Posted by: Frank | December 30, 2008

Already Off On The Wrong Foot

With the end of the NFL season in Detroit, it begins the annual time of speculation about just what should be done to turn the Detroit Lions around. Yesterday they fired the coach, which was such a no-brainer move it hardly counts as a decision. Unfortunately, the bigger news is that they are keeping the guys in the front office who were working for Matt Millen and who replaced Millen when he was fired mid-season.

The Detroit Lions are a classic case of a corporation in need of a turn around. What is also very apparent is that the guy at the top has no clue about how you turn a corporation around. You don’t turn a company around by keeping those you think are good people, you turn it around by bringing in outside expertise who has experience. Ideally, you want someone who has turned around teams before, which is why Bill Parcells should be the first and foremost candidate given his most recent experience in Miami. Another guy I would go after is ex-GM Ron Rolf, who did a fantastic job of turning around the Green Bay Packers. So the decision to keep Lewand and Mayhew is the first step towards the same old, same old.

The next step to the same old, same old, is to hire an NFL assistant coach who is considered a rising star.  Take a look at the list of Lions coaches since 2000. Beside Steve Mariucci, all were only NFL assistants and had NO head coaching experience. The Detroit Lions are a very, very, very bad football team. It has no talent, no winning experience, and no philosophy of doing things the right way. I don’t care what you say, there is no way anyone other than a person with prior NFL Head Coaching experience is even going to have a chance. In fact, as Mariucci and Bobby Ross have proven, even the head coaching experience isn’t a guarantee. Bottom line is that the Lions should only hire someone who has been an NFL Head Coach.

In my opinion Ross was the last good Lions coach, who got worn down by the weight of the negativity that surrounds the Lions. Mariucci may be a good coach for a veteran team loaded with talent, as was the 49ers when he first became their coach. (who can go wrong coaching a team lead by Steve Young and Jerry Rice?) But while Steve got credit for guiding the 49ers through a tough time when they lost talent because of the salary cap, people forget that there was an experienced front office working with him; not to mention a tremendous winning tradition!

So the news that all of the current candidates the Lions are considering are assistants is very bad news. Don’t forget these are the Lions and not the Miami Dolphins, who again had a winning tradition and recently fell on hard times and who while is being successful with a coach who only was an assistant, there is also Bill Parcells guiding the operation. The only possible team in NFL history that the Lions have a legit comparison with is the Tampa Bay team. Now it is true that Tampa began turning around when they hired Tony Dungy, a former assistant as their head coach, but I will argue that Dungy was an exception more than a rule and he didn’t do all the work because he had a very good defensive coordinator in Monte Kiffin. But remember that while Tampa started winning under Dungy, their defensive only philosophy did not translate well in the playoffs.  Tampa didn’t succeed in the playoffs until they got another coach with NFL Head Coaching experience, John Gruden.

Therefore, I predict that if the Lions hire another assistant as head coach the cycle of pathetic to losing to mediocrity and down will continue. The Lions will probably take a quarterback with their first draft pick and thrust him forward as a starter, where he will get beaten into the ground by defenses who will continue to walk through the Lion’s offensive line. Ask Chuck Long or Andrea Ware what its like to win Heismans and be considered the best QBs in the draft to play in Detroit. Experienced NFL people would know that to build a football team you have to build the foundation: the offensive and defensive lines. Payton Manning can’t throw passes if he doesn’t have time to look down field; Jerry Rice can’t get open unless he has time to run a route; Barry Sanders can’t run into the end zone if there are no holes to run through; and NFL teams cannot win if they don’t have a defense that can stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback. (I cite as evidence this year’s Green Bay Packers.)

If I, who have no NFL experience beyond watching games on Sunday can see this, why can’t the numbskulls in Allen Park?

Ultimately, the problem with the Lions is that winning is NOT the priority for William Clay Ford. It seems that what is a priority to him is to win by which he believes is the right way. That means being loyal to people who are loyal to him and believing in them when no one else will. In short, Ford wants to be a good man. I believe a good man can succeed in the NFL so long as he is an impatient man. I really don’t know what would motivate Ford do to something else. I don’t think people not attending the games will make any difference. I don’t think losing money will make any difference. Right now the only ways I see the Lions changing in a relatively short amount of time is if either Bill Ford Jr. is driven out of the chairmanship of Ford Motor so that he has nothing else to do, or if the NFL starts pushing by threatening to take away the Thanksgiving Day game. Other than that, it will either be a miracle or William Clay Ford’s advancing age that will be the castalyst of a Lions turnaround.


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