The Detroit Lions struggled to develop their young, raw talent into productive NFL players under Jim Schwartz. Players like Chris Greenwood, Amari Spievey, and others never materialized into the contributors that the Lions drafted them to be. The truth is, none of the top coaches were teachers by nature.
Jim Schwartz was not a teacher, so entire team struggled to learn what it means to be a consistent, winning football team. Scott Linehan was not a teacher, and the Lions offense couldn’t develop offensive weapons outside of Calvin Johnson. Gunther Cunningham was not a teacher, so the defense never played as a complete unit despite having talent scattered throughout that side of the ball.
Now, certain units of the team did develop, but it was not because of anything the previously mentioned coaches did. The defensive line can thank Kris Kocurek and Jim Washburn, and the offensive line can thank Jeremiah Washburn. It’s great to have these role players on the coaching staff, but not having a single one of your coordinators or head coach be a solid teacher is detrimental to the development of your team. The Lions learned this first hand over the last five years.
With Schwartz at the helm, the team never had patience to develop late round talent, or even developmental players like Darius Slay. I believe Schwartz knew he was coaching for job and was willing to sacrifice long term success for short term game.
The Detroit Lions now seem to be bringing a fresh approach to the way they expect to coach up players. The most drastic change might be a willingness to take criticism, advice, input from everyone, including players:
“As far as player input, I think that’s the important thing because we don’t play the game. We put the schemes together and we have a structure of how we see our defense,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “I mean, Jim (Caldwell) always talks about intellectual property, they have intellectual property too because they’re on the field playing. They’re going to come back with some really good feedback sometimes for you and you have to listen to it because if not, then what happens is a lot of times they’ll turn you off because they don’t want to listen. They’ll be like, ‘He doesn’t listen to me, why should I listen to him?’”
Jim Caldwell has built this staff in the same vein that Tony Dungy built his teams in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. His staff not only treats players like men, but they also expect the same level of respect back.
This aspect of the new coaching staff cannot be diminished. This was Jim Schwartz’s fatal flaw. He never thought he was wrong for anything he did, and he would never take responsibility for his own shortcomings. If the head coach, and leader of the team, wouldn’t take personal responsibility, what makes you think the players would?
For the Lions players, the new approach has to feel fresh, and real. There were whispers throughout the previous regime of players not being held accountable, and if we believe what we’re hearing this offseason, that’s going to change with this time around.