Detroit Lions: Surprising List of Great Coaches That Got Away from the Lions
We are all familiar with the lack of head coaching talent that has patrolled the Detroit Lions sideline for several decades. If you are not, check out Nick Kostora’s article about the “best” coaches from teams past.
If you do not have the time, here is the Cliffs Notes version—they all sucked.
From Harry Gilmer and Monte Clark right up through the Millen era, the quality grade of head coaches for the Detroit Lions is similar to the beef utilized by a popular Mexican food chain that had a chihuahua for a spokesdog—Grade D, suitable for human consumption.
Yo quiero Imitrex.
But you may be surprised by the quality of coaches that flew under the Lions’ radar and were allowed to sneak out the back door and go on to very successful careers after their time in the Motor City.
Following is a list of coaches that once wore the Lions logo, but moved on to bigger and better things in the NFL, leaving the Detroit franchise a distant memory.
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Joe Bugel was a member of the Lions’ coaching staff from 1975-76. He always was and always will be an offensive line coach.
He is credited with developing the Washington Redskins dominant front five of the '80s, the unit known as “The Hogs” and Joe was glossed affectionately as “Boss Hog.”
He may not have been the best head coach, but he is commonly referred to as the best offensive line coach in NFL history, and there are several Lion teams from the past that would have benefited from his knowledge and passion.
George Rose/Getty Images
The man in black got his start in the NFL as a special teams/defensive assistant for Detroit from 1974-76.
Glanville led the Houston Oilers in their heyday of the '80s when they transformed the Houston Astrodome into the “House of Pain.”
But this throwback was not leaving tickets for Everlast and his Irish crew, rather Elvis Presley was the musician who was always left two tickets by Glanville.
Alas, the King never showed as Glanville led the Oilers to three playoff appearances in four years as the big dawg on the sideline.
Amassing a career head coaching record of 63-73, he will not be considered for Canton, but his biggest coaching gaff occurred during his tenure as head coach in Atlanta when he refused to start a youngster from Southern Mississippi, Brett Favre.
Glanville orchestrated the trade of Favre to the Green Bay Packers in 1992, after Favre had only thrown four passes for the Falcons in his rookie year, for running back John Stephens and the rest, as they say, is history.
Interesting sidebar, both he and Steve Mariucci are probably the most famous Northern Michigan football alumni as Glanville was a linebacker for the Wildcats from 1961-64.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Tom Moore is living proof greatness is part ability and part timing.
Starting his professional coaching career with the New York Stars of the World Football League back in 1974, Moore bounced back to the collegiate ranks and then back to “the show” with the Steelers and Vikings before landing in Detroit as the offensive coordinator in 1994.
His offense scheme allowed Scott Mitchell to post the previous franchise record of 4,338 yards passing in 1995. Additionally, Herman Moore’s 123 receptions for 1,686 yards, which is still the team-best, was recorded in 1995.
Moore left in 1996 for New Orleans and then made the career decision of a lifetime as he signed on to call plays for some rookie named Manning.
Yes, the greatest gift any OC could ask for was received by Moore when he began his 11-year sabbatical with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
Ok, maybe it was not a vacation early on, but as the years went by, Peyton became more self-sufficient and rewarded Moore and the Colts for all their efforts with a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
Did Peyton make Moore or did Moore have something to do with the evolution of Manning? It is probably a little of both, but it is certain Moore is one of the best coaches to improve their coaching status after leaving Detroit.
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
Chuck Knox was an offensive line coach for the Lions from 1967-72. Prior to that, he was the line coach for the NY Jets and was an instrumental piece in recruiting Joe Namath to the American Football League and left the J-E-T-S one year too soon as Namath led the red-headed stepchild squad to victory in Super Bowl III in 1968.
He ended his career in the great Northwest as he led the Seattle Seahawks to their first AFC West title in 1988.
The first coach to win division titles in three different divisions and the Lions let him get away.
Gary Williams/Getty Images
One of the greatest head coaches to never get a Super Bowl ring is Marty Schottenheimer.
His time with Detroit was brief as he was the linebackers coach for the Lions from 1978-79.
He then moved on to Cleveland in 1980 as the defensive coordinator and finally got the head coaching gig for the Browns in 1984.
With a career head coaching record of 205-139-1, “Schotz” won wherever he went.
He took the Cleveland Browns to the AFC Championship twice but suffered crushing loses in both as John Elway and the Broncos dropped “The Drive” and “The Fumble” on Marty and the city of Cleveland in consecutive years.
He made it back to the AFC Championship with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1993 season, but were no match for the Buffalo Bills.
The one spot where Marty did not post a winning record was Washington where he was 8-8 in his first season and was promptly fired by Redskins owner Dan Snyder for the ol’ ball coach Steve Spurrier. Another spectacular move by the owner blinded by the the draw of high-profile names.
Schottenheimer got his last shot at NFL glory with the San Diego Chargers and won the AFC West and was named AP NFL Coach of the Year in 2004. He won the AFC West again in 2006 with a 14-2 record, but lost to eventual AFC Champion New England in the divisional round.
Marty was a tremendous coach that never attained the ultimate prize but would have been a tremendous upgrade from the schleps that patrolled the Lions’ sideline during the same era.
Mark Mainz/Getty Images
The consensus Best-Coach in the NFL today is Bill Belichick and at one point, his home games were played at the Pontiac Silverdome.
The three-time AP NFL Coach of the Year was an assistant special teams coach in 1976 and wide receivers/tight end coach in 1977 for Mr. Ford’s franchise.
He then moved on to become the most famous branch of the Bill Parcell’s coaching tree and earned two Super Bowl rings coaching alongside the Big Tuna for the New York Giants.
He had a mediocre four-year stop in Cleveland, finishing 36-44, but had one playoff win which, as we all know, equals the playoff total for Detroit over the last 55 years.
Licking his wounds, Belichick got back on board the Parcells train as an assistant head coach that led him to New England and then New York before the Patriots gave the Jets a first round pick in 2000 to hire Belichick back from Gang Green.
Belichick rolled the dice when he stuck with a young Tom Brady after Drew Bledsoe returned from injury in 2001 and Brady proved Belichick a QB oracle as together they have amassed a record of 134-42 with three Super Bowl ring fittings since 2001.
That’s 10 straight years of winning football and doing some quick math that would put them approximately three Super Bowl wins ahead of the Lions.
Five Super Bowl rings, five AFC Championships and a career head coaching record of 192-104-0 make Bill Belichick one of the greatest coaches that the Lions let slip through their paws.
It is painful to think the “Patriot Way” could have been referred to as the “Lion Way.”
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Hard to believe the Godfather of professional football in South Beach was once part of the Lions organization.
The head coach with the most NFL victories, 357, broke into the NFL with the Lions and was the defensive coordinator from 1960-62.
He then famously moved on to the Baltimore Colts and became the youngest head coach of the time at only 33 years of age and lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the Jets.
But as we all know, he rebounded nicely and won two Super Bowls as the head coach of the Dolphins and pops champagne annually as the only head coach to have a perfect 17-0 season in 1973.
The biggest fish that escaped the Detroit Lions’ coaching net was without question Don Shula. It is disheartening to think how the history books might look differently if Detroit could have kept Shula in Honolulu Blue but alas, we will never know.
We can take solace in the fact that he did bring his steakhouse to Metro Detroit so all was not lost, right?