There seems to be something going around the Detroit Lions media recently. There is essentially a smear campaign circulating surrounding former Lions offensive line coach Ron Prince. Whether it’s grounded in truth or not is up for debate, but it seemed to start during Super Bowl week with this tweet from MLive’s Kyle Meinke.
Man have I heard some, shall we say, unkind words about ex-Lions OL coach Ron Prince this week.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) February 1, 2018
There’s plenty of reason to believe Ron Prince was not good at his job. Despite Martin Mayhew and Bob Quinn’s efforts to continually improve the offensive line personnel, Detroit has remained one of the worst teams in both protecting its quarterback and establishing a respectable running game. In the three years Prince held the offensive line coach position, only one quarterback was sacked more than Matthew Stafford (Russell Wilson’s 129 sacks to Stafford’s 128). As for the running game... well, just look at the results:
1067 rushes, 3866 yards, 3.62 yards per carry.
All three of those stats are dead last in the league. In fact, the Chargers had the second fewest rushing yards over that time period, and they had nearly 600 more rushing yards than Detroit (4463).
But it feels like a bit of a cop-out to put it all on Prince. We’ve done this plenty of times before as Lions fans. “The running game will be fine once Ameer Abdullah is healthy.” “If the Lions offensive line can stay healthy and develop chemistry, Stafford will have all the time in the world.” “Once the Lions finally spend a first-round pick on a premier running back, the Lions’ running game will completely transform.”
Fixing something as complicated as offensive line play or running the ball is never as simple as changing one thing... but the evidence seems to be damning for Prince.
The NFL Combine is a chance for the media to directly rub elbows with some of their inside sources not only with their team, but with several other teams. There’s definitely some misinformation being spread, but regarding Prince, it’s all consistently negative.
Jeff Risdon, Lions insider and managing editor for both Browns Wire and Texans Wire, was at the NFL Combine and found out scoop on Prince. Here’s a transcript from his Monday periscope session:
“The firing of Ron Prince as the offensive line coach will be the single biggest reason why the Detroit Lions offensive line and run game gets a lot better. He was—I’ll be nice—he was not well regarded in the rooms, either the locker rooms or opposing locker rooms. The players weren’t all that high on him either. No player is ever going to be like, ‘I’m going to go wherever Ron Prince goes.’”
And Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press added more fuel to the fire on Monday:
“Prince has a very strong personality—some would say abrasive—that rubbed the veterans on the Lions offensive line the wrong way to the point they were put off by Prince’s methods.”
The quotes combined with the stats paint a very clear picture: Ron Prince was just not very good at his job. The Lions had the worst offensive play in the league during Prince’s tenure, and it appears the players didn’t respect nor respond to him well during his tenure.
The question now is whether the Lions can really turn it around without him. There’s no such thing as addition by subtraction, because if Prince’s replacement is just as bad, the Lions won’t budge. The Lions’ new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson has a long, relatively successful career in the NFL, but not everyone is a fan. In the same Birkett article reference above, one source is quoted as being weary of the hire.
“I’ve had discussions with one player (not currently a Lion) who’s lukewarm about new Lions offensive line coach Jeff Davidson because of their previous interactions,” Birkett wrote.
Whether Davidson turns out to be a success or failure likely won’t be decided for a couple years, but for now, it appears Prince set the bar incredibly low for him.
UPDATE: Kyle Meinke has more on Prince after his week at the NFL Combine:
I’ve been covering the NFL since 2013, and I’ve never heard a coach ripped this much by players, former players and people around the league. Never. I heard whispers around Allen Park dating back to last year. It came pouring out after he was fired. I heard more about it at the Super Bowl, and a whole lot more in Indianapolis. He’s not well-regarded for the work he did in Detroit last year, to say the least. His personality was just, like, grating. He wore on veterans. I think the Lions feel really good about moving on to Jeff Davidson, a really respected offensive line mind who also has coordinator experience. And as a former lineman, knows what players are going through, and knows how to talk to them.