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Lions Hire Danny Crossman as Special Teams Coordinator, Lose Quarterbacks Coach to Minnesota

The Lions have hired Danny Crossman to be the team's special teams coordinator.  Crossman was previously the special teams coordinator for the Carolina Panthers from 2005-09 and had been with that franchise since 2003.  He was fired after this past season, though.  Before joining the Panthers, Crossman was an assistant in college football.  He started out at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and later went on to coach for Western Kentucky, Central Florida, Georgia Tech, and Michigan State.

Here is what Jim Schwartz had to say about the hire:

"We are pleased to add Danny (Crossman) to our coaching staff.  He brings a wealth of both college and NFL coaching experience that undoubtedly will have a positive impact on our special teams play. I’ve known Danny for a long time, and I’ve always had tremendous respect for his special teams units."

Based on the stats provided in the Lions' press release on this hire, Crossman seemed to do a good job with the Panthers' special teams.

In 2008, the Panthers ranked third in the NFL with an opponent average drive start following kickoffs of 24.7. They were one of only three teams that did not allow an opponent to start a drive following kickoffs past the 50-yard-line. Carolina led the NFL in touchbacks (30) and touchback percentage (33.7), and the team was ninth in the league by allowing a 21.9 opponent kickoff return average.

In his first season (2005) as special teams coach, Crossman’s group ranked among the best in the league. That season, the Panthers ranked ninth in the comprehensive Dallas Morning News special teams ratings which was highlighted with rankings of second in punt coverage and seventh in kickoff coverage.

Under Crossman’s tutelage, Panthers P Jason Baker set the franchise record in net punting average in both 2005 (38.9) and 2006 (39.0). In both seasons, Baker’s net punting average ranked first in the NFC and third in NFL. From 2005-09, Baker ranked eighth in the NFL with a combined net punting average of 38.0.

The Panthers' press release on the move to not retain Crossman was of a much different tone and detailed Carolina's special teams struggles of late.

But in spite of Lloyd's kickoff proficiency, the Panthers struggled on kickoff coverage. Lloyd's 30-percent touchback ratio ranked fifth in the league last season, but when opponents returned his kickoffs, their average drive start was at their 29.6, the fourth-worst in the league.

Kickoff returns were also a point of frustration for the Panthers in recent seasons. Their collective average of 20.3 yards per kickoff return in the last five years ranked 32nd in that span, was 2.3 yards below the league average (22.6) and four yards behind the league's best (New England, 24.3).

During the last five years, 13 teams had single-season kickoff-return averages below 20 yards. Three of those 13 -- the most in the league -- were by the Panthers, including a 19.9-yard average in 2009 that ranked 31st.

Carolina fared better on punt returns the last five years; the team's 8.4-yard average ranked 20th in the league in that span.

Return touchdowns were also difficult to find.  The Panthers are the only team without a kickoff- or punt-return touchdown in the last five seasons; they've allowed five to opponents in that span, including two in 2009: an 85-yard DeSean Jackson punt return in Week 1 and a 97-yard Sammie Stroughter kickoff return for Tampa Bay in Week 6.

Carolina also had some difficulties with punt protection, allowing a league-worst five punts to be blocked in the last five years, including three in 2008.  The Panthers were also one of six teams to not block an opponent's punt in the last five years.  Their last punt block was by Karl Hankton on Dec. 26, 2004 at Tampa Bay in the penultimate game of O'Brien's tenure.

That doesn't exactly sound very impressive, nor does the fact that Football Outsiders ranked Carolina 29th in its special teams ratings. (The Lions were ranked 31st, by the way.)  Also, if the joyous reaction Panthers fans had to news that Crossman was fired says anything, it's that they were ready for a change just as much as Lions fans were with the firing of Stan Kwan.  I will have more on what Carolina fans thought of Crossman in another post.

Although the Lions were able to fill one vacancy on the coaching staff, another one popped up today when quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton decided to leave for Minnesota to be the Golden Gophers' offensive coordinator.  I'm guessing the Lions were hoping to have a full staff as they get ready to head to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, but unless a new quarterbacks coach is hired in the coming days, that won't happen.  I suppose a coach already on the staff could pull double duty and work with quarterbacks in Mobile, though.

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