If the Detroit Lions are going to rebound in 2013, they will need to change the way they do business in the locker room and on the field.
In the first article of this series we looked at how staying the course sounds good, but may not make sense when you are having serious problems. This article will start pointing more directly at how we can solve some of the problems with the team. I have chosen accountability for the second part of the series because it flows naturally from our discussion about staying the course.
One of the things that really irritates me about the way the Detroit Lions are coached and managed is that players are allowed to act poorly and perform poorly over a long period of time before they are benched by the coaches. It is almost like the coaching staff has no concept of discipline or accountability.
I believe this all started after the handshake incident between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh. That moment seems to have been a turning point in the relationship between Schwartz and his players. It exposed Schwartz as a coach that lets his emotions rule his actions to the point where poor decisions are made, and the players followed his example. The remainder of the 2011 season was marred by repeated mental mistakes and lapses in discipline by the Lions. Schwartz has since reinforced his reputation as an emotional decision maker by throwing the challenge flag on a non-reviewable play against the Houston Texans that was instrumental in the Lions losing the game. These incidents have made it much harder for Schwartz to discipline players for similar plays where emotional decisions have led to serious mistakes.
One of the results of these incidents is that they make it more difficult for Schwartz to call players to account for their poor decision without looking like a hypocrite. Schwartz has undercut his moral authority with his players through his own actions. The accountability for the performance of the Lions now has to start with Martin Mayhew. He is the person that is in the best position to rectify the lack of accountability.
Mayhew has to start his quest for accountability by looking at his own performance. He needs to be more forthcoming in taking responsibility for his team. He is the guy at the top and that means the buck stops at his desk for everything that happens to the Lions. While I am sure that Mayhew sees himself as being accountable to the team ownership, he may laugh at the idea that he is also accountable to the fans. The unvarnished truth, whether Mayhew and the Fords want to admit it or not, is that the fans are the people that actually pay the checks that the Lions write. Without fan support there is no Lions franchise.
The management and coaches of the Lions sometimes treat the fans like a gaggle of silly school children, and that is completely unacceptable. It has some fans chafing at this shabby treatment by the Lions to the point where they are ready to speak with their wallets. They Lions brain trust needs to stop playing the fans like they are a bunch of dolts and realize that the fans will be the ultimate decision makers of their future. The fans need to be treated as partners, because that is what they are. They invest in the Lions every time they buy a ticket or a piece of Lions-branded merchandise.
I am not trying to say that Lions management should take suggestions from the fans about who they should draft or what players should be dressing for games. That would be ridiculous. I am suggesting that the coaches should never utter the sentiment that the fans are ignorant, even when they are. Be respectful, be as open as possible and be friendly to the fans. Stop treating them like they are a problem or the next problem the Lions may have will be a lot of red ink.
Mayhew is much too quiet. It is very rare that he makes any kind of commentary on the state of the Lions or issues with the team. I understand that some things cannot be talked about, but Mayhew takes his separation from the fans and the media to the level where he acts like he is under a vow of silence. Mayhew may stay out of the media to give Schwartz the limelight, but that is a serious miscalculation when Schwartz arrogantly insults the fans and labels them as ignorant. Mayhew must be available to defuse such public relations gaffes, but he just appears to be uncaring in his silence. Mayhew must display some level of leadership and control over his team when the coaches blow it. From the perspective of the fans, the leadership void with the Lions starts at the top.
Mayhew could start showing his leadership by addressing the discipline issues with Schwartz. It needs to be made clear to Schwartz that his lack of poise in tough situations is translating to the team. Schwartz must understand the example that he is expected to put forth for the rest of the team and embrace it. Mayhew is the one who must make that clear. Mayhew must tell Schwartz that he has made too many big mistakes already and the situation is not acceptable. Schwartz needs a little heat right now to motivate him to get his act together so he can be in a position to fix the accountability problems among the rest of the coaching staff and players.
After his talk with Mayhew, the first thing that Schwartz needs to do is roll some of that pressure downhill. The coaching staff needs to understand that they are in a situation where another bad season is probably their last in Detroit. Every coach must take that understanding back to their players. People need to be playing for their jobs from the top to the bottom, and the heat needs to be felt at every level of the organization because that is the only type of accountability that may take hold.
The problem with establishing accountability at this point is that it is really too late. Once you have lost credibility it is damnably hard to regain it. Every time somebody acts like they are in a position to criticize somebody else for their indiscretions they will have their own mistakes brought back to haunt them. Such working relationships are almost always a downward spiral.
For Schwartz and the players to do this successfully, they cannot approach it like nothing has been done wrong in the past. Instead the coaches and players need to be painfully aware of their lapses and seek redemption. A group of people working together to overcome a common fault can be very powerful. It is a concept that every successful 12-step program works on. The Lions can make it work for them too.
The final step is to create accountability among the players. This is the final step mainly because the players do not show up in Allen Park until OTAs start. I hope that the front office has already made it clear to the players that if there is a clown show like we had during the last offseason that heads will roll. The players need to keep their partying at home and stay out of the newspapers.
The Lions have already taken steps to make players accountable by releasing Titus Young. This may be the first step in the process but it cannot be the last. Other players need to be held accountable as well. Players who underperformed need to be released or benched. Stephen Peterman being released is an excellent second step.
There are also some free agents that need to go away. Stefan Logan is the top of the list. He should not be re-signed under any circumstance. Cliff Avril should only be re-signed if the money makes sense, and that is highly doubtful given the Lions' salary cap situation. Players like Corey Williams should be signed before Avril because they have shown a lot more commitment and loyalty to the team, in addition to playing well.
Once the players are back to work, the coaches and front office need to bring this home. Players who step out of line or make game-impacting mistakes need to feel the heat. There cannot be any more coddling of the players. Expectations need to be high and there cannot be any excuses.
I do not believe that establishing accountability will be an easy task for the Lions. It may turn out that Schwartz and his coaching staff will have to move to another team and get a fresh start to accomplish this. Since we are going to have this coaching staff for at least one more season, they have to do something to establish some accountability, or keeping them was senseless. There must be accountability for any team to work and succeed. The only real question is whether this front office, coaching staff and group of players can find a way to get it done.