Monday, January 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Detroit Lions Coaching Search

As the Detroit Lions coaching search continues, a few quick hits:

* First, I'm happy to see that new General Manager Martin Mayhew, and team President Tom Lewand, are taking their time and talking to everyone. The team has already interviewed at least half a dozen candidates (including defensive coordinators Jim Schwartz (Tennessee Titans), Steve Spagnuolo (New York Giants) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings) as well as Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett) and, could expand to include San Diego Charges defensive coordinator Ron Rivera according to NFL Network's Adam Schefter. Talking to as many candidates as possible and not rushing into a decision or falling in love with one candidate to the exclusion of all others (like Matt Millen did with all of his coaches) shows a thoughtfulness and consideration which is a welcome change for this franchise.

* My top candidate, at least for the moment, is Titans' defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who is known for his "Moneyball"-esque analysis of defensive statistics (interceptions, much more than fumbles, are the key to winning and losing, and running on third and short is more successful than putting the ball in the air according to this fascinating profile on Schwartz from the New York Times.) Schwartz has done wonders with the Titans defense, has learned from one of the best coaches in the game, Jeff Fisher, and is ready to become a head coach. And the Lions like him, bringing him in for a second interview Monday, which will include owner William Clay Ford, Sr.

* But, I have my concerns too. While I understand the need to rebuild a Lions defense which is in desperate need of an overhaul, I can't help but marvel at what the Denver Broncos have been able to do. After stunning the football world by firing Mike Shanahan, the Broncos engaged in a whirlwind coaching search just like the Lions. And given the team's history of success, and the fact that the Broncos were interviewing many of the same candidates the Lions are looking at (like Frazier, Garrett, and Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles), it would be hard not to look at who Denver hired, and say, odds are, they are more likely to make the right hire. And they by-passed all of the Lions candidates (not even speaking to Schwartz, which honestly, does frighten me a little -- if he's such a sure-fire candidate, why didn't Denver even talk to him?) and hired New England Patriots young wiz-kid Josh McDaniels. Now, I'm not sold on McDaniels for a few reasons. The first being his age (32). While I don't think that'll be a handicap in Denver, which is much closer to turning back into a winner than the Lions, when you have a mess like you have in Detroit, I'd want someone with a bit more experience building a franchise. And the second being the very shaky history Bill Belichick's assistants have had as head coaches (two, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel, have been fired, though Mangini was recently hired to replace Crennel in Cleveland, and the third, Charlie Weiss, has been a failure at Notre Dame). But, I have to say, the fact that Denver interviewed Leslie Fazier and Jason Garrett, and chose McDaniels tells me something. And McDaniels' first move as head coach does too. According to Adam Schfter again, he's hiring former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan to run his defense. A brilliant move. Nolan is a master defensive coordinator who has the experience to run Denver's defense on his own, allowing McDaniels to concentrate on Jay Cutler and Denver's offense. It's practically getting two head coaches for the price of one. Now, these kinds of arrangements don't always work out (see Detroit's ill-fated attempt to turn its offense over to Mike Martz so Rod Marinelli could run Detroit's defense as a perfect example of that) but something tells me, it will in Denver.

And with no knowledge of who would run the Lions offense if the team were to hire any of the defensive coaches the team is currently focused on, I can't help but look at Denver and ask, what do they know that the Lions don't? And I'm reminded of the answer Tim Matheson's character of John Hoynes gave on West Wing when he was asked that question by an inquiring Toby Ziegler: "The total tonnage of what I know that you don't could stun a team of oxen in its tracks. Goodnight."

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