News came out Friday afternoon that the Detroit Lions and head coach Jim Schwartz had agreed to a multi-year contract extension.
When it comes to results on the football field, it’s impossible to argue the success of the organization under his watch. After taking over a team that finished 0-16 the previous year – the worst record in NFL history – he rode the helm to a playoff berth in just three years. It was the team’s first winning record since 2000, first playoff appearance since 1999, and first double-digit win total since 1995.
In fact, if Schwartz and the Lions go 13-3 this upcoming year – a tall order, to be sure – he would have as many Lions victories to his name as the combined regimes of Marty Mornhinwheg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, and Rod Marinelli. The Lions, perhaps as much as any team in the NFL, know that success in this league isn’t easy to come by.
Of course, Jim Schwartz isn’t alone in sharing the credit for the team’s rise toward the top of the league. Martin Mayhew has proven to be a chess master in the front office. We weren’t always sure that Matt Millen could see the move he was making at the time he made it, but it’s obvious that Mayhew is constantly looking two, three, and four moves ahead. He’s given Schwartz (mostly young) talent to work with, and Schwarz has molded them into a winner.
Schwartz helped change the culture of the organization from one that excused away losses and unfulfilled potential to one that demanded respect, earned it on the playing field, and wouldn’t take crap from anyone. As a coach, he wears his passion, fire, and emotions for his team on his sleeve.
His antics on the field – from fist pumping after wins, to taunting opposing players, to cussing out officials – may grow tiresome if the Lions continue to develop the reputation for lacking class, but these things undoubtedly recharged a fan base that had become accustomed to being the doormat of the league, and the brunt of many late-night jokes from the likes of Jay Leno.
The only question mark that remains for Schwartz pertains to the behavior of his players. From last season’s on-field stomp of Ndamukong Suh, to the six offseason arrests this year, Detroit is gaining an unsavory reputation nationally. This obviously needs to change, and Schwartz needs to be a catalyst in correcting that aspect of the team culture, but he’s far from being the only (or biggest) culprit in the matter. He’s seen as the leader, sure, but these are the players that Mayhew assembled for him. He needs to share in the blame and correction process. But it’s the players themselves who ultimately control the situation. It’s not Schwartz’s job to (nor can he possibly) babysit 90 adults during the offseason.
The off-field issues the organization has faced this offseason cast a cloud over everyone associated with the team, but these incidents shouldn’t have prevented the two sides from getting a long-term deal agreed to. Schwarz has been an overwhelming positive for a team that lacked any sort of success for over a decade. He may not end up being the guy that finally leads the Lions to the Super Bowl (how could we possibly know that right now), but the trend he’s set for year-over-year improvement show no reason why he couldn’t be.