Lions' Coach Jim Schwartz: The Cheese DOESN'T Stand Alone

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst IMay 23, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 11:  Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham of the Kansas City Chiefs stands on the sideline against the New York Jets on September 11, 2005 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Chiefs won 27-7.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

When Gunther Cunningham first started coaching football players, Jim Schwartz was waddling around in diapers.

Now they both have a mess to clean up.

They have to be among the human diapers that will keep Ford Field’s turf from turning brown.

Scott Linehan doesn’t play Methuselah to Schwartz’s Baby New Year, like Cunningham does, but he’s been where Schwartz is currently.

Cunningham’s been there, too.

Schwartz, the man handed the keys to Bill Ford’s football Edsel in January, wasn’t shy to bring to his staff two men who’ve also been head coaches in the NFL.

The three of them—head coach Schwartz, defensive coordinator Cunningham, and offensive coordinator Linehan—form a triangle that best not be of the lovers’ variety.

It’s a sign of confidence and football acumen that Schwartz, after eight years as the Tennessee Titans’ defensive coordinator, has appointed two former head coaches to helm arguably the two most important positions on any football coaching staff.

Cunningham has probably forgotten more football than most Lions coaches in the past have ever known.

Not that that’s terribly difficult to accomplish.

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But Cunningham’s like Schwartz in one distinct fashion: he’s a defensive guy—the coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2008 (and, prior to that, also from 1995-98). He’s coordinated defenses in Los Angeles (with the Raiders), and in college.

He’s coached linebackers. He’s coached the line.

And he was the big cheese, too.

Cunningham was tending to the Chiefs’ defense, as usual, when the call came.

You’re the head coach now.

Good luck to you.

It was 1999.

And Cunningham coached two seasons as the head man, going 16-16 before returning to the relative safety of being an assistant coach.

There’s a certain coziness to coordinator positions. You can be in charge without really being in charge.

Of course, it can work the other way, too.

Charlie Knox used to coach the offense for the Detroit Lions, in the early-1970s, under Joe Schmidt.

In Charlie’s day, there were no “coordinators.”

Not in Cunningham’s early days, either.

Knox, years after becoming a head coach himself, once offered his viewpoint of employing offensive and defensive coordinators.

“I’ve seen it where you have a defensive coordinator, who’s the head coach in charge of the defense, and an offensive coordinator, who’s the head coach in charge of the offense, and you’re left with a head coach who’s in charge of nothing!”

I’m sure he has.

Linehan doesn’t look old enough to have been the head coach of his kid’s pee-wee team, but he’s got some coaching chops.

He’s known for his offenses. More specifically, Scott Linehan is now known, around Detroit, for his past dalliances with current Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Linehan coordinated the Minnesota Vikings offense from 2002-04, the last year of which was Culpepper’s career year in the NFL.

That success in tandem wasn’t lost on Schwartz, at all, when he tabbed Linehan, fresh off getting the ziggy by the St. Louis Rams as their head coach, to run his offense in Detroit.

Naturally, the talk is that Linehan and Culpepper are about to make sweet music again together, with the Lions.

And rookie QB Matthew Stafford will lead the Lions to glory, simply because he attended the same high school in Texas as Bobby Layne.

If only it were that easy. If only current success was merely a nod to the past away.

The Lions have indeed had, as Charlie Knox once opined, head coaches who were in charge of nothing.

Showmen. Snake oil salesmen. Clueless boobs. Stubborn old men.

The Lions have had them all.

If you think an old codger like Bobby Ross, or an egomaniac like Steve Mariucci, would have two former NFL head coaches on their staff, at the ready for upper management should things go sideways, then you’re probably still leaving milk and cookies out on the coffee table on Christmas Eve.

Schwartz is new wave. He’s secure, as a new guy stepping into the goo of 0-16.

He knows he has some honeymoon time, and so why not spend it with two dudes who know what it’s like to be the boss?

Not too many head coaches in the NFL right now can look to their right and to their left and see two more common denominators, professionally.

Schwartz has his work cut out for him, much in the same way as Michelangelo did when they gave him some paint and a brush and stuck him in the ceiling of that chapel in the 16th century.

Thank goodness, Schwartz isn’t going with the blind-leading-the-blind routine.

Matt Millen tried that, as a first-year GM when he hired a first-year head coach.

But here comes Schwartz, flush with success from his time in Tennessee, and he goes and hires two former head coaches as his coordinators.

It may not mean automatic success, but it sure seems smart.

I have no idea how many games the Lions will win in 2009. It seems foolhardy to think that they can manage even four victories, with their rugged schedule and being one year removed from a winless season.

It might be that they win two or three and consider the season a success, in a twisted, Lions kind of way.

But I do know one thing.

Jim Schwartz has already shown, with two hires, more football sense and vision than his 21st century predecessors displayed, combined.

Besides, how can you not love a coach of American football named Gunther?


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