The Lions have a new victim in their quest to the ruin the careers of as many coaches as possible. Jim Schwartz—former Tennessee Titans Defensive Coordinator—agreed to take a shot at the Lions eternal reconstruction project. I applaud his confidence but I cannot imagine what would compel one of the most respected coordinators in the NFL to take the Lions head coaching position. It would be like Steve Sarkisian leaving USC for the winless Washington Huskies. Oh, wait. He did. OK, so I guess there’s a built-in allure to saving a winless franchise. Still, Schwartz is not the first guy to give this thing a shot. I clearly remember Rod Marinelli coming in three years ago with nearly the same pedigree. He was a highly-respected defensive coordinator with a flare for the fundamentals. He preached technique and toughness. He was going to mold a team of men that would make a marine proud. Of course, that resulted in a 10-38 record over three seasons. Schwartz is probably going to preach the same thing. Unfortunately, I think he’s going to quickly find out that he is just another unassuming victim of William Clay Ford’s web of incompetence. Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi would’ve been bums if they had the misfortune of coaching under Ford. You can’t duplicate success from other places in Detroit. Ford prevents that from happening. Schwartz—god bless him—is going to come in and talk the talk but three years from now he could very well be walking the walk with a pink slip in his hand.
Out of respect for Schwartz, I’ll pretend that he is taking over as coach for a team that isn’t the Lions. That’s the only way I could possibly give his candidacy a fair evaluation. In my opinion, NFL coordinators get way too much credit. Any time a team does well offensively or defensively over a season, the coordinators of those units become hot coaching commodities. In some cases, it’s apropos. In most cases, it isn’t. Talent wins in the NFL. It might be the case that talent and coaching win championships but talent alone is enough to win games and make the playoffs. In the vast majority of cases, teams that have the best players are the teams that make the playoffs. Yet, the coordinators always get the credit. I’m not saying that is the case with Schwartz. I’m just saying it might be. Tennessee was the best defensive team in the NFL for the majority of this season. The Titans finished second in PPG, 7th in YPG, and 5th in sacks. Those are impressive totals but not totally unexpected for a team with the best defensive line in the NFL. Schwartz’s importance to that success is an unknown. He has been the Defensive Coordinator of the Titans since 2001. That’s a long time for the rest of the league to take notice. I find it somewhat disconcerting that the Lions are the first team to take a crack at him especially considering Bill Belichick has called him one of the smartest coaches he has been around. What took so long?
Schwartz’s track record as a defensive coordinator is underwhelming if not erratic. He has had as many defenses out of the top 25 as he has had in the top 15. The Titans were arguably the worst defensive team in the NFL in 2004 and 2006. The Titans were the #1 defense in the NFL under Gregg Williams in 2000. Williams became the head coach of the Bills and Schwartz took over in 2001. The Titans defense fell from first to 25th under Schwartz. I’m not suggesting that it was entirely his fault or that he isn’t a good coach. I’m merely suggesting that hiring Schwartz is as much of a roll of the dice as hiring Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli. Schwartz was the coordinator of a talented unit. Falling into the trap of falsely crediting coaching over talent has crippled virtually every NFL franchise at one time or another. Then again, I’m not sure how much more a crippled franchise can be crippled so maybe it doesn’t even matter.
The good news here is that Schwartz’s ability seems to be apparent when looking everywhere other than on-field performance. He coached under Jeff Fisher—one of the great coaches in NFL history to not win a championship—for 11 seasons. He coached under Gregg Williams—one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL—for three seasons. He worked with Belichick for three seasons. He has also managed to work in the NFL since 1992 without being fired. Schwartz is clearly an intelligent man (his decision to coach the Lions notwithstanding). He graduated with distinction from Georgetown with a degree in economics. He is known for his work with NFL statistical analysis including explaining to a disbelieving Belichick in 1995 that fumbles are a random occurrence and do not correlate to team success. Interceptions, however, do. The New York Times just ran a story claiming Schwartz to be the Billy Beane of the NFL. Considering Beane has managed to keep the Oakland A’s competitive in a league without a salary cap, it would seem that a similar approach would have an even bigger impact in the NFL where all teams are on equal footing. While there is a lot to like about a coach who preaches more than toughness and discipline, Schwartz won’t win—no matter how smart he is—without players. That’s where Martin Mayhew comes in. With the Schwartz-hire, Mayhew appears to be 2 for 2 with big decisions (Roy Williams trade is the other). Avoiding a quarterback with the #1 pick and going with Andre Smith would make him 3 for 3 and that would have to be considered a trend. Could "The Schwartz" finally be with us?