Alright I'm one of those few individuals who went through his boyhood having never played a snap of organized football. Consequently my frame of reference when trying to understand what is happening during a game is very reliant on others' understanding of the game. Sure I can see when a player plays head and shoulders above his competition. Seeing a Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Joe Montana, or Barry Sanders dominate is easy to understand. These men are just better than the others. Its in the strategy of the game, whether or not the mistakes these Lions repeatedly make are the result of bad personnel or bad coaching, where my understanding is too limited for me to objectively deduce the root cause of our team's repeated failures. I have not watched football long enough to trust my instinct...
Here is where the fun of American football lies for those of us watching from our couches. The cerebral nature of it, the fact that it is a coaches game also makes it a fan's game. I played soccer as a kid and all the coach could really do is prepare you, once the game started you were on your own for all intents and purposes (my being the fastest kid every game meant I loved this aspect of being on my within the framework of a team). This is very much unlike football where even a great player can be completely undermined or made on the game time decision making of his coaching staff. This is what makes it such a game for the fans, because we to can make calls in game and theorize whether we had called it better than the coaches. Endless postgame discussions revolving around "what-ifs" can be had. This also the danger of football for so much time can be wasted about nothing... speaking of wasting time I should get to my point.
My frame of reference for this season will be my knowledge of military history, specifically how it relates to leadership, and what I've learned from leadership from those in my life around me. My instincts in this area lead me to the frustrating conclusion that Schwartz is not a good enough leader to put us over the top and claim the Superbowl, yet he is too good to be fired. Why do I think this way?
There have been many great battlefield leaders throughout history, our ancient past reverberates with the names of Hannibal, Alexander, and Caesar. Moving forward we have Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Admiral Nelson. And our own, Washington, Grant, Jackson, Lee, Pershing, Patton, etc. Each of these men, while incredibly diverse, shared many of the same talents. You'll find that what sets the greatest of these men apart from their fellows is the ability to look at a battlefield and intuitively grasp the whole of the situation, and in its complexities pick out the simple keys wherein lie the victory.
Napoleon at Austerlitz knew that he was at the end of his logistical supply line, that to advance would spell doom for his army, he also knew that the coalition of Austrian and Russian troops under the leadership of Russian general Kutuzov knew of his weakness and had no intention of fighting him, choosing instead to retreat and draw him in further. So Napoleon masterfully offered an armistice as a show of weakness, while leaving some 60,000 of his troops in a seemingly precarious positions. The allies thinking him weak decided (against the wishes of Kutuzov) to pounce on his troops that were left hanging in the open, not knowing that France reinforcements were sweeping around to occupy the heights that they were vacating in order to attack the French.
Rommel of the second world war knew that the desert theater of North Africa was to be decided by tanks, he knew he could not risk his tanks in battle against the British tanks for they outnumbered him 2:1. Brilliant logistical acumen gave Rommel the ability to continually scatter the various elements in his force and converge them on single points of attack. Familiarity with his equipment led to Rommel using his anti-aircraft guns, the famed 88s, to be used as anti-tank guns in tank traps. Light, fast moving, tanks lured the British tanks into traps of carefully concealed 88s time and time again, leaving Rommel's heavy tanks (with infantry support) free to counterattack unopposed. The 49ers can thank Rommel for that infernal wham-trap play.
I don't believe Schwartz has this ability to intuitively grasp how the game is to be won. I think he as an economics major relies too much on numbers and stats to tell him how the game is to be played. I think our defense, which was so good in 2010, fell too earth in 2011, and has only recently recovered its stride because it was modeled (with its pass rush tendencies) to be like Tony Dungy's Colts, built to play with a lead. With a lead this defense is unstoppable. But we don't have Peyton Manning (who Schwartz faced two times a year for nearly a decade as a DC), we have instead a Brett Favre-ish kid who loves the game and requires getting into a rhythm. Stafford needs to make mistakes and take chances. Unfortunately our team isn't designed to play that way, for they might go into a hole early on. Schwartz doesn't have the ability to use his players to the best of their abilities, he instead tries to fit them into whatever schemes or gameplans have been shown to work in the past in whatever the given situation is. He does not have a complete understanding of the game.
Now the coaches can't be blamed for all the dropped passes, players not executing schemes, players becoming dis-interested in the game (you Titus Young JUNIOR, I'm looking at you), or can they? Looking back at military leadership the example of Lt General Hal Moore, U.S. Army (retired) stands out to me. A proven leader on battlefield, he had four famous maxims, and while all are quite prescient and simply brilliant, one in particular applies to our conversation. His third principle is as follows: "When there is nothing wrong - there's nothing wrong except - There's Nothing wrong! That's exactly when a leader must be on alert." What he was saying is to identify potential problems ahead of time, so that you don't have to worry about them in the middle of a firefight.
The middle of a regular season is the wrong time to be worrying about stupid mistakes, yet season after season our coaching staff is forced to play whack a mole against problems that should have been taken care of in the offseason. This is what sets good coaches in this league apart from the average and inept. A good coach would have looked at Stafford and said "Gee he was so great last year, but this year maybe we should work on...", there was no problem with Stafford last year, except there was no problem. Focusing on other things our staff completely missed issues that should have been taken care of before. A fumble here and there happens, but when mistakes and sloppiness are habitual it points to the coaching staff having been too relaxed in the offseason. In the middle of a firefight you want to be concentrating on how to win the battle, you shouldn't be teaching your troops how to shoot a rifle or execute manuevers, its too late for that.
I don't think Schwartz has the instinct to win, or the ability to identify potential problems in the future. Can he change and become a better coach? This leads me to wonder... if Rommel were a coach, what would he do?
P.S. These are my thoughts, and while I don't have too much of an understanding of the intricacies of the game that is no excuse for saying anything incredibly stupid, so feel free to fire away and enlighten me. I enjoy learning, even when it hurts. <Famous last words.