Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
If that holds true, coming away from the 2008 NFL season, the Lions had nothing. But the Lions do have something. They now have hope, thanks to new Head Coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions' new general manager Martin Mayhew.
Yeah I said it, thank you Lions GM, Mr. Mayhew!
Let’s take a look at some of the moves made since Mayhew took over. Well, in order to take over, Millen had to be removed—FINALLY. Roy Williams was shipped to the Cowboys in exchange for some much needed draft picks. I must add that Roy produced nothing since his introduction as a Cowboy.
They took a shot on Daunte Culpepper
OK so this wasn’t the greatest move, but it wasn’t necessarily a failure either. They can let him go this off-season if they decide on a better option. Also Daunte didn’t have adequate time to prove himself or learn the system. He was basically starting the week after his signing, while at times showing flashes of his old self.
Marinelli was let go after a dismal 0-16 season
Thanks, by the way, Mr. Marinelli, for that win-less season. They are now set up perfectly for rebuilding. Thank goodness you were not good enough to get them to win a single game or two. They may have blown the opportunity to get this coveted number one pick overall.
Enter Jimmy Schwartz
Jim, a former long-time defensive coordinator will bring added focus to a much maligned defense. Jim is currently shopping for the right assistants to put in place, to accompany him on this journey toward rebuilding. He already has one—my man Gunther!
Gunther Cunningham has been added to the coaching staff
While the veteran defensive coordinator initially created controversy among Lions fans, this could be a very wise choice for all parties affected. The controversy was largely due to the fact that KC, his former employer, finished just above the Lions in team defense in 2008. But what they all must realize is that this was not the real Gunther leading the KC defense of late.
Cunningham had this to say of his struggles with KC and his relationship with head coach, Herm Edwards:
“Everybody knows Herm is his own guy and has his thoughts on how to play defense, and I’m a volatile, blitz coach. The most important thing in coaching is to be loyal to your head coach. Herm wanted to go down this road, and I was going to coach as hard for him as I could. We didn’t always agree, but we always respected each other.”
“The success he had with that defense coaching in Tampa, you can’t argue with that. He has good ideas. We learned a lot from each other. We felt what we did was the right way to go, and I’ll never say that it wasn’t.”
“You have to be comfortable with what the head coach feels the team should do. But us playing two-deep zone and doing that without Jared Allen and without experienced players always makes for a long day at the office.”
“But was the scheme wrong? I won’t say that, but it was difficult to get it done with the cards we were dealt. Would a blitz scheme the way I used to coach have made any difference? I could sit here and say it would have, but that’s being a Monday-morning quarterback.”
Take away from this that Gunther is loyal, respectful to authority, and takes accountability. Also, take the fact that he will steer the Lions away from the Tampa 2 scheme, since he and Schwartz are traditionally aggressive 4-3 guys.
Mark my words, the defense will improve in 2009.
The biggest thing to learn from this tandem is the great chemistry that the two have built with one another.
About Schwartz, and the decision to leave KC, Cunningham had this to say:
“I wanted to see this through (with the Chiefs). But something like this with Jimmy Schwartz doesn’t come along every day. I think the world of him. He’s going to be successful, and he wanted me to come with him. That’s one of the things you can’t turn down.”
“He’s like a son to me,” said Cunningham. “That’s why I’m going. I told him I didn’t need to go up there (to decide). I’m working with Jim, and that’s all that mattered to me.”
Mr. Cunningham has already been reviewing Lions’ footage from the ’08 season and has taken notice of a few players—most notably, Ernie Sims and Cliff Avril.
"Well, I know one thing. I liked Avril when he came out," Cunningham said. "I thought he was a special athlete (with) the ability to rush the passer. He's undersized, but you have to put him in the right position."
"I don't think it's any different than what the Pittsburgh Steelers did with (NFL defensive player of the year James) Harrison. He kind of bounced around there, got a couple sacks a year and (Steelers defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau did a great job of putting him in a place where he could use that."
"And when you look at Sims, when he came out, I thought he was a human dynamo at the time. Well, you have to make sure you protect guys like that so they can make plays."
The weeks and months ahead should provide some decent headlines and interesting information as we watch this whole thing unfold. There are several more tough decisions to come—from finalizing the coaching staff to selecting draft picks. Also, the team must make some additions via free agency.
However it shakes out, it should be fun to watch. Expectations are at an all-time low.
Can the Lions turn it around as quickly as the Dolphins?
Maybe, but there’s no guarantee; but in borrowing the catch phrase from the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, 2009 could be the Lions’ chance to “Shock the World”—this time in a positive sense.