE value. He is actually in the MINUSES based on the fuel or pay rate we exhaust to use him. So some people put him at the top of most valuable QBs, but he’s so far away from the top and not even on the page.

          You can’t make a positive asset out of a negative liability, that’s not how BUSINESS works, and certainly NOT how FOOTBALL works either!

  3. The Strategy Expert says:

    He just doesn’t have the right strategy people to help him in the areas that he is weak. He could have been a great choice, but he didn’t select the right support staff to help him succeed and he needs to be held accountable to that. This team could have been 13-0 if we had a better GM and shored up all the areas that we make huge value mistakes. We are just about the most disappointing team in the league, if it weren’t for a few other teams who have found incredibly inventive ways to take big steps backwards. We should have exploited our opportunities instead of setting them ablaze through incompetence and ignorance.

    • Duane says:

      Disagree! We could have been 12 – 1 ………..Green Bay/Aaron Rogers beat us 22 – 9.

      • The Strategy Expert says:

        Actually I made another post on another site that said we SHOULD be 13-0 or 12-1 at the worst, and in the post I cited the Eagles as the top game that was a legit competitor effort. I really thought the Packers were pretty lousy in that game and I still think that should have been a win. The Eagles game was just a full on abortion for that 2nd half, so I’ll give them credit for bringing legit competition, but I don’t think the Packers did enough in that game.

        But still we lost SIX games, not 0, not 1, and not 2. SIX is going out of our way to fail in embarrassing ways.

        Also I just literally saw a headline that is on CBS Sportsline’s front page as the top article right now titled: GIVE DAVID HIS DUE. That’s talking about Lavonte David who I coincidentally just recently mentioned that COULD have easily been a Detroit Lion instead of Broyles. So here’s a link since they asked me to give him his due, and he earned it, so here’s the story:

        • The Strategy Expert says:

          As good news though, I have watched a lot of Cowboy games this year and I can tell you that Ernie Sims is screwing up their entire Defense for them just like he did for us. And Dallas has no idea that he’s doing it, that’s how bad and clueless they are!

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