The conclusion of the 2011 NFC North Champion season will provide unfamiliar reliability for the Lions heading into 2012. For the first time since Wayne Fontes, the Detroit Lions will have retained their head coach for more than three consecutive seasons.
Not all coaches are great talent evaluators, and vice versa. The great coaches can do both. As part of Bill Belichick’s “special group,” Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has established himself as one of the greatest defensive minds of the National Football League today. A product of the NFL’s strongest coaching tree, Schwartz has been primed for success.
His defensive prowess didn’t come to mind overnight. In fact in addition to his time as a Georgetown Hoya linebacker, teams have been “using the Schwartz” since the beginning of his coaching career as a graduate assistant linebackers coach at Maryland University back in ‘89.
Amazingly, in only four college football seasons, Jim Schwartz prepared himself for the NFL. In ’93, he was hired into the Cleveland Browns organization by then head coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick saw something in Schwartz and took him under his wing. As personnel scout under Belichick, Schwartz was exposed to some of the most significant teachings of the modern era.
In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell announced that he would relocate the team to Baltimore and the team would be renamed the Baltimore Ravens. Displeased with the team's direction under Modell, Belichick resigned following the ’95 season and decided to accept the head coaching position with the New England Patriots.
Through Belichick’s guidance, Schwartz had prepared himself for an expanded role in Baltimore. New Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda and defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis would promote Schwartz to the head of defensive quality control position.
Jim’s first order of business predicated on his new position was the 1996 NFL Draft, and he didn’t fail to amaze. Schwartz’s decision was easy. Prior to the move from Cleveland to Baltimore, Schwartz strongly recommended the Browns select Miami linebacker Ray Lewis in the upcoming ’96 draft, even though some scouts stated that he was too small to be a middle or inside linebacker.
In scouting the ’96 Draft class, Schwartz wrote "Ray Lewis is the most dynamic leader of the group. This guy drips with charisma. He is extremely competitive and constantly challenges other players to games, then he'll keep playing 'til he wins.''
As Baltimore’s head of defensive quality control, Schwartz insisted they pull the trigger on Lewis. With the Ravens first defensive pick of the 1996 NFL Draft, the Ravens would draft a talent that would go on to revolutionize the middle linebacker position.
A decision for the Baltimore Ravens that would go on to produce an MVP Super Bowl winning performance, 12 Pro Bowl selections and two AP Defensive Player of The Year Selections. Ray Lewis will retire one day as the greatest linebacker to ever play the game and is a virtual guarantee for a bust in Canton.
For Baltimore, the Schwartz draft era produced the 2000 Super Bowl Winning defensive nucleus of Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper and Duane Starks.
In ’99, Schwartz would accept the same defensive quality control position with the Tennessee Titans under then coach Jeff Fisher. In his first draft with the organization, Schwartz worked extensively in scouting Jevon Kearse. With the 16th pick of the first round, Tennessee selected the Florida standout.
Kearse went on to easily nab NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors while finishing a close second to Warren Sapp as the NFL’s AP Defensive Player of The Year. His rookie numbers included a modern NFL rookie record and ’99 AFC best 14.5 sacks, and he forced eight fumbles, which also led the NFL.
The ’99 Tennessee Titans season was significant in Schwartz’s growth for two reasons. It was indicative of his ability to evaluate talent, and it provided rare Super Bowl experience lost on some NFL coaches.
Though the Titans went on to lose Super Bowl XXXIV to the St. Lous Rams, Tennesse’s defense was commended for holding Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk to a just over two yards per rushing attempt.
The 2001 season marked the “arrival” of Jim Schwartz. In being named the Titans defensive coordinator, he now had executive control over the defense. It was also the first season that Schwartz would work with current Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
Although Schwartz would experience success in serving as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator from 2001-2008, he interviewed for the San Francisco 49ers head coaching position in 2005, finishing a close second to Mike Nolan.
Tennessee Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz fielded numerous NFL top 15 total defensive units. Utilizing his strong evaluative abilities, he drafted the likes of Albert Haynesworth, Keith Bullock, Courtland Finnegan, Stephen Tulloch and Michael Griffen.
Immediately after his contract expired following the 2008 season, demand began to soar for Schwartz’s services. With interest at an all time high, Schwartz fielded head coaching interviews from Atlanta, Miami, Washington and Detroit. Teams left interviews impressed with Schwartz's intelligence, coaching philosophy and communication skills.
Firing Rod Marinelli following a 0-16 regular season, the Detroit Lions seemed to have the inside track in pursuit of the former Tennessee defensive coordinator. Only Schwartz and Miami Dolphins assistant coach Todd Bowles were invited back for a second interview. Ultimately, backed by Team President Tom Lewand and General Manager Martin Mayhew, it was Schwartz that Owner William Clay Ford decided to go with.
Follow Schwartz’s hire, President Tom Leywand prepared a statement reading "After an extensive search that included several highly-qualified coaches, we are thrilled that Jim Schwartz will become our team's head coach. General Manager Martin Mayhew and I believe that Jim's qualifications and vision will lead this organization on the field toward our goal of becoming a championship football team."
When asked if there were any concerns about joining a Lions team that went 0-16 in the previous year, Schwartz said "I don't shy away from a challenge, and I think that it's important in the NFL to have that kind of attitude on yearly basis.”
Since his arrival in 2009, Schwartz has traded for talents Chris Houston, Lawrence Jackson, Corey Williams, Ko Simpson and Alphonso Smith. He has vigorously pursued and signed the likes of Kyle Vandenbosch through free agency and invested in handpicked draft selections Louis Delmas, Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy, Zack Follete, Amari Spievey and Nick Fairley. It’s clear that in focusing on the defensive front, Schwartz intends on turning Detroit into a defensive juggernaut.
In 2010, Schwartz led Detroit to one of its most promising seasons in years, which included two NFC North divisional victories. The Lions closed the season with a four game win streak, highlighted by a Week 14 victory over eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
More importantly, 2010 brought an end to the NFL record 26 game losing streak.
Schwartz said of the 2010 regular season “I’m never proud of a 6-10 season, but encouraged. I was encouraged that we learned from situations. When they came again, we learned how to deal with them. Game in and game out, we were competitive. It shows how close we can be.”
Schwartz’s attitude has not only changed the mentality in the Detroit Lions locker room, but it’s completely altered the general perception of the team. In 2010, opponents and analysts alike were forced to take notice of the progress made in Detroit.
As a result, on October 10, 2011, Jim Schwartz will walk his team onto Ford Field for Detroit’s first Monday Night Football game in over a decade.
The Lions have even become the chic choice to win the Super Bowl in 2011.
It’s evident that expectations are at an all time high in Detroit, but there are no expectations greater than that of Schwartz for his players. In 2011, Schwartz’s expectations are directly associated with an NFC North Championship and a strong playoff push. Schwartz believes that the 2009 and 2010 seasons have mentally and physically prepared his players for success.
In entering the third year of a four year contract, the 2011 season will be significant for Jim Schwartz. This is the last year of preparation before heading into the final year of his contract. If Detroit is successful in 2011, I believe that Detroit brass will extend Schwartz to a contract similar to that of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh that will run through the 2014 season.
We will look back on the Schwartz era as the moment in which the Detroit Lions returned to relevance.
It’s easy to criticize a man given a hammer expected to build a city, but Jim Schwartz embraces criticism. He has made a career out of conquering criticism and overcoming obstacles.
In 1893, philosopher Elbert Hubbard said “to avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” That statement is as true today as it was in 1893, and Jim Schwartz has taken that to heart.
Detroit Lions afficionadas, take notice, “He” is upon us. All hail Jim Schwartz the liberator, the true analytical revolutionary.