Say It Ain't So!: The Lions On The Verge Of Naming a New Coach

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2009

It appears that the Detroit Lions may be on the verge of naming a head coach.

And amazingly, it appears to be a mistake.

The Lions, really?  A mistake?  Who could have guessed!

The Detroit Free Press, ESPN, and others are reporting that the Lions and their owner, William Clay Ford Sr. met today with Jim Schwartz, the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.  This is the second interview for Schwartz, but the first time he has met with Ford.

During the interview process, Schwartz was permitted to answer questions from the media.  During this question and answer session, Schwartz was asked by a reporter what he would do with the No. 1 overall pick. 

According to the Free Press, he answered, “I think the important thing is finding the right person. I don’t think you tie yourself into positions. Obviously, there are a lot of needs. I think, obviously, the most important position on the team is quarterback. It’s probably time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne.”

This is not the correct answer, and Lions fans know it. 

What is surprising is that Schwartz should know it too. 

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During his eight years as defensive coordinator in Tennessee, he has seen his team fluctuate from a dominating defensive team during his first couple seasons, and then from 2004 to 2006 they fell to the bottom-tier before rebounding over the past three seasons to become dominant once more. 

The most important aspect of the turn-around of the Titans has been their defense, most importantly their run defense.  The Titans run defense was sixth in the NFL in 2008, and fifth in 2007.  In 2004 through 2006 they never finished better than 18th, including 30th in 2006.

It is curious why a team would go from dominant to passive and then back to dominant during one defensive coordinator's career with the same team.  Well, in the case of Tennessee, there is no mystery. 

During the first part of this decade, the defense was well-stocked with talent and a solid defensive scheme.  Once Schwartz took over, those dominant players such as Javon Kearse were aging and/or injured. 

The resurgence of the Titans came with the emergence of one player...Albert Haynesworth.  As Haynesworth became dominant, the entire defense became dominant. 

Now, it can be argued that the chicken came before the egg just like it can be argued that Haynesworth's emergence was due to Schwartz and his system.  Regardless, the success that Schwartz has enjoyed over the past two seasons is inextricably linked to Haynesworth.

Haynesworth is not coming with Schwartz.

Therefore, he is going to have to start from scratch and hope that he can find a dominant defensive lineman to build the defense around. 

Without a dominant defensive line, the linebackers are unable to get free to take on ball carriers or underneath receivers. 

If the linebackers are swallowed up by offensive linemen, the secondary is forced to make the bulk of the tackles. 

This is exactly what has happened to the Lions over the past few seasons.  Until the defensive line is fixed, the entire defense will suffer.

So why was the answer Schwartz gave to the media regarding the No. 1 pick so troubling?  Because he has seen first hand what must happen in order for a team to win, and it is not a flashy first-round quarterback.

If you remember, the Titans have one of those.  In 2006, they drafted Vince Young, an electric young quarterback, in the first round of the NFL draft. 

While Young was the starting quarterback during the rebirth of the Titans, he was hardly the reason for the turnaround.  Young's numbers were erratic at best, culminating with a strange benching at the beginning of this season. 

The Titans enjoyed their best campaign of the decade this season with Kerry Collins, a veteran journeyman, as their starting quarterback.  They were able to win with Collins at the helm not because of him, but because of their defense and their running game.  Their running game was dominant because of their offensive line.

Regardless, the Titans turnaround is not due to a franchise quarterback.  They constructed their team the right way: running the ball and stopping the run. 

Schwartz may have been trying to get the fans excited.  Or perhaps WCF told him in the interview that Matt Stafford is his man and told Schwartz to get behind that pick.  Only the people in that room know for sure. 

The problem is that the Lions do not seem to be learning from past mistakes.  The Joey Harrington pick was not only wrong because of Harrington...it was wrong because no QB could have turned this franchise around single-handedly. 

If WCF indeed gets his strong-armed QB, it is likely dooming that quarterback and this franchise to the same fate. 

If Schwartz is in fact named head coach of the Lions, he needs to build his team the same way his former team was built.  If not, two years from now the Lions will be shopping for another head coach and looking forward to drafting another high first-round pick. 

This time Ford will not have a brand new field to bring the fans back, and he will not have a Barry Sanders to excite the masses. 

What he will have is a city still recovering from economic down turn and a fan base that has run out of patience for mistakes.

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