There has been an increasing amount of chatter regarding Lions staff and potential changes based on the performance of the team both on the field and off. A growing part of that speculation is that the Lions will take high risks in the upcoming offseason in the draft and with Free Agents to save their jobs. Naturally, that theory is mostly focused on Head Coach Jim Schwartz and General Manager Martin Mayhew. I'll give my take on Schwartz's future here and discuss Mayhew in a later post.
First, lets look at Schwartz's history in Detroit. He was hired in January of 2009 from the Tennessee Titans after.....you know what. The owner of the Lions was reported to have strongly supported the hiring of Schwartz, and it was generally viewed as a good fit. Signed to a four year deal.
His record over the four years:
2009 - 2 - 14; 2010 - 6 - 10; 2011 - 10 - 6; 2012 - 4 - 12 Total = 22 - 42 .344%
The Lions did reach the playoffs in 2011, losing to the Saints in the wild card round.
A closer look at the Lions win/loss record over his career shows the following:
Abominable stage [2009/2010] - 4 - 24 [2 - 14 and 2 - 10]
Perfection/Nirvana [2010/2011] - 9 - 0 [4 - 0 and 5 - 0]
Mediocre [2011/2012] - 9 - 11 [5 - 7 and 4 - 4]
Abominable Part 2  - 0 - 8
After the playoff year of 2011, Schwartz's contract was extended to 2015. Terms unknown.
I'll now look at three areas to evaluate Schwartz's performance as Head Coach:
1. His Record to date
A mixed bag. Overall the record is not good, although that is tempered somewhat by what he had when he took over the team [Calvin and nothing else] and the fact that he did get this team into the playoffs in 2011. The team is definitely more competitive than when he took over. Pretty much always being within a score of the opponents over the last three years, even though more often than not, ending up on the wrong end of the score.
Being objective, his record is overall a negative.
2. Discipline and Culture
This is probably the most controversial part of his resume. When he came to the Lions, this team was frankly viewed as lethargic, unmotivated, soft, and underachieving. To instill some aggressiveness in his team, he pretty much turned a blind eye to penalties and violent play. You might even say he encouraged it. KVB and Nate Burleson were signed as high profile FAs in 2010 to provide some veteran leadership of the defence and offence.
The Lions went from a middle of the pack [17th and 12th in the NFL] penalized team in 2008 and 2009 to the second and third most penalized team in 2010 and 2011. They moved back in the pack to 13th in 2012. In addition, some of the fouls were particularly bad leading to fines and a suspension, in particular those by N. Suh.
The off field escapades were even worse leading to the release of a very promising CB, Aaron Berry. Titus Young was eventually let go due to his actions against the team on the field and in practices. There was a lot of national coverage of the Lions and their "lack of discipline". This has led to the Lions to be extra cautious when drafting to ensure good character [re. Janoris Jenkins] as it is not felt they have the culture or freedom to take a risk on a player due to any off field issues he may have.
The focus on Schwartz was even higher due to his loud,sometimes obnoxious behaviour during the games culminating in an ugly and embarrassing scene with Niners HC Jim Harbaugh after a tough loss in 2011.
Personally, I don't get as worked up as others regarding the penalties, but Schwartz's antics and emphasis on aggressiveness seemed to backfire in the latter half of the 2011 season and the 2012 season. Coaching and player errors seemed to be on the increase in 2012.
In one respect, I think Schwartz has instilled a never say die attitude in his team, leading to some tremendous comebacks and a positive attitude. I find it hard to blame Schwartz for the off season shenanigans of the rookies either. But, his own behaviour and leadership has been lacking here. He needs to act more professional and set a better example. I'll call this a wash as I think this has started to turn around.
3. Team Direction/Goals
Jim Schwartz came to Detroit, like many before him, to make this franchise a winner. A long term winner, eventually to win a Super Bowl. One of his criteria for becoming a Head Coach was to go to a team with a franchise QB, preferably young, or the # 1 pick to get that franchise QB. The Lions and Matthew Stafford fit that profile and a dynamic passing offence was built around him. On the defensive side, that unit was to be built around a dominant D Line. With Suh, Avril, Fairley, KVB, C. Williams, and Lawrence Jackson, it looked like he had that unit too.
But a key part of growing a long term winner is the ability to develop and plug in young replacements for the inevitable losses due to injuries, declining performance, and salary cap casualties. This is where the Lions, and Schwartz in particular have been deficient. The Lions remain one of the oldest teams in the NFL [third oldest just behind the Falcons and Chargers], and do not seem to be able to get the younger players into the starting lineup. Whether that is because there is not the will to give them the chance or if they are just not capable of handling the job, both fall on Schwartz's shoulders.
I think that Schwartz's [and Mayhew's by the way] plan to build a winner was solid. There is no reason why it cannot be successful in the long run. They have many of the key parts on hand to accomplish it. However, the inability to groom younger players to fill more of the roles on the team, continues to undercut the ability of this team to weather injuries and get out of cap hell. I'll call this a slight negative too.
Jim Schwartz came in with a huge job to do and very little resources to do it. He has accomplished a lot, and he has ruffled a lot of feathers [fans and the media] while doing it. My biggest concern for the future is the Lions inability to find and develop talent to the point where they can displace more expensive veterans. The failure that was 2012 was in a large part due to the inability of a number of younger players to step up and become the regular, reliable, and significant contributors that the Lions need.
Players like Aaron Berry CB, Titus Young WR, Willie Young DE, Amari Spievey S, and Brandon Pettigrew TE, for example.Some other younger players seemed to have plateaued. Players like Cliff Avril DE and Deandre Levy OLB.
I won't even include anyone in the 2012 draft class as they seemed to contribute when given the chance, although those chances were few and far between. Part of that failure due to injuries [Broyles and Bentley], others due to a reluctance to get them in the starting lineup [Green and Reiff].
Frankly, because of the extension to 2015, it would take a particularly horrendous 2013 season to see Jim Schwartz get fired. I see 2013 as a year to get the Lions back on track, and 2014 as the year that Schwartz's employment will be reevaluated, based on how the team is moving forward.
Like some of his key players, I see Jim Schwartz as still growing into his role as Head Coach. His partnership with Martin Mayhew has been a positive for this franchise, and a must in building this team.
Being an optimist, I think Coach Schwartz learned a lot from last year, and 2013 will see more change in the roster and starting lineup. Expect to see a calmer, and quieter Jim Schwartz in 2013 and beyond. I reject the notion that Schwartz is desperate and will draft for immediate impact. For one, I don't believe he thinks that way, and second, over Mayhew's dead body.
I would not go so far as predicting a return to the playoffs in 2013, but I believe this team will get back on the track for long term success with Jim Schwartz as Head Coach.
Sorry for the length of this article, but I felt there was a lot of ground to cover and wanted to do it justice. As always, all questions and comments will be pleasantly and respectfully responded to.