On Monday, I laid out the steps that Matt Millen needs to take to save the Lions sinking ship. I realize that it’s pretty easy to sit at home and throw out “blanket” suggestions like “the Lions need a new coach” and “the Lions need a good quarterback”. I’m sure every Lions fan has uttered those phrases at least once or twice this season alone. So, I’ll take what I said on Monday one step further and lay out exactly how I would go about addressing the head coach and quarterback positions.
In my opinion, the most important position on a football team is the head coach. I didn’t think this when I was a kid. My dad used to tell me this all the time and I thought he was crazy. I mean, how could some old, crusty, out of shape guy be more important than Barry Sanders or Jerry Rice? I must at admit that I have never been more wrong about something in my life. The NBA is certainly a player’s league but the NFL is definitely a coach’s league. An NFL football team is successful or unsuccessful based in large part on how innovative the head coach is. So, I will start with the head coaching position for the Lions.
Finding the next Head Coach of the Detroit Lions
1). Explain to Steve Mariucci that I appreciate what he’s brought to the Lions in terms of professionalism and respectability. His arrival allowed us to sign some marquee free agents that we may not have otherwise convinced to come to Detroit. However, his coaching style clashes with the group the Lions currently have on offense. When we invested three straight first round draft picks on the wide receiver position, we were certainly not envisioning a conservative, low-scoring offense. As a result, it would be beneficial to the Lions, and Mariucci for the organization to move on.
2). After we fired Marty Mornhinweg, we pretty much had a one-track mind in hiring Steve Mariucci. This was understandable since we tried to hire Mariucci just a couple years before but couldn’t land him. Mornhinweg was an assistant under Mariucci so we gave him a shot. Once Mariucci became available, we jumped on the opportunity without really considering anyone else. This time around we must use the interview process to bring the absolute best possible head coach to Detroit.
3). Every candidate that could bring something unique (wins) to Detroit needs to be interviewed. Thus, we need to focus heavily on making our list of candidates as conclusive as possible. My list of candidates is the following in no particular order:
1). Cam Cameron OC SD Chargers
2). Tom Moore OC Indianapolis Colts
3). Bob Bratkowski OC Cincinnati Bengals
4). Sean Payton OC Dallas Cowboys
5). Gary Kubiak OC Denver Broncos
6). John Hufnagel OC NY Giants
7). Al Saunders OC KC Chiefs
8). Ken Whisenhunt OC Pittsburgh Steelers
9). Greg Knapp OC Atlanta Falcons
10). Brad Childress OC Philadelphia Eagles
11). Russ Grimm O-line Coach Pittsburgh Steelers
12). Jim Bates DC Green Bay Packers
13). Mike Trgovac DC Carolina Panthers
14). Jim Johnson DC Philadelphia Eagles
15). Ron Meeks DC Indianapolis Colts
16). Mike Singletary LB Coach SF 49er’s
17). Norm Chow OC Tennessee Titans
1). Pete Carroll
2). Jeff Tedford
3). Charlie Weiss
4). I don’t have an issue considering a college coach for the job but when was the last time a college coach has had a successful debut in the NFL? I might be forgetting someone but all that comes to mind is Butch Davis and Steve Spurrier and a boatload of other coaches just like them. We’ll consider a college coach but our list is short and we won’t deviate from the three candidates on the college list. I also don’t have a problem hiring a defensive coordinator but our organization is having big time issues on offense. We need a head coach that will immediately address our offensive deficiencies. Odds are that we’ll need an Offensive Coordinator to get that done. We’ll look at a few Defensive Coordinators but our focus will be on the offensive side of the ball.
5). The number one priority that I will be looking for in the next Head Coach of the Detroit Lions is the coach’s commitment to having an excellent and dynamic coaching staff. If we hire an offensive guy, that coach better be prepared to bring in a well qualified defensive coordinator to run the defense and vice versa. The coach cannot have a “blanket” philosophy that will permeate both sides of the ball. The offense and defense both have separate game plans and require 100% attention from fully qualified coaches. The best teams in the NFL have offenses and defenses that are both extremely effective while being completely independent of each other.
6). With #4 and #5 fresh on the mind, I will interview each of the coaches I have listed above.
7). Since I don’t have the opportunity of interviewing these coaches in real life, I will make assumptions and narrow the list to ten candidates based on my requirements.
1). Cam Cameron OC San Diego Chargers
2). Pete Carroll Head Coach USC
3). Russ Grimm O-line coach Pittsburgh Steelers
4). Gary Kubiak OC Denver Broncos
5). Jeff Tedford Head Coach California
6). Charlie Weiss Head Coach Notre Dame
7). Ron Meeks DC Indianapolis Colts
8). John Hufnagel OC NY Giants
9). Brad Childress OC Philadelphia Eagles
10). Mike Singletary LB coach SF 49er’s
8). Brief summary of each candidate:
Cam Cameron OC San Diego Chargers
The Chargers offense has been fantastic the last two years which is saying a lot for a Marty Schottenheimer coached team. In fact, Cameron’s ability to bring an offensive juggernaut to Marty-ball is probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen by an assistant coach in the NFL. Cameron is an offensive guy. I would expect him to hand the defense over to a competent defensive mind.
Pete Carroll Head Coach USC
If all coaches that failed miserably in their first stint as a head coach in the NFL were blackballed from the league, then the Patriots wouldn’t have three Super Bowls in the past four years. Bill Belichick bit the dust with the Cleveland Browns. He was given another chance by Patriots owner Robert Kraft and history was made. Pete Carroll has built USC into one of the greatest dynasties in college football history. His offensive is first class and his defenses have been extremely aggressive in getting to the QB.
Russ Grimm O-line coach Pittsburgh Steelers
It might be a stretch to hire a position coach as the head coach of the Detroit Lions but Grimm has received a lot of credit for the success of the Steelers offense. The Steelers have been the top running team in the NFL over the past few years. It hasn’t mattered who’s running the ball. They just plug and chug and that says a lot about the offensive line and their coach.
Gary Kubiak OC Denver Broncos
Kubiak is a solid NFL coach with an impressive resume. The Denver Broncos are playing superbly on offense this season. Kubiak has figured out the enigma that is Jake Plummer and turned him into a top notch quarterback. Kubiak is a run first coordinator but isn’t opposed to opening up the game plan.
Jeff Tedford Head Coach California
Tedford has been solely responsible for the meteoric rise of Aaron Rodgers and David Carr when he coached them in college. Tedford has played USC as tough as anyone else in college football. He’s an offensive guru with a knack for reigning in misguided quarterbacks. If Joey Harrington still has a future in Detroit, Jeff Tedford may help him reach his potential.
Charlie Weiss Head Coach Notre Dame
Weiss is one of the most talented offensive coaches in football. In one season, he’s turned Notre Dame from an offensive nightmare to an unstoppable force. He led New England’s dynamic offensive to three Super Bowl victories. Weiss surely understands the importance of a top notch offense to go along with a strong defense.
Ron Meeks DC Indianapolis Colts
I am extremely impressed with the Colts defense this year which is a far cry from where they were two years ago. Ron Meeks sees first hand how potent a dynamic offense is when teamed with an aggressive defense.
John Hufnagel OC NY Giants
For anyone who remembers the Giants offense last season, John Hufnagel appears to be a miracle worker. I’ve seen the Giants in about five games this season and I’m impressed with how balanced their offense is. Throw in the fact that Eli Manning went from miserable last season to unstoppable this season and Hufnagel keeps looking better. The Giants now resemble the Chargers on offense which is quite an achievement.
Brad Childress OC Philadelphia Eagles
Childress is coaching under a head coach that prefers to pass 70% of the time. As a result, Childress really doesn’t have the need for a power running game. Since the Eagles aren’t built to run teams over, Childress has to work the run game in as best as possible. The Eagles have been one of the dominant offensive teams over the last five years. Childress could thrive even more with a team that has a running back a capable as Kevin Jones.
Mike Singletary LB coach SF 49ers
Singletary was a ferocious linebacker as a player. He saw first hand in Buddy Ryan’s “46” defense just how dominating a defense should be. He has climbed his way up the coaching ranks and has coached one of the top LB’s in the league in Julian Peterson. Singletary could have the same effect on the defense as Jack Del Rio or Marv Lewis has had in Carolina and Cincinnati.
9). I’ll narrow the list down to five by eliminating five candidates. As good as Denver has looked this season, I have not been overly impressed with Denver’s ability to open up the passing game. I fear that Kubiak would fall into the Mariucci trap of trying to win by running the ball and controlling the clock which is what the problem is right now. As much as I want to give Singletary his first job as a head coach, I can’t rationalize handing the reigns over to a guy that inexperienced. I would love to bring in Singletary as the defensive coordinator. Russ Grimm will get a chance some day. I just don’t know enough about him to give him the job. I know he loves the power running game which I would love to bring to Detroit. However, his inexperience and my limited knowledge on how he would thrive with three first round wide receivers keeps him off my short list. The last cut comes down to John Hufnagel and Brad Childress. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a more impressive performance by a coordinator in the NFL this season than Hufnagel. Contrastingly, Childress has struggled in Philly. It might not be entirely his fault but I want a guy that can turn dirt into gold. I’ve seen Hufnagel do that this season.
10). The final six:
1). Cam Cameron
2). Pete Carroll
3). Jeff Tedford
4). John Hufnagel
5). Ron Meeks
6). Charlie Weiss
11). Since I can’t ask these coaches myself, I’m going to make assumptions on their availability. I would guess that Pete Carroll and Charlie Weiss will not be going anywhere. Weiss has his dream job at Notre Dame and has said repeatedly that he’s not interested. Pete Carroll is living the good life at USC. He would have to be crazy to leave for the Detroit Lions. That leaves a final four of:
1). Cam Cameron
2). Jeff Tedford
3). John Hufnagel
4). Ron Meeks
12). The coach that I would inevitably hire would depend 100% on the interview process. I would need to find out from these coaches what their plans are for the team on both sides of the ball. I would need to find out their ideas for the coaching staff. I would also demand that I (the G.M.) would be in on the hiring of any assistant coaches. I am not a fan of handing the fate of the entire team over to the head coach. The head coach’s job is to run the team during game days and prepare the team for the season. His job is NOT to dictate the team’s philosophy in every aspect of the game. For instance, if I bring in a defensive coordinator to run the team, I expect him to bring his defensive expertise and let the offense be run by a capable Offensive Coordinator. I will not allow a head coach to bring in a conservative offensive coach that “fits” with his defense-first mentality. The offense and defense can both flourish independently and that’s what we plan to do here in Detroit. If any of these coaches have a problem with me being involved in the hiring of coordinators and assistants, then this is not the right job for them. This problem is alleviated, however, by hiring a dynamic Offensive Coordinator as the head coach in the first place.
13). Having said that, I think our organization would be better off choosing from one of the three offensive minds on the final list. Thus, Ron Meeks is out of the running. I like Jeff Tedford and I’d hire him in a second if I were a college Athletic Director. I would be a bit hesitant handing the job over to him. He needs a few more years to prove his worth. That leaves Cam Cameron and John Hufnagel.
14). I really like both of these coaches. Hufnagel has worked with Bill Belichick and Charlie Weiss and shares a similar offensive philosophy. Cameron has the advantage of youth over Hufnagel and despite being younger; Cameron has a more impressive resume as an NFL coordinator.
15). I will name Cam Cameron as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions.
16). Staying true to my word, my first order of business with Cameron is to make sure he brings in the most dynamic coordinators available. With the offensive play calling seemingly in good hands, I would search for an aggressive coach to run the defense. My first call would be to Mike Singletary. It is my hope that Singletary would love the challenge of moving from Linebacker coach to Defensive Coordinator. On the offensive side of the ball, I would push for Cameron to bring in Russ Grimm as the Offensive Coordinator. Like Singletary, Grimm has been pushing for a more prominent coaching position. It would be my hope that Grimm would cherish the opportunity to become an Offensive Coordinator. The Detroit Lions have not been a team that can line up on offense and run the ball down the defense’s throats. I think Russ Grimm could change the attitude of our offensive line. The best teams in the NFL combine an aggressive passing game with a power running game. I am confident that both of those goals can be reached with Cameron and Grimm.
Finding the next quarterback of the Detroit Lions
1). My first order of business is to assess Joey Harrington’s performance for the rest of the 2005 season. It wouldn’t be fair to the organization to make the decision now with eight weeks to go.
2). If my feelings on Harrington haven’t changed come January, then I will make it a priority to find a new quarterback.
3). It is my preference to find a quarterback to come in and help immediately. The odds of that happening with a rookie quarterback are slim. That’s why we’re in this mess with Harrington in the first place. We handed the job over to him as a rookie and here we are four years later with no improvement. If we can land Matt Leinart or Vince Young, then I would change my mind but I doubt we will have a high enough pick. Vince Young is Michael Vick with considerably more size. He might even be a better pocket passer. We’ll look at both of those players.
4). We’ll also explore a trade. We know that San Diego has a logjam at quarterback with Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers. Rivers would not be our first choice since he will basically be a rookie. Handing the offense over to Rivers would be a gamble. We need to win now. So, we’ll see if Brees is available and what the price would be. We already know that Cam Cameron and Drew Brees work well together. We would pursue Brees aggressively. If the asking price is too high, we’ll need to move on. Other quarterbacks we’ll inquire about are Billy Volek (Titans), Jon Kitna (Bengals), Matt Cassell (Patriots), Matt Schaub (Falcons), Mark Brunell (Redskins), and Jamie Martin (Rams).
5). Generally, when a team needs a quarterback, the answer is found in free agency. In most cases, these players are not big name players but veterans like Brad Johnson. If a player of Johnson’s ability is available in free agency next year, we will make a play for him. Without having a list of upcoming free agents, we’ll have to wait and see who’s available.
6). I’ll rank the quarterbacks that I’ve named in order from most desirable:
1). Matt Leinart
2). Vince Young
3). Drew Brees
4). Matt Schaub
5). Billy Volek
6). Jon Kitna
7). Mark Brunell
8). Jamie Martin
9). Matt Cassell
7). We will use this list to find our next quarterback. The list will be updated when the 2006 free agent crop is known. But, this is what we’ll go off of as of now. It doesn’t look like we’ll finish with a good enough draft pick to get Leinart. That’s not a big deal since I rate Vince Young on par with Leinart. Hopefully, Young will be available for us at our pick. He will revolutionize the quarterback position in the NFL. Since we’ve taken so many players on the offensive side of the ball in the first round, I would like to address the defense but I can’t and won’t pass on Vince Young. If Young is gone, we will make a play for Drew Brees. If we can’t work out something with the Chargers for Brees, we will then move on to Schaub and Volek who I rate even. Whatever one we can get for the cheapest will be the one we bring in.
8). If Joey Harrington improves considerably over the last few weeks of this season, we’ll see how Coach Cameron sees Harrington fitting into his plans. If he wants to stick with Harrington, we’ll give him another opportunity. If Coach Cameron wants to go in a different direction, then we will try to bring in Vince Young or Drew Brees. Either quarterback will give us a chance to do great things on offense. My worry is that neither will be available. If that’s the case, we’ll just go with options #4 or #5. I have tremendous confidence that either quarterback could thrive under Cam Cameron.