Okay, so now there is a little underground noise out there that the Fords are thinking about holding on to the three-headed monster of Mayhew, Lewand & Marinelli. Reaction? Well, mixed, I supposed. Lewand is a finance guy and has little impact on the players that are actually drafted or brought in via free agency. Keep him, fire him, who really cares? Mayhew just orchestrated one of the best Lions trades in recent memory (maybe ever), but is that enough to warrant keeping him? There are a few notables around the league that think quite highly of him, so if we let him go we might regret it in the future. Keeping Mayhew is going to be a tough pill for the average fan because of our tendency to want to start over. I think most fans want to blow this thing completely apart and start from scratch. Keeping Mayhew would leave a remnant of the Millen era and that could leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth - especially if he fails.
Then there's the issue of keeping Marinelli. This could prove to be the most dangerous move of all. If they elect to keep him for one more year, it could have disastrous roster effects for years. The Lions have one of the best opportunities in years to rebuild. They've all but conceded this year is a scratch. They are begrudgingly starting to play the young guys... well, at quarterback anyway. And now they have 2 first round draft picks to start the "new" Lions with. This is a great position for them to be in, but there are some big "IFs" that will cause them to succeed or fail in this opportunity. IF they can select the right players... IF those players fit the schemes... IF the coaching staff can successfully coach these young guys... IF they spend a little cap money in free agency on the "right" players.
So knowing the big "IFs", the question is, do you have faith in Marinelli's staff and schemes? I don't. I did coming into this season, but the utter failure of this year has really changed my mind. Marinelli knows football. He does. But what I've learned about him is this: 1) He does not truly know and understand personnel 2) He is a great defensive coach and motivator, but a poor head coach and decision maker and 3) a deeply loyal and steadfast guy that believes in his ways to a fault.
I'll dissect these points a bit. First, the personnel thing. Marinelli's biggest fault is his over-evaluation of guys without the measurables. Talent is more important than football character. Not that character is not important (see Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, etc), but talent has to be the defining characteristic. His idea was to create a defense built on speed, but what he did was create a fast defense that can't tackle, can't get to the quarterback, can't seem to figure out a zone scheme and is undersized to the point they get consistently beat.
Second, let's evaluate his game management or should I say, lack thereof. Good head coaches in this league lean heavily on the coordinators to do their job and concentrate on managing the overall fluidity and critical decisions during the course of the game. Marinelli knows very, very little about offense and therefore acts as a second defensive coordinator. This leaves the team without a head coach. He most often looks a bit befuddled, mumbling to himself as he paces the sidelines. This leaves the fans scratching their collective heads, wondering if he truly knows what's going on out there.
Lastly, let's look at what is arguably his best and worst attribute at the same time. Marinelli, the former Vietnam vet, is a rock-solid guy and is completely steadfast in his beliefs and set in his ways. But this is the poison pill when it comes to in-game and in-season adjustments. He is simply too slow on the draw and experienced head coaches eat him alive. Put all of these points together and Marinelli should have noticed that his team did not have enough talent to run this version of the Tampa 2 and should have started tweaking the system in week one to start playing to what little strengths these players have. Week 6 was too late to start blitzing.
So back to my original point about why keeping Marinelli for one more season could be so dangerous. The Lions currently have 9 draft picks - two number ones (one of which could be the first overall and no less than a top five pick) and 5 of the top 100 picks. This is a perfect opportunity to start over. The problem is, you need to have a plan in place in order to draft effectively. You have to have offensive and defensive schemes in place and know, inside and out, the type of player you need to fit those schemes. The last two years, Millen and Marinelli have drafted the type of player that Marinelli thought he needed. The results have been horrible. Look at guys like Alama-Francis, Dizon, etc. - no impact whatsoever. Raw, undersized players that have not developed quickly enough. I know, the jury is still out on Dizon, Cherlius and others, but come on... these guys should at least be starting. If they cannot start for the 0-5 Lions, they are not NFL-caliber players. Let's just hope that this is a simple case of Marinelli not correctly evaluating personnel again and that they will be contributors to this team in the future.
I don't think that we can allow Marinelli to screw up this draft. We won't win next year and hopefully the front office sees this. We will be drafting for a potential 2010 or 2011 championship. Drafting "Marinelli Men" next year for the same Tampa 2 system or Colletto-based offensive system only to change coaches in 2010 seems ridiculous to me. If Marinelli has a losing season next year, which will be a certainty for any coach with the Lions, how can they keep him in 2010? If they keep him in 2009, they waste another draft by drafting players for a system that will be gone the next season and the cycle of craziness begins all over again. This can't happen. I'll give you a scenario that I don't think would/could happen, but I think that the Lions should pursue.
I think that the Lions should concede all front office positions and a complete purge of any players that won't fit the new regime's schemes. They should hire a GM with a long scouting background and then find a way to pry Jason Garrett from the Cowboys as head coach. I think that he could bring a little offensive freshness to this team and find a way to best utilize players like Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith. I think he could bring out the best in Stanton as well - put him on the move like he does with Romo. Also, he would most likely bring in a coordinator to adopt the 3-4 defense that Dallas plays. Very few current Lions players would fit this scheme, but that is where we truly start over. Sims and Dizon would move to the inside. Bodden and Keith Smith are much better man-to-man corners and might fit the scheme well. Bullocks is showing flashes of greatness at safety. Redding, in the interim, could move to DE. These are a few players that I think could fit the new scheme. Obviously, this would shift our draft focus to finding three major roles: a stud left tackle, a stout nose tackle and a speed rusher OLB. Those could be our first three picks and the players our future championship is built on.
Okay, I've rambled long enough. My point here is that there should be great concern on the part of fans that the Fords haven't quite done enough yet. This is a great start, though. I've been a fan of Marinelli until this year, but I've lost my faith in his ability to evaluate talent and make crucial decisions over the course of the season. I read on another post that it still feels like training camp with all of the moves and constant indecision with the schemes, etc. That couldn't have been said better. All of these issues should have been worked out then, not during the season (although, I have to concede that the Lions looked good in preseason, so the fault is not solely on Marinelli). Marinelli is just a week or two late on all of his decisions, mostly because of stubbornness. His opponents know the Lions weaknesses before he does and they pay for it each week. Letting Marinelli have his say on another draft - especially one where we may have the number one overall pick and two first rounders - could be a huge mistake. The results could set this team back another eight years. That thought makes me want to move to another state.