This is the promised 2nd installment in the series, following the first installment of Ownership & the Front Office. Keep in mind, these are simply my opinions, and I am not trying to jack anyone into believing these are "pound the Bible facts". Hope you enjoy it.
Coordinator of Physical Development - Jason Arapoff - I still recall the article written when we signed Jason away from the Redskins. It was described as a “coup” of major proportions, a man who could create the type of “Hog” man beasts that the Redskins were famous for back in the day. Twelve years later we still have linemen who can’t win at the point of attack and a moribund injury history. Failed in spectacular fashion to get Mike Williams motivated to follow his program, although that can be attributed to Williams as much as anyone. Has consistently failed to improve the history of injury riddled players. In short, Arapoff has failed to live up to the hype surrounding his acquisition, he has failed to make this team any better than it was prior to his arrival, and he has done nothing to warrant another year.
Grade – D-
Strength and Conditioning Assistant – Ted Rath – In his fourth year, Rath has done little to distinguish himself one way or another. The best that can be said is that he is not responsible for directing the failed program he is responsible for implementing.
Grade – C
Special Teams Coordinator – John Bonamego – Coach Bonamego brings a wealth of experience with him in Special Teams to the Lions this season, replacing Danny Crossman, who took the same position with the Bills (Here’s a tip John, if no one remembers your name after this, you’ve done a good job!). After last year’s Special Teams disaster, they did a much needed housecleaning of personnel (Nick Harris, Stefan Logan). Bonamego will be tasked with rebuilding a unit which embarrassed the team all season long, with the exception of the retired Jason Hanson. Bonamego certainly has the experience and track record to expect a notable improvement, having broken into the league as an assistant for legendary Special Teams coach Frank Ganz, including a history of working with young kickers and returners. As a side note, Lions RB Reggie Bush scored on a 65 yard punt return as a rookie while working on Bonamego’s Special Teams unit in New Orleans.
Grade – TBD
Assistant Special Teams Coach/Quality Control – Evan Rothstein – Escaping the offseason purge of the Special Teams, Evan Rothstein returns to his role for the second season. Now folks, a Quality Control coach have a lot of responsibility to the team. They are responsible for breaking down film during the week that allows the coordinators to game plan. They are the guy you turn to, as a defensive coordinator, when you ask, “Hey Evan, check the film and tell me what the odds are that our Cloud 32 defensive set will neutralize the Packers XY Split 15 package given our personnel this week.” This position is commonly a springboard used by many young coaches to attain career progression, Most NFL Head Coaches and Coordinators were Quality Control coaches at one point in their careers.. Given the teams failure early on in games last year, one can only hope that Rothstein has improved dramatically this year.
Grade – C
Offensive Coordinator – Scott Linehan – No NFL Coordinator has had as much success and criticism thrown their way as Linehan has. Since taking over at Louisville as offensive coordinator from Bobby Petrino, Linehan has had some of the hottest offenses in football. In his time with the Lions, Linehan took over an anemic offense with a rookie QB, and within three years crafted a top 5 NFL offense. Few coordinators have achieved as much success with as many personnel limitations as Linehan. Outside of the Lions brief relationship with Jahvid Best, Linehan has had only one true “go-to” weapon in Calvin Johnson. Brandon Pettigrew will never be confused with Jimmy Graham, Nate Burleson will never be confused with Roddy White, LeShoure will never be confused with even Willis McGahee, Titus Young will never be confused with…..anyone, and the Lions O-Line in recent years will never be confused with success as run blockers. Despite all of these limitations, Linehan still found a way for the offense to finish 3rd overall last year in the NFL, and yet he still remains one of the most criticized coaches by both fans and media for perceived failures which have no regard for his personnel strengths and limitations he has faced.
Grade – A+
Running Backs Coach/Running Game Coordinator – Curtis Modkins – The hiring of Modkins marks a decided shift toward a commitment to a more balanced offensive scheme going forward. This was reinforced when the Lions ditched ineffective Stephen Peterman, and drafted an interior offensive lineman (3rd round) higher than they have since they drafted Center Dominic Raiola at the start of the Millen error, I mean era. While he won’t have an Andy Levitre opening holes for his running game anytime soon, Modkins has been tasked with turning around an ineffective running attack while integrating his schemes with Scott Linehan’s, and tapping the most of Reggie Bush’s talents, as he was tasked to do the same with CJ Spiller as Offensive Coordinator of Buffalo the past three seasons. A successful reversal of fortunes for the Lions rushing attack would likely propel Modkins back to a full time Offensive Coordinator role, or even further. Modkins takes over for Sam Gash, who was fired, and is still seeking coaching employment.
Grade - TBD
Quarterbacks Coach – Todd Downing – Downing came to the Lions with Linehan in 2009 from his St. Louis staff, where he had been a Quality Control coach. Downing, who has helped shape the unprecedented success we have seen from Lions QB’s in recent years, is quite likely in line for a shot at an Offensive Coordinator position should the Lions have another successful offensive campaign.
Grade – A
Tight Ends Coach – Bobby Johnson – Johnson brings a different coaching flavor to the position than Tim Lappano did last year. While Lappano had more of a skills personnel related coaching background, Johnson’s background is more Offensive Line oriented, which could signal a subtle philosophical shift in the positional expectations moving forward, supported in thought by the drafting of big blocking TE Michael Williams of Alabama. Johnson certainly comes from a diverse coaching background, coaching the same position last year for the Jaguars, an assistant offensive line coach with the Bills, offensive line coach at both Indiana and Miami of Ohio.
Grade – TBD
Offensive Line Coach – Jeremiah Washburn – This one here was a bit of a head scratcher to me at first blush. Washburn replaces the fired George Yarno, who has since taken the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars (Is there a secret wormhole between Detroit and Jacksonville that the rest of the universe is unaware of?). It seems strange that you would seemingly fail a person upwards in the NFL, especially when they were part of an uninspiring and under-performing unit the previous year. However, there seems to be a personal relationship between Schwartz and Washburn, dating back to 1999, which apparently transcends on-the-field results. It still seems odd that given the staff commitment they made in Modkins and Johnson, that they would not make the investiture of hiring a run blocking offensive line coach. Don’t get me wrong, the Lions offensive line was excellent in pass protection last year, but in the run game they were absolutely putrid. They couldn’t open a hole through Richard Simmons. Perhaps Washburn was held back by Yarno, and he will prove me wrong, but until then……….
Grade – C-
Assistant Offensive Line Coach – Terry Heffernan – Heffernan joins the Lions having made the jump from Wayne State Offensive Line Coach to the NFL. However, Heffernan has worked in large football programs as a graduate assistant with stops at Michigan and Louisville. This will be Heffernan’s first season in the NFL coaching ranks.
Grade – TBD
Wide Receivers Coach – Tim Lappano – Tim returns to being a Wide Receivers coach for the first time since serving in that capacity in Purdue in 1997. Better known as a running backs coach, Lappano has nonetheless coached every skill position offensively at some point in his 31 year coaching resume. He takes over for the fired Shawn Jefferson, who most certainly was not being used as a coaching scapegoat for Titus Young, nope, absolutely not. Lappano takes over a unit which has All-World Calvin Johnson and a lot of question marks otherwise. Having not had what one might call ‘stellar success' with the hands of Brandon Pettigrew, one has to wonder if Lappano is simply shuffling through as a one year Band-Aid.
Grade – C
Offensive Assistant – Kyle Valero – Valero returns for his fourth year with the Lions, and has served in numerous capacities as a defacto offensive QC Coach, assistant WR Coach, and he probably gets the coffee as well. Valero has previous experience as Chief Gopher for Florida State. Valero would probably be in line for a promotion at some point, especially if the receivers perform at a higher level this year.
Grade – B
Defensive Coordinator – Gunther Cunningham – Sometimes the clichés are correct. Sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Sometimes, you can’t even get through to that person, with a 3” thick Neanderthal skull who thinks they are always right regardless of the facts staring them in the face, that there is an even remote possibility they might be wrong. Despite the defense slipping in 2011 (coincidentally with a shift to emphasize the Wide 9), and an even further dip in 2012, both Cunningham and his boss remain obstinately committed to a defensive philosophy which works like a screen door on a submarine. The Wide 9 will never work in the NFL for the same reason the Option offense won’t either. You have superior Athletes at every position, the cream of the crop, and when you ask your MLB and your OLB to take on an unobstructed LT (Typically the best athlete on the O-Line) and FB, barreling toward them, AND then ask them to stop Adrian FREAKING Peterson, what kind of results do you seriously expect to have??? Were it not for the atrocious state of the offensive lines in both Chicago and Green Bay, this defensive alignment would look even more badly exposed than it does already. This defense HAS talent - Badly misused talent. It is my opinion the last time Cunningham had an original defensive thought was when a guy named Derrick Thomas was playing for him. I certainly hope Cunningham makes me look like a fool this year, I also seriously doubt it. There are several good up and coming defensive minds in the NFL who could work wonders with the defensive talent we have on hand right now.
Grade – D
Defensive Line Coach – Kris Kocurek – Kocurek enters his third season as the D-Line coach for the Lions. While the unit as a whole has been seen as underachieving given the level of talent, it is my opinion that is due more to scheme than attributable to any coaching deficiencies. Kocurek was instrumental in the development of Sammie Lee Hill in helping him transition from tiny Stillman college to be an effective NFL DT. On the other hand, Kocurek has failed to get similar results from Willie Young, and things are not looking great on the Ronnell Lewis front either. Being handed more young talent to work with out of this year’s draft in Ansah and Devin Taylor, Kocurek will have every opportunity to show how good he really is.
Grade – B-
Assistant Defensive Line Coach/Pass Rush Specialist – Jim Washburn – Yes, in the event you are still paying attention, this is Jeremiah Washburn’s father, and yes, another Schwartz connection from Tennessee. Washburn has overseen some of the most prolific defensive lines at Tennessee with Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth, and has experience in the Wide 9 while overseeing the decline of Jason Babin last year in Philadelphia. Washburn will be handed some of the best defensive line talent in the NFL to help progress with the Lions.
Grade – TBD
Linebackers Coach – Matt Burke – Burke enters his fourth year as Lions LB Coach after following Schwartz here from Tennessee. Burke has not been handed a great deal of talent to work with during his years with the Lions, but he has managed to oversee a unit that has become what could best be described as “not incredibly detrimental”. That’s pretty much the best that can be said for this unit. The Tahir Whitehead project, not a success thus far, will be one of the points of judgment.
Grade – C+
Assistant Linebackers Coach – Bradford Banta – Banta, who was a Special Teams assistant last season, gets shuffled to assistant linebackers coach, perhaps to clear more of the stink away from last year’s Special Teams debacle more than anything else. The former Lions Long Snapper remains a puzzling piece of this coaching staff, but someone who is apparently making a significant contribution, as it would have been easy enough to simply get rid of him during the offseason coaching changes. Still…
Grade – D+
Secondary Coach – Marcus Robertson – Robertson has some huge shoes to fill. Taking over for Tim Walton, who left to become Defensive Coordinator of the Rams. Walton was, in my opinion, the brightest coach on the Lions defensive staff, and Jeff Fisher apparently shared that opinion as well. Walton did a remarkable job for the castoffs and retreads he was handed. Robertson is no slouch either though. As a three year secondary coach for the Titans, Robertson’s unit, measured by pass defense, improved each of his three seasons as secondary coach. He was a part of last year’s Lion’s staff assisting Walton. While dealing with numerous injuries last year, which pressed many marginal players into starting roles, Robertson directly participated in the development of many of last year’s players, and stands to reap the rewards of his work this year.
Grade – A-
Head Coach – Jim Schwartz – Well Jim, the Honeymoon is long since over, and your Get of Jail Free card for making the ’11 playoffs has been cashed in. Like many coaches in the NFL, this is a make or break year. Another year like last year will get you the boot. On the other hand, another playoff appearance will probably get your Get out of Jail Free card back, if Lions HC history is any indication. I have a lot of respect for Schwartz in many areas. He came into the worst situation of any coach in NFL history and brought respectability back for all of us. On the other hand, his hot headedness and gaffes have directly hurt the team on the field on more than one occasion. His loyalty to his coaches is admirable, but his failure to adapt his defensive philosophy to meet the needs of reality is foolhardy in the extreme. Success and failure as a coach is so often viewed under the light of expectations given circumstances. One playoff appearance, a loss, over the span of four years, would get a lot of coaches fired elsewhere in the NFL. How much dispensation do you give a guy taking over an 0-16 team? Well, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? I’d love to stick an “Incomplete” in here, as I believe this season will provide the full measure, one way or another, but……..
Grade – B-