Detroit Lions Fire Jim Schwartz, Time to Discuss Replacement Options [Opinion]

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The Detroit Lions season officially ended on Sunday after losing their final game of the regular season to the Minnesota Vikings. With that loss, came a final record of 7-9 and no spot in this year’s playoffs. Since expectations were high this season for the Lions, its safe to say this season’s outcome was unacceptable which is why many fans and analysts are saying that changes need to be made starting with head coach Jim Schwartz.

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Apparently the Lions as an organization felt the same way, because on Monday morning, head coach Jim Schwartz was fired according to multiple reports from Adam Schefter of ESPN, Ian Rapport of NFL.com.

Honestly, I have to say I have no problem with  Schwartz being fired. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate what Schwartz has done with the Lions in the five years he was with the Lions, because he did a solid job of putting together a solid team. However, with that being said, I think Schwartz was a stepping stone for the Lions, meaning that he was a solid option to help the Lions accomplish a few goals and get them to where they are right now but he isn’t the guy to take the Lions to the next level which is ultimately the playoffs and a Superbowl.

I also question whether Schwartz knew how to hire the right staff to support him. By now, Schwartz should have understood that quarterback Matthew Stafford needed a quarterback coach to develop him. Schwartz was clearly not a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is not quarterback developer, yet Schwartz never hired one person who had the credentials and experience to help Stafford develop. Then I question his choice of coordinators, Linehan may not be the worst offensive coordinator but he hasn’t exactly been the best offensive coordinator for the Lions. Despite have two solid running backs, he ras the ball inconsistently, some of the routes on the passing plays were questionable and the list goes on. While I feel the Lions defense has improved, I still question defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and whether he should be on staff. Then don’t get me started on the scout team who is responsible for the NFL Draft.

Then there was Schwartz’s decision-making and lack of discipline of his team. During the season, Schwartz made some gutsy calls, most of which that didn’t pay off, whether it was going for it on fourth down or choosing to challenge a call. Then there were certain roster decisions, like signing kicker David Akers who has clearly declined over the last few years. Then to make matters worse, he didn’t make a point to keep a viable back-up kicker who was more reliable than Akers. When it came to discipline, it seemed the Lions were always shooting themselves in the foot with costly penalties. I know Schwartz couldn’t control his players actions on the field but there should have been some form of discipline and coaching to cut down on those penalties, the same goes with the issues that the Lions had off the field.

Now I’m not saying that Schwartz was a horrible coach because that’s not the case. However, I must reiterate that while he has done a solid job of building up the Lions to this point it doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t the right coach to take the Lions to the next level.

With that being said, the Lions have to be careful now that they have fired Schwartz, meaning that they better have the right replacement ready because whoever the Lions bring in has the possibility of destroying what Schwartz has built or they could take what Schwartz has built to the next level. Plus you have to remember that Schwartz still has $12 million dollars left on his contract, so we will be paying him and whoever else we bring in to be the next head coach.

Now there aren’t to many coaches available for the Lions to hire who are capable of taking the Lions to the next level, but there are a few to consider.

The first one being Lovie Smith. Now early on, he was speaking with the Houston Texans but as of right now, it’s seems they are putting their interest elsewhere which leaves Smith as a possible option for the Lions. When talking about Smith, you’re talking about a good head coach, who has the experience of handling and developing talent but more importantly building a team up to the next level. We all saw what he did with the Chicago Bears, leading them to multiple playoff appearances and a Superbowl appearance. Now I know the Bears didn’t win a Superbowl under Smith but that doesn’t change the fact that he is capable of leading a team to the next level. I also like the fact that he is disciplinarian, unlike Schwartz he won’t allow his team to be undisciplined on or off the field. He also is a defensive-minded coach who will make a point to take the defense to the next level and get the best out of them. While he is a defensive-minded coach, it doesn’t take away his ability to produce a solid offense, plus he understand who to bring in as offensive coordinator to take on that load.

Another candidate I like is Bill O’Brien. Now I know what your thinking, O’Brien is not coming to the Lions, since it seems he is the favorite for the Houston Texans head coach job but until he signs a contract with them, he is fair game in my mind. Plus what I like about O’Brien is his versatility, meaning he could the be the Lions new head coach or offensive coordinator. It wasn’t to long ago that he was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, where he did impressive work. Then he has done a great job with Penn State despite the issues that come with the job. I feel he would be a great developer of Stafford and I think we all know at this point that Stafford needs a quarterback coach who could mold him. Plus he knows how to develop offenses just like he did in New England and he knows how to develop talent, just look at what he has done for Penn State and because of his experience at the college and professional level, he will offer good insight on the NFL Draft as well. The point being, he would be a great option for the Lions, whether it’s as a head coach or offensive coordinator.

Ken Whisenhunt is another candidate that the Lions must consider.  He’s done a great job as the San Diego Chargers’ offensive coordinator this year and re-establishing quarterback Philip River’s career, who has had an outstanding season this year. Then let’s not forget that he won a Superbowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was as their offensive coordinator but nonetheless, he was a huge part of that impressive Steeler offense. Then as a head coach he took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl, they didn’t win but he has shown the ability to once again lead multiple teams to the next level which is what the Lions want and need. Just like O’Brien, he offers the ability to build and mold quarterbacks, he’s done it with Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner and he could do the same thing with Matthew Stafford.

For those fans who want Jon Gruden as the Lions next head coach, let me say when it comes Gruden, I have mixed feelings. I know he has solid head coach experience and a Superbowl ring under his belt but I’m still not sold on him being the best option. He may have won a Superbowl but let’s not forget that he won a Superbowl with the “Tony Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” Basically meaning that Dungy built that team and made it what it was, no offense to Gruden but he basically had a Superbowl ready team. I honestly feel that Superbowl ring is the main asset under his built. If you go back to his NFL coaching career, he wasn’t that impressive with the Raiders or Buccaneers (after the Superbowl). I’m not saying Gruden is a horrible option but I don’t feel he is the best option, like some do but that’s my opinion.

Other options to consider would be Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher. Both are retired obviously but you never know, they could be willing to come out of retirement and coach a talented team like the Lions. It’s not the most likely scenario but I will still put it out there as a possibility. Another possible wild card for the Lions to consider is Brian Kelly who is currently the head coach of Notre Dame. It’s unclear if he is willing to leave Notre Dame at this time, but I’m sure the Lions have interest in him just like they did before.

Overall, I stand by what I said before, which is that the Lions must be aware of who their next head coach is because whoever the Lions chose hire as his replacement could possibly destroy what Schwartz has built or they could take what Schwartz has built to the next level. If the Lions can’t acquire a good coach to take the Lions to next level, than firing Schwartz will be a waste and the team he built up could be destroyed. Don’t mis-understand what I am saying, I have no problem with Schwartz being gone because he can’t help the Lions much more than he already has in my opinion but I’d like to reiterate that the Lions aren’t that far away from being a true playoff contender but the Lions have to take the right steps to make that happen, starting with their next head coach. If their smart, I will receive a call, offering me a position on their staff as well but only time will tell.

Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit

Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com

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