Detroit Lions: 5 Reasons Extending Jim Schwartz Was a Brilliant Move
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During the last decade of Detroit Lions football, head coaches had signed new contracts after three years because the previous coach had been fired.
Jim Schwartz just signed a contract after three years because the previous coach (Schwartz himself) was very, very good.
It's still early, but it's difficult to criticize any part of this move. Schwartz has improved the team steadily and vastly over his first three years, and there is no sign of dysfunction in the locker room.
Quite the opposite, Schwartz's players (including former players turned current players) seem to love the man.
The timing of this move is a little dubious, what with the Lions' rash of offseason arrests. However, those issues have a minimal amount to do with Schwartz himself, especially during the offseason when he has irregular contact with his players.
Regardless of any criticism directed at Schwartz for the collection of on- and off-field events collectively known as "The Lions' Discipline Issues," there is no reason for Detroit to not extend the contract of the first Lions coach to apparently know what he's doing since Wayne Fontes (and that's arguable).
I'll even argue that the timing of the move, however questionable, actually makes sense as well. Read on, and I'll break it down.
Rewarding Measurable Success
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You can run all the numbers, gather all the player testimonials and all the blame deflections you want.
Ultimately, a coach's reputation is grounded in one thing: Did his team win games with him at the helm?
It took three offseasons for Schwartz and his front office to assemble the players they wanted (or, more specifically, to get rid of all the players they didn't want). And each year, the roster got closer to Schwartz's designs, and the Lions got better.
The fact is, the Lions went more than a decade with neither a winning record nor a playoff berth. Schwartz took over arguably the worst team in NFL history and brought them both by the end of Year 3.
If that alone isn't enough for you to justify keeping the guy on board, it might be time to revisit those high expectations.
Consistency in All Phases
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Despite football being a team game, we tend to single people out when we want to make a point.
The Lions are winning because of Jim Schwartz. Martin Mayhew has done a great job in the draft. Gunther Cunningham needs to do a better job with the defense.
Sounds good in print.
In reality, what makes football such a great game is that there are way too many moving parts to pin anything on one person, even coaches.
That's why the Lions extended the contracts of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, defensive coordinator Cunningham and even special teams coordinator Danny Crossman before getting to work on Schwartz's.
The Lions weren't just making a move to retain the coach—they were making a move to retain consistency. There would have been no point at all in re-signing the coordinators if they weren't going to keep the head coach.
Now the Lions have players on the team with three years under the same set of coaches. In training camp, there will be no installing of the playbook—it's going to be all drilling and fine-tuning.
As in, the kind of stuff that makes players better each year.
Solidarity in a Rocky Offseason
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I admit that, while I never questioned the wisdom (or the inevitability) of Schwartz's contract extension, I was initially bewildered by the timing.
At first, it appeared to the naked eye that the Lions were rewarding Schwartz for the Lions' offseason troubles, or at least in spite of it.
But there's another side to that argument. After all, Schwartz's contract wouldn't have been up until 2013, so the Lions could have announced the extension anytime they wanted to.
In other words, they announced this extension exactly when they wanted to.
It's a simple matter of control, both in the locker room and in the media.
With this contract extension, Schwartz has the job security to handle the player arrest situations the way he wants, and the players know he's there to stay for as long as they are, at least.
On the other side of things, nobody in the media with any sense is going to suggest Schwartz be fired for the ill-advised actions of a handful of his players. The front office has already put their stamp on what they think of that idea, and thus they have controlled at least part of the content of that discussion; nobody is going to be asking about Schwartz's job security after a tough loss this season.
It's not just front-office management, it's media management, and it's another skill the Lions appear to have shown this offseason.
Catch Him Before His Best Season Yet
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The changes the Lions have made to the roster this season are incredibly subtle compared to previous seasons. The players on the roster also are extremely young and developing, which means there are very good odds that the Lions take a step forward, not back, in 2012.
I don't know what the terms of Schwartz's contract are—nobody does—other than that it is a "multi-year extension." But whatever the terms, it seems fair to assume that they would become increasingly favorable to the coach as the team continues to have success.
I mean, Schwartz certainly got paid a reasonable sum for being at the helm of one of the more impressive turnaround jobs in NFL history. But what if he were to add "second playoff win of the Super Bowl era" to his resume, as he likely will in the next year or two?
That might have added another zero to that contract's bottom line.
The Lions got this done at the right time, because the Lions are now set up for long-term success. Schwartz is set to oversee what he built for a price the team paid when it was still a work in progress.
Coaches Don't Do Contract Disputes
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Jim Schwartz was about to head into training camp in the final year of his contract.
Unless the front office has some reason to doubt the coach's performance, that doesn't happen. When do you hear about "free-agent" coaches who played out their contracts and are now looking for a new team? Or coaching contract holdouts?
Coaches who perform well don't typically coach in the final years of contracts. If they perform well, they get contract extensions. The team gets their guy running the ship, and the coach gets peace of mind.
That is not to say he gets job security, though. If coaches aren't performing well, they don't get released at the ends of their contracts—they get fired.
Schwartz wasn't going to be let go after this year, and he certainly wasn't going to be fired. So, a contract extension was really the only thing that made any sense at all.
Besides, if the Lions aren't happy with Schwartz's performance after two more years, they'll just fire him anyway, regardless of how many years his extension was for.
That's the cold-natured beast that is the NFL.