Long-suffering fans of the Detroit Lions have always heard of the “Curse of Bobby Layne,” wherein the Hall of Fame former quarterback proclaimed that the Lions, “Would not win for 50 years,” after he was upset about being traded to Pittsburgh early in the 1958 season.
However, the Lions did enjoy a few decent seasons after 1958, including 11-3 in 1962 and 9-4-1 in 1969. So, if there was a curse, it certainly did not begin right away, as Layne proclaimed that it would.
Prior to 1967, the Lions employed several head coaches, all of whom were competent and credible in the NFL. From 1967-1972 the Lions employed Joe Schmidt as their head coach. Schmidt, a former Lions’ Hall of Fame middle linebacker, brought back discipline to the Lions, as he led them to a playoff game in 1970, losing to the Dallas Cowboys 5-0.
Under Schmidt’s direction and his commitment to excellence, the 1970 Lions team was arguably the best team in the NFL during that campaign.
However, there was non-stop meddling, backstabbing, and politicking within the Lions’ front offices during Schmidt’s tenure, led by General Manager Russ Thomas. A few months after the conclusion of the 1972 season, despite a winning record with a strong core of players, Schmidt announced that he was resigning, because “coaching isn't fun anymore.”
So, after a record of 43-34-7 in six seasons (34-19-3 over his final four seasons with his own players), Schmidt left the Detroit Lions and we saw the beginning of the...JOE SCHMIDT CURSE!!
Beginning with the resignation of Schmidt after the 1972 season, the Lions coaching foibles have included the following:
The Lions failed to hire Schmidt’s successful assistant coach and heir apparent to the head coaching throne. Knox went on to have a terrific head coaching career with the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills, and Seattle Seahawks, compiling a 22-year record of 186-147-1 with 18 playoff games, while the Lions had a record of 144-188-2 with nine playoff games during the same span.
One season at 6-7-1. McCafferty died before the next season began.
Rick Forzano - Went 15-17 in two-plus seasons before losing control of his players and getting fired during his third season.
Tommy Hudspeth - Forzano’s assistant coach took the Lions to a record of 11-13 before getting fired after the 1977 season.
Monte Clark – Clark, recommended by Don Shula, another former Lions’ assistant, went 43-63-1 during his seven seasons at the helm.
Darryl Rogers – Rogers, a longtime successful college coach, went 18-40 during his three-plus seasons before getting fired during his fourth season. After the 1987 season, after owner William Clay Ford told Rogers that he would continue to be the coach for the 1988 season, Rogers asked reporters, “What does a guy have to do around here to get fired?"
Wayne Fontes– A Rogers assistant who politicked and campaigned for the job, took the Lions on a 67-71 record with five playoff appearances. Even with future Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, Fontes was unable to take the Lions beyond the NFC title game, which he did in the 1991 season.
Since his departure, former Lions’ players have indicated that, while Fontes was a good cheerleader to get the Lions going in the right direction, he simply did not have enough football knowledge to take the Lions to the next level.
Their belief was that, had the Lions hired a quality coach around 1991 or 1992, they would have been Super Bowl Champions.
Fontes was also remembered for getting stopped by the police who found drugs in his car. Fontes quickly told the police that the drugs belonged to his son. Also, after Fontes left the Lions, the organization that had paid him enough money in salary on which to live comfortably for the rest of his life, he sued the Lions for Workers Compensation for an injury that he had suffered while standing on the sideline during a game.
Bobby Ross– Posted a record of 27-32 during his four-plus seasons. Ross, a former successful college coach, resigned during his fourth season. The players simply did not adapt to his “tough-as-nails" approach that had been a successful approach for him with college players.
Gary Moeller – The successful assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan, the Lions finally made the right choice of hiring a true football man who also understood the mentality and demands of NFL players. In his short stint, Moeller led the Lions on a 4-3 record, missing out on the playoffs by losing the final regular season game. Of course, as Moeller had the Lions on the right track, they fired him after the season ended.
Marty Mornhinweg– A successful assistant NFL coach before and after his head coaching experience with the Lions, Mornhinweg did not have the tools to operate from a head coaching position. After the Lions gave up on Moeller’s success, Mornhinweg took the Lions to a 5-27 record.
Steve Mariucci– Finally, the Lions hired a successful NFL coach (49ers) to take them to the Promised Land!! However, Mariucci, a Michigan native, was a victim of the Lions' backstage nonsense and was given inferior players by President and General Manager Matt Millen.
The Lions’ record for this previously successful NFL coach was...a 15-28 record before the players, comfortable with an atmosphere that did not promote a strong work ethic, quit on him during the Thanksgiving Day game on national television in 2005. Mariucci was fired shortly after that game.
Rod Marinelli – A highly successful Defensive Line coach with Tampa Bay, Marinelli had zero head-coaching experience and, after hiring a string of friends and family members to be his assistant coaches, has proven to be far below the acceptable skill level of an NFL head coach.
If there were a capable assistant coach within the organization, Marinelli would have been fired already. At the current record of 0-9 for this year and an overall record of 10-31, Marinelli will not be around for 2009.
So, there you have it! As the Detroit Lions did experience a modicum of success for the 10-year period after Bobby Layne was traded, the true “Curse” began with the resignation of Joe Schmidt after the 1972 season.
Since that time, with a series of hiring blunders, a record of 144-188-2 with only nine playoff appearances in 35 years, no Super Bowl appearances, the talent of Hall of Fame players being wasted, and with the current coaching staff holding a record of 0-9 while insisting that they will keep doing the same things, yes, the “CURSE OF JOE SCHMIDT” is the true curse of the Detroit Lions and it is alive and well!
Buddy Parker, Potsy Clark, and, yes, JOE SCHMIDT...PLEASE COME BACK!!!!