Jim Schwartz' Most Questionable Coaching Decisions for Detroit Lions
Jim Schwartz has brought two things to the Detroit Lions since 2009: talent and controversy.
Since taking over as head coach of an 0-16 team in 2009, Schwartz has steadily improved the quality of players on the team, installed effective schemes on both sides of the ball, eliminated the much-discussed "culture of losing," taken the team to the playoffs and gotten himself second-guessed a bunch of times in the process.
This is pretty much standard procedure for any successful head coach. Draft well, build well, coach well, win games, make playoffs, answer questions about potential mistakes.
Schwartz is a good coach, but he has made mistakes like any other coach. When you make hundreds of decisions a day, that's bound to happen. But like clockwork, I am here to point out some of the bigger coaching gaffes in Schwartz's young head-coaching career.
Of course, I'm not talking about draft picks, free-agent signings or other personnel moves. Schwartz certainly had a hand in those, but those weren't strictly his decisions, and they weren't coaching decisions.
Schwartz's coaching decisions are about what he does with the guys he has and the situations he has in games.
But because Schwartz is a quality head coach, you'll notice two things right away: There aren't very many things to complain about, and the stuff there is to complain about isn't that bad.
After all, Schwartz never took the wind in overtime.
Going for It vs. Philadephia, 9/19/2010
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Far be it from me to criticize a coach for going for it on fourth down against a team that has been tough to stop on offense.
Except maybe this time.
See, it isn't just that the Lions didn't convert on 4th-and-1. It's that they ran the exact same play that failed on 3rd-and-1: Jahvid Best, straight up the middle. It's also that they were in field-goal range and lost that game by 3 points.
Now, I give Schwartz a pass or two here. This was Best's second game as a rookie, he looked like an unstoppable machine at the time, he was fully healthy, and the inability of anyone on the team to execute a power-run scheme was not yet as glaringly obvious then as it is now.
In other words, there wasn't as much precedent for the imminent failure of that play.
That said, this is one of those funny things about criticizing coaching decisions (especially play calls). This is a bad decision because it failed. Had Best broken through and picked up the first down, it would have been "gutsy."
Instead, it invoked memories of the Marinelli era in which every short-yardage situation consisted of the entire offensive line and ball-carrier simply falling down a yard short of the line of scrimmage.
Cutting Kevin Smith, Preseason 2011
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I know I said no personnel moves, but this one is a little different.
Smith was a restricted free agent and could have been tendered for relatively cheap, but the Lions decided instead to part ways with him entirely.
Well, that was the intention, anyway. They even drafted Mikel Leshoure to take his place (and then some).
Then the Lions lost their top three running backs, and with nobody else to turn to, they give Smith a call and asked him to come back.
Smith lit it up for a couple of games before suffering another injury, but he played through it and finished the season in relatively solid fashion, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
So I guess it all worked out...except what if Smith wasn't available? Schwartz released him with no tender whatsoever. Injury-laden or not, he was 24 years old and rushed for 976 yards in his rookie season, despite splitting carries and playing for an 0-16 team.
It was sheer luck that they were able to grab him off his couch after half of the 2011 season, and now he seems poised to play an important bench role in 2012.
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Admittedly, this wasn't so much a "decision" as a "reaction."
And I'm not really putting the onus for this thing on Schwartz alone. Jim Harbaugh knew what he did, and he had a smug grin and explanation in the press conference to prove it.
But it's foolish to put the "blame" for this incident on either guy, and that's not what I'm trying to do. Both guys acted like children in some regard. What I'm trying to do is point out that Schwartz sent the wrong message to his guys with this incident.
One of the main messages messages sent by Schwartz's actions was, "Be tough, don't let anyone push you around," which is good football advice. I can certainly see that.
However, he also said, "Hey guys, if you feel like somebody did something that you don't like, feel free to go after them—even after the play is over."
That's not to say that the Lions' issues with discipline started there, but they certainly didn't get better afterwards.
The "Lose Your Cool" Timeout vs. Packers, 1/1/12
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Speaking of Schwartz completely blowing his top, remember the last game of the 2011 regular season—the one that will likely be known as the "Matt Flynn Game?"
Remember how many blown calls there were in that game? Enough for Schwartz to be out of challenges in the second quarter.
But because Schwartz lost one of those challenges on a "no indisputable evidence to overturn the call" play, there was nothing he could do on a would-be touchdown pass to Titus Young in which there was indisputable evidence to overturn the call in the Lions' favor.
Since it was not ruled a scoring play, there was no automatic review. And because Schwartz had used both challenges and lost one, he couldn't challenge the call.
And so there he was, with no more recourse against a bad call than a baseball manager.
So like a baseball manager, Schwartz called a timeout to yell at the refs, knowing there was nothing that could be done about it.
It was, frankly, a selfish move on his part.
Timeouts in baseball are unlimited. In football, they are like precious gems. The difference between having timeouts and not having them changes the entire complexion of the game at times.
Granted, it was a first-half timeout, and it didn't really come into play later in the game. But this is a matter of principle. Time management is one of the most important skills for an NFL head coach, and that includes the wise use of timeouts.
Venting frustration to no apparent benefit is not a wise use of timeouts, even if the (ultimately futile) argument is justified.
No Discipline Hammer
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Schwartz is my favorite Lions coach of my lifetime. Don't let any of these relatively minor criticisms take away from that.
I have the utmost respect for the degree of difficulty Schwartz faced with this job and the success he has had. And if you're one who believes Schwartz's success is overblown, here's something to think about.
Schwartz was one of nine rookie head coaches hired in 2009.
Only two—Schwartz and Rex Ryan—still have their jobs, and Ryan might be on shaky footing pending the results of this season. All of them except Schwartz were hired by teams that won a game in 2008.
So Schwartz is truly great, and that's why I really only have one major gripe. Why does he seem incapable of disciplining his players?
I mean, Schwartz says all the right things. He knows what his guys are doing is unacceptable, and he insists the issues are being dealt with internally.
But then his guys come out and do some variation of the same thing the next week, and we all say, "You didn't actually deal with it at all, did you?"
The only time there was ever any evidence of recourse for a lack of discipline is when Schwartz benched Gosder Cherilus after an awful post-play personal foul that basically gave the Tampa Bay Bucs a chance to win when there shouldn't have been.
I get that Schwartz wants to keep the toughness and lose the dumb mistakes, but he has both right now. If he needs to overcorrect a bit to get rid of the DUIs/suspensions/15-yard penalties, so be it.
A lack of toughness is not what threatens to sink this team in 2012.