Lions Have Their Man, Hire Jim Schwartz as Head Coach

Scott RiegerAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2009

The Detroit Lions have confirmed that former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will take over as head coach and charged him with rescuing the franchise from unsurpassed futility, an 0-16 regular season that had never been done before.

Furthermore, Schwartz and the Lions will hope to improve the talent of the team through the draft, a venue that they haven’t been very successful in over the past 10-15 years.

“After an extensive search that included several highly-qualified coaches, we are thrilled that Jim Schwartz will become our team’s head coach,” said Lions president Tom Lewand in a prepared statement. “(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.”

After meeting with Lewand and Mayhew for a second interview, which reportedly included team owner William Clay Ford, Schwartz emerged as a finalist, along with Miami Dolphins assistant coach Todd Bowles.

When asked about losing Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said:

“It is rare in this league to get to spend 10 years with an assistant coach as we have with Jim. In his eight years as our defensive coordinator, Jim has clearly put his stamp on that side of the ball. He is competitive, a tremendous communicator and motivator, and in our opinion he has been ready for this next step for several years. I want to congratulate the Lions for hiring the right guy and he will be missed here in Tennessee.”

Now, no one would’ve expected Fisher to say anything negative about Schwartz, however, the ringing endorsement does sound good coming from one of the best coaches in the league.

I wrote in my previous article on the search that I thought Schwartz was a good possibility and that he had the right tools to warrant the job.  He also has proven to be successful leading a sometimes dominating and always solid Tennessee defense for eight seasons.

Detroit’s entire team performed badly, inconsistently, and was overmatched at almost every position, however, it was the defense that really hurt the team.  The Lions defensive unit was the worst in the NFL and gave up the most points this past season.  They had one of the worst percentages on third down, consistently failing to get off of the field.

Schwartz is an intelligent and highly-educated man who has been involved in coaching since 1989.  He has been an assistant with the Titans since 1998. His performance over the past few years, in which he has fielded top-10 defenses in each, have led to interviews for head coaching jobs with Miami, Atlanta, Washington, and San Francisco.

One of the biggest tasks Schwartz will have to do, aside from hiring a staff, is to evaluate the Lions roster and decide who will stay and who will go. At a minimum, he knows he has some young playmakers to build around in Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson, and Gosder Cherilus on offense and Ernie Sims, Cliff Avril, Andre Fluellen, and Jordon Dizon on defense.

Unfortunately, virtually everyone not listed above is either unproven, over the hill, or has some sort of injury concerns or history.  The Lions need a lot of help and they are likely to have significant roster turnover this offseason.

On the bright side, the Lions do have two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and two third-round picks in April’s NFL draft and will likely be able to fill a number of voids there. 

It will be equally important, though, for them to fill some holes and gain depth via free agency.  While they don’t necessarily have to break the bank on the A-list free agents, it would behoove them to pursue one or two. 

Albert Haynesworth, who has flourished under the tutelage of Jim Schwartz in Tennessee, would be a huge boost to the Lions’ much-maligned defensive line.

Bart Scott, a stellar outside linebacker for Baltimore, played high school football in Detroit and would be a big upgrade opposite Ernie Sims at strong side linebacker.

The Lions will formally introduce Jim Schwartz at a press conference on Friday.  Stay tuned.