After the collapse of the Detroit Lions in the second half of the 2013 season it was obvious that Jim Schwartz was going to be fired. It will probably be a decade or more before the Lions have another opportunity to win a division championship that is packaged so advantageously. The Vikings were too inept to win the division. Both the Bears and Packers lost their starting quarterbacks for long stretches of the season and floundered because of it. The Lions had no excuses but their own ineptitude for failing to run away with the division crown.
When Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand held their press conference to announce the firing of Schwartz they claimed that there is a specific profile of what the next Lions coach should look like. It is impossible for any of us to know definitively what is included in that profile, but there are some things that we can make pretty confident guesses about.
Given the statements made by Mayhew and Lewand at the press conference we can be sure that they both expect the next coach to win quickly. There will not be a five year rebuilding plan for the new coach. Mayhew stated that he felt the talent was already in place to win and make the playoffs consistently, and that the Ford family expects nothing less. I agree that the Lions have enough talent on the roster to win on any given week and that Jim Schwartz did not find a way to make that talent consistently count toward wins.
The short time frame to success implies that the next Lions coach will need prior head coaching experience. It would not be fair to throw a rookie coach into such an unforgiving timeline. Coaches have a learning curve just as players do, and there will not be enough patience for a rookie head coach to learn their craft.
One of the reasons that Scott Linehan was let go is because of the apparent regression of Matthew Stafford over the past two seasons. Development of Stafford has to be one of the priorities of the new coaching staff. The new head coach may not be the man who directly coaches Stafford, but if he isn't, he needs to insist on hiring a strong coach for that role. I have some theories about this that will have to wait for another article.
The new coach must be much less tolerant of mistakes. One of the failures of Jim Schwartz was being too accepting of player mistakes. You know that he accepted them too easily because players who made the same mistakes over and over again rarely were benched for long. The only real power a coach has over a player is whether they get into the game or not. Coaches have to be willing to bench players for increasing lengths of time each time the player repeats a mistake that the coaches want to eradicate. Continuing to play someone that refuses to correct their mistakes only serves to introduce an atmosphere of laxity and create mistake prone teams.
The responsibility of players on the field needs to start from the most fundamental techniques and progress all the way to advanced positional techniques and skills. Players who do not use proper form tackling should be punished for it by sitting on the bench. Players who do not practice proper ball security should be benched. Players that repeatedly blow assignments should be benched. The list of fundamental flaws is almost endless with the Lions. This needs to be applied equally to all players regardless of talent.
The new coach has to stop making excuses for mistakes. He does not need to toss players under the bus in front of the media, but he should redirect the question directly to the player without covering for them. Players who make mistakes in games need to be forced to come out and answer questions to the press after the game. The players need to be held responsible and bear the blame for their mistakes in the public eye. Too many Lions were able to hide in the locker room after a poor performance.
The new coach has to create a strong expectation of winning and and equally strong hatred of losing. The week after losing a game has to be made as uncomfortable as possible for the players. When the team wins the coaches can ease up. It needs to be clear that there will be a price exacted for losing. If the players want a consistently comfortable and relaxed atmosphere then they need to win consistently to get it.
The new head coach needs to be balanced in their approach toward both offense and defense. Schwartz was a defensive minded coach. That makes it a mystery as to why the defense struggled so much in his tenure. I feel that Schwartz was very involved in the defense to the point where he prevented Gunther Cunningham from doing what he wanted with the defense. I also believe the front office knows that and it is part of the reason why Cunningham is still with the Lions.
Conversely, Schwartz was almost completely separated from the offense. Schwartz admitted early in his tenure in Detroit that he was uncomfortable on the offensive side of the ball and that he would let Scott Linehan have almost complete control there. That was also a mistake. The head coach should be engaged in both offense and defense but not to the point where they undercut the coordinators.
It is also likely that the new head coach will be comfortable with running a 4-3 defense. The personnel on the Lions roster is designed for a 4-3 scheme and altering that would require a significant turnover of defensive players, especially at linebacker. I suspect that Gunther Cunningham was kept on so that the Lions could hire an offensive minded head coach in order to develop Stafford while maintaining some continuity on defense. This also allows the front office to see what Cunningham could accomplish with the defense without the interference of Schwartz.
Given all of the things that I see in the profile for a new Lions coach there are candidates available that fit the bill. Ken Wisenhunt is probably the closest fit to the profile that I envision, but that does not mean that the Lions have the same profile. All I know is that the next Lions coach better be successful quickly or the next round of changes will encompass the front office as well as the coaching staff.