The Detroit Lions’ decision to fire special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs is a tough one to swallow. All year, we were raving how impressive Coombs was from a production and leadership standpoint. Now he’s gone with no chance of being retained under a new regime.
On the surface, I absolutely hate the move. After some digesting, while I may understand why Detroit made the move, I still think it was the wrong choice.
I’m not going to make this about the decision to go for it or not. While I do believe the Lions should’ve been aggressive in that moment, Coombs undoubtedly went about it the wrong way by trying to pull rank on Bevell. That simply wasn’t his decision to make, even if I think he’s right.
But let’s be clear: interim head coach Darrell Bevell should not be making any drastic moves that could impact this team’s future. There’s a very good chance Bevell is not around in two weeks, so if he’s got a problem—even one as serious as a special teams coordinator going rouge—the Lions need to tell him to ride it out for two weeks.
This is Coombs’ first year as a special teams coordinator, and by all means it has been successful. The Lions’ punt coverage team is one of the best in the NFL, with Detroit sporting the best net punting average in the league. Their kick and punt return averages are both in the top half of the league. Detroit’s special teams PFF grade is 90.8 (t-fourth) and they’re 17th in special teams DVOA.
And he made a mistake. A very, very big mistake. Perhaps one of hubris for his young age. Going rogue on a fake punt in the fourth quarter in a two-score game is an egregious error that deserves serious reprimanding. And Darrell Bevell was probably even right to go to the organization and say, “I want this guy fired for breaking protocol and undermining my position.”
Can confirm this.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) December 21, 2020
Want to clarify my last tweet, though: Apparently, the decision was made by Darrell Bevell, then approved by Rod Wood, per a source. https://t.co/vX24mV7aj1
But it’s on the higher-ups in the organization to tell him no. They should have, instead, used this as a learning opportunity for Coombs, tell him he’s on thin ice, then break down the entire situation for the new head coach and general manager, and let them decide on what to do with Coombs. Let the new GM and head coach sit down and interview to hear Coombs’ side of things before making this decision.
The Lions are telling the media this was a decision that was a long time coming. Coombs was apparently not a “culture fit” and was too much about himself than the team. Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s the Lions trying to play the PR game. But he certainly seemed to be well liked by the players:
What we doin man, cmon— Mal (@jamalagnew) December 21, 2020
To be fair, though, we’re less than a week from Chris Spielman talking about creating a Lions culture, and a big part of that culture is creating a team that has clear communication from top to bottom and leadership that understands their roles.
“There has to be communication,” Spielman said of the new Lions culture. “Everybody has to understand the direction that we’re going. Everybody has to know what our culture is, and you can’t waiver for them.”
On Sunday, Coombs wavered. He did not pull in the same direction of Bevell. And if team president Rod Wood and Spielman heard that and wanted him out the door too, I guess I can respect that (NOTE: It appears Spielman had no say in this matter). It still feels hasty, but I get it.
Did Coombs make a huge mistake that deserved punishment? Absolutely. Did Bevell have every right to be pissed and want him fired? Again, yes. But the Lions owed it to the next people running the show to let them make this decision for themselves. Instead, they may have let one of the best up-and-coming coaches go, and there’s no chance he’s coming back.