Bill Belichick is all the rage. Mike McCarthy lives on.
The Lions, the team that can’t shoot straight and hasn’t since 1957, is once again zigging when the league’s winners are zagging.
They are a team wound tight, and it all starts with their coach.
Lombardi and Ditka, two larger-than-life coaches, were godfathers of their time. There was no coach in the NFL that could evade the shadow cast by Lombardi in the 1960s, a decade he and his Green Bay Packers owned.
“What the HELL is going on out there?” Lombardi bellows even today from the sidelines, his immortal self still pumped through our televisions thanks to NFL Films. “You’re supposed to be a helluva defensive team! Didn’t look like it to me! Eighty yards down the field, just like that!”
“Nobody’s tackling out there! Everybody’s grabbing. NOBODY tackling. Grab, grab, grab!”
It’s forever iconic—Lombardi on the sidelines, in his winter coat and hat, gap-toothed and angry as his defense jogs off after surrendering a long scoring drive. Wanna bet that the Packers won the game anyway?
Ditka, aka Iron Mike, is also forever captured on celluloid and stamped on our consciousness. Chomping on his gum, Ditka gets in the faces of Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, Jim McMahon and at whoever else Iron Mike wants to rattle his saber.
Is Jim Schwartz the right coach to take the Lions to the next level?
Like Lombardi in the ‘60s, Ditka was the coach with the big shadow in the 1980s. His Bears only won one Super Bowl in the decade, but his teams were always contenders and his 1985 squad might be among the Top 5 teams in NFL history.
Lombardi and Ditka were coaches wound tight at a time when that worked. They were rah-rah and fiery and the Knute Rocknes of their time, when Knute Rockne was still relevant even in death.
That was then.
Having a head coach that is a loose cannon isn’t what works in today’s NFL.
Belichick, the New England Patriots coach since 2000, would come in last in a Mister Congeniality Contest. He has the personality of mold. You’ll find better quotes from a frog.
McCarthy, today’s Packers coach, is the anti-Lombardi. McCarthy doesn’t toss his rolled up play sheet to the ground. He doesn’t bark. He hasn’t uttered any iconic quotes and never will. Whereas Lombardi looked like a football coach, McCarthy could be your next door neighbor who borrows your lawn mower. Probably even the one who loans you his.
Boring works in today’s NFL. Staid is the way. A general calm, from top to bottom, is what today’s winning franchises exude.
Today’s winners don’t bitch about not getting respect, especially when none is deserved.
The Lions are a team wound tight, in a freefall from their brief stay at respectability. If you want to finger point, you can skip the 53 guys in uniform and zero in on their coach, Jim Schwartz.
This is a guy who can’t even get through a post-game handshake without a hockey game breaking out.
I’ve been a supporter of Schwartz’s, and with good reason. He took a team from the abyss of 0-16 and gradually and steadily improved them, going from two wins in his first season to six in his second to 10 (and a playoff berth) in his third.
But going 2-14 and 6-10 and 10-6 (plus a first round playoff knockout) is one thing. Being consistently good and being spoken of in annual Super Bowl contender discussions is quite another.
Teams like the Patriots, Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens et al, teams who always seem to have 10+ wins every year and show up annually to the NFL playoff party, are franchises rooted in calm and which have cool heads from top to bottom.
They don’t act impetuously. Their players don’t whine to the media, or run afoul of the law or the league’s rules. Their coaches don’t act like raving lunatics.
If the Lions are going to be more than occasional (read: flukey) playoff participants, they have to calm the heck down.
They have to stop stewing about lack of respect, as center Dominic Raiola did before last Sunday’s game against the Packers. The (then) 4-5 Lions, Raiola felt, weren’t getting any love from national media websites who were dismissing his team’s playoff chances. He dared to compare the Lions to the also 4-5 New Orleans Saints.
“But then the Saints are 4-5 and they’re right in the hunt,” Raiola told the Detroit Free Press. “How the (bleep) does that work out? I don’t know. Whatever. We’re 4-5, too. So they’re basically writing us off.”
The Saints won the Super Bowl three years ago. They have been winners for several years running. The Lions have one playoff win in 55 years. And still Raiola wonders why the Saints’ 4-5 isn’t treated the same as the Lions’ 4-5.
When was the last time you heard a player from the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Ravens et al complain about a lack of respect?
Raiola was at it again earlier this week, after the Lions imploded against the Packers and before the 9-1 Houston Texans came to town for the annual Thanksgiving Day game. He was speaking about Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who is having a remarkable season.
“Bring it,” Raiola dared Watt through the media.
So Watt brung it, to the tune of three sacks, several quarterback hurries, five tackles and a couple of batted down passes. And the Lions lost.
The Lions, against the Texans, let another game slip away largely because of a gaffe committed by their head coach that was borderline incompetent.
Schwartz tried to challenge a touchdown scored by Houston running back Justin Forsett, an 81-yard gallop that should have been nullified by virtue of the fact that Forsett was clearly down according to TV cameras, yet the officials’ whistles didn’t blow. A booth review, automatic on all scoring plays, surely would have called the touchdown back.
But Schwartz, acting as impulsively and with the same lack of discipline and brains that his team frequently shows, whipped out his red challenge flag and slammed it into the Ford Field turf, a move as illegal as going through a red light, according to the NFL rule book, which states that attempts to challenge a touchdown play are as against the rules as they are unnecessary.
Now, you can say that the rule is silly. You can say that it would be nice if the referee, Walt Coleman, would have sidled up to Schwartz and said, “Jim, put the flag away. The guys in the booth will take a look at it.”
But Schwartz should know the rules. Of all the boneheaded moves the Lions (and their coaches) have made over the years, Schwartz’s blunder might be at the top of the list. It’s right up there with Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind and Bobby Ross going for two.
“I was just so mad, I had the flag out before (Forsett) got to the end zone,” Schwartz told the media after the game.
The Lions are undisciplined, mouthy and in a freefall.
Just like their coach.