Nov 24, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz during the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing The Detroit Lions Under Jim Schwartz to Expansion Teams

No on can accuse the Detroit Lions of a lack of patience. Whether it was with Wayne Fontes, Matt Millen or a seemingly endless host of characters, the Lions’ management has historically stayed on sinking ships much longer than many would think reasonable.

Unable to pull away in a battered NFC North and losers of three of their last four games, Lions fans are right to wonder if head coach Jim Schwartz represents another sinking ship. If the Lions can’t win the division this year given what the Bears and Packers have had to deal with, when will they ever win one?

There is no denying that Schwartz took over in the worst of circumstances – no coach had ever been hired in the wake of an 0-16 season. However, that excuse only last so long. After all, Schwartz wasn’t the first to be hired to coach a team that hadn’t won a single game the season before. That is true of every coach who is the first hire of an expansion team and that gives us a context to view the Lions’ handling of Schwartz.

Full disclosure: this is a post I never wanted to write. I still don’t. I compiled the coaching data last January and sat on it. Call it the diseases that comes with being a Lions fan, I was hoping this post would never be necessary, even as some fans wanted Schwartz out after last season’s debacle. Yet here we are.

Houston Texans
First Season: 2002
Head Coach: Dom Capers
Fired: After fourth season
Yearly Records: 4-12, 5-11, 7-9, 2-14
Schwartz Comparison: Not as much as it might seem. Capers started with a higher floor but never got the Texans to the playoffs. The fourth year collapse was more significant that Schwartz’s and Capers’ supposed-to-be franchise quarterback (David Carr) was a bust. There was certainly more reason to believe the Texans needed to start over after the 2005 season than the Lions after the 2012 season.

Cleveland Browns
First Season: 1999
Head Coach: Chris Palmer
Fired: After second season
Yearly Records: 2-14, 3-13
Schwartz Comparison: Might have been a good comparison had the Lions not gone on a four-game winning streak to close out the 2010 season. After two season, there was reason to feel the Lions were on the upswing – a feeling that was justified given the team’s playoff appearance the following season. As far as Lions coaching history goes, Palmer compares to Marty Morhinweg, who was also fired after two disappointing seasons.

Carolina Panthers
First Season: 1995
Head Coach: Dom Capers
Fired: After fourth season
Yearly Records: 7-9, 12-4* (playoffs), 7-9, 4-12
Schwartz Comparison: This one fits by lopping off Schwartz’s first year with the Lions and lining years 2-5 up with Capers’ four years with the Panthers. The Panthers gave Capers another shot after taking a step back the year following a run to the NFC Championship game. Even with a playoff win during his tenure, Capers wasn’t able to survive two-straight season without a return to the playoffs. Schwartz shouldn’t either.

Jacksonville Jaguars
First Season: 1995
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin
Fired: After eighth season
Yearly Records: 4-12, 9-7*, 11-5*, 11-5*, 14-2*, 7-9, 6-10, 6-10
Schwartz Comparison: None. Coughlin established a level of success in Jacksonville and maintained it with four-straight playoff appearances. The Jags may have held on a season too long but Coughlin had earned the benefit of the doubt. Now in his fifth season, there probably isn’t a single area in which Schwartz deserves the same kind of slack.

Seattle Seahawks
First Season: 1976
Head Coach: Jack Patera
Fired: After two games during his seventh season
Yearly Records: 2-12, 5-9, 9-7, 9-7, 4-12, 6-10, 0-2
Schwartz Comparison: Now that looks like a record line for a Lions coach! Probably a better fit for Wayne Fontes or Bobby Ross, but it reeks of a team mired in mediocrity yet unable to cut ties in search of a real solution. Patera never got the Seahawks to the playoffs but he coached in a different era. With more of a win-now emphasis in today’s game, such results wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be tolerated. Unfortunately, Patera’s run as Seahawks coach isn’t much different than Schwartz’s time with the Lions.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First Season: 1976
Head Coach: John McKay
Fired: After ninth season
Yearly Records: 0-14, 2-12, 5-11, 10-6*, 5-10-1, 9-7*, 5-4*, 2-14, 6-10
Schwartz Comparison: This is the best of the bunch. After a winless inagural season, McKay steadily got the Bucs to the playoffs by improving over the course of three years only to take a step back a year later. That sounds familiar. The key in comparing McKay’s tenure with the Bucs to Schwartz is that he got the Bucs back to the playoffs one year after missing, then returned the next year during the strike-shortened season.

Jim Schwartz
First Season: 2009
Yearly Records: 2-14, 6-10, 10-6*, 4-12
Conclusion: There is a real sense that Schwartz and the Lions are at a crossroads. We see that in the expansion coach comparison too. Either Schwartz gets the Lions back to the playoffs, like McKay did with the Bucs, or he doesn’t, like Capers with the Panthers. One path leads to Schwartz staying as Lions coach, the other path leads to another coaching search.

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