One of the Detroit Lions’ biggest strengths of their roster is their defensive backs. Both Darius Slay and Glover Quin are Pro Bowlers. Quandre Diggs could be a budding star, while young players like Miles Killebrew and Teez Tabor are bundles of potential waiting to be tapped.
Part of the reason for a such a talented roster is the coaching skills of former Lions defensive backs (cornerbacks) coach Tony Oden. But when Matt Patricia was hired, Oden was out, and the Lions had to find a new coach to head this group of talented DBs.
Enter Brian Stewart. Of the Lions’ new coaches, Stewart is one of the most undersold signings. Though Stewart has been coaching for quite some time, he doesn’t have a ton of popular success stories. To be frank, not a lot of people know much about him. So let’s take a look closer look at his career to see what the Lions can expect of him.
Brian Stewart - Detroit Lions defensive back coach
1993-94: Cal Poly WR/RB coach
1995: Northern Arizona (TE/ST coach)
1996: Missouri graduate assistant
1997-98: San Jose State DBs coach
1999-2000: Missouri DBs coach
2001: Syracuse DBs coach
2002-03: Houston Texans assistant DBs coach
2004-06: San Diego Chargers DBs coach
2007-08: Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator
2009: Philadelphia Eagles special assistant to the defense
2010-11: Houston defensive coordinator
2012-14: Maryland defensive coordinator
2015-16: Nebraska DBs coach
2017: Rice defensive coordinator/CBs coach
As you can see, Stewart has been around. Starting at DII Cal Poly, he has slowly worked his way up to respected colleges, then eventually the professional leagues at the turn of the century.
Stewart has mostly served in the defensive backfield for his entire career, but more recently he has worked his way up the ladder. The peak of his career was in 2007, when he served two years as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. Since then, he’s pretty much held positions at that level or higher, but back in the college ranks.
Of course, perhaps the biggest factor in Stewart landing the Lions’ job was his one year at Syracuse, where he worked under now-Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. Matt Patricia was also at Syracuse at the time as an offensive assistant for the team.
It’s hard to directly track the success of a defensive backs coach, especially one that regularly must rely on the limited prospects given to him. However, with Stewart’s career, you can tell he’s doing something right simply by how long he’s been in the game and how gradually he’s earned more responsibilities.
Perhaps most telling is his time in the NFL. Starting as a defensive backs coach for the Houston Texans, Stewart helped get veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn to the third Pro Bowl in his career (first in four years).
From there he caught the eye of legendary coach Wade Phillips. When Philips took the defensive coordinator job with the Chargers, he brought Stewart along to coach the defensive backs. The Chargers defense, like many under Philips, was good:
San Diego Chargers defensive stats
2004: 13th in DVOA (14th vs. pass); 11th in PPG, 3rd in INTs
2005: 15th in DVOA (22nd vs. pass); 13th in PPG, 26th in INTs
2006: 15th in DVOA (11th vs. pass); 7th in PPG, 17th in INTs
After his three-year reign in San Diego, Wade Phillips was promoted to be the Cowboys’ head coach. He brought Stewart along with him, but this time Stewart was to be the defensive coordinator for the first time in his career. (Paul Pasqualoni also served as the Cowboys’ linebacker coach at the time). The results were definitely promising.
Dallas Cowboys defensive stats
2007: 9th in DVOA (8th vs. pass); 13th in PPG, 6th in INTs
2008: 9th in DVOA (11th vs. pass); 20th in PPG, 30th in INTs
Despite sporting a top-10 defense in 2008, Jerry Jones fired Stewart after the 2008 season. This is likely due to Dallas’ collapse at the end of the season. Needing just one win in the final two games to make the postseason, the Cowboys allowed 33 points to the Ravens and 44 to the Eagles. Needless to say, Dallas lost both games and finished a disappointing 9-7.
Dallas kept Phillips around—who assumed defensive coordinator duties on top of head coaching—and while the defense definitely rebounded in 2009, they quickly fell apart the next year, and Phillips was fired midseason.
2009: 10th in DVOA (15th vs. pass), 2nd in PPG, 26th in INTs
2010: 27th in DVOA (28th vs. pass), 31st in PPG, 7th in INTs
From there, Stewart mostly dropped down to the college level, where he mostly continued to build his experience as a defensive play-caller. Though he wasn’t the defensive coordinator in his few years at Nebraska, that is where he saw the most success. From his official Rice profile:
Last season, his corners led the way as the Huskers improved 78 spots to finish 30th in the nation in pass efficiency defense while closing the year tied for 14th with 16 interceptions. Junior cornerback Chris Jones earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors and was named to Pro Football’s Focus’ early-season All-America team.
But he was also successful in his time as the Houston defensive coordinator. From his official Maryland profile:
After taking hold of Stewart’s aggressive 3-4 scheme, Houston also improved from 96th nationally in scoring defense (32.2 points per game) in 2010 to 35th (22.4) in 2011.
While Stewart won’t be dictating the kind of defense the Lions will be using going forward, his experience as a defensive coordinator obviously shows what kind of defense he’s comfortable working with.
Having been mentored under Wade Phillips, it should come as no surprise that Stewart appears to prefer his 3-4, aggressive style of defense. From the Washington Post regarding Stewart’s time at Maryland:
Maryland finished 12th in the Big Ten in total defense and rushing defense in 2014, and was 13th in pass defense under Stewart’s blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme.
Obviously, those stats aren’t exactly promising and is why he and Maryland “mutually agreed” to part ways, but it gives us insight into what Stewart prefers.
DJ Hayden re-signing?
One important footnote in Stewart’s coaching career is that he was partially responsible for making D.J. Hayden a college star. A JUCO transfer, Hayden won the 2011 Conference USA Newcomer of the Year award at Houston in 2011 thanks to Stewart’s tutelage. A year later, Hayden would end up getting drafted in the first round.
Hayden is set to become a free agent in 2018, along with former Lions draft pick, Nevin Lawson. The Lions are going to need some depth, and possibly a starter, at the No. 2 and slot corner positions going forward, and this coaching hire could give Hayden a step up on Lawson or any other free agents on the market.