Detroit Lions Rebuild: What Coach Do They Need?


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A Detroit Lions team going through a rebuild seems like a painful, but familiar thing.  It’s been a whole 7 years since the last rebuild, an embarrassingly quick turnaround for a team that at times looked like it had finally gotten its crap together.  Instead, ownership is going to seek the league’s help in building this team into a contender.  To do that, they need a team president and general manager that have talent and vision, but they also need a certain type of head coach.

A Rebuilding Team Needs a Certain Type of Head Coach

As fans of our Detroit Lions, we’ve seen firsthand that you can’t just hire anyone to coach a pro football team.  Well, you can, but that’s what gets you to the rebuilding phase in the first place.  To be a winning coach of an NFL franchise, you need to have a certain creativity, an attitude that can’t be rivaled. You need a scheme that is effective and a playcalling ability that isn’t intuitive and predictable.

That’s hard to find, but even harder since the coach of a team trying to rebuild needs even more than that.  You can’t just hire a good coach and hope that he’ll lead your team to the promised land.  I know, that sounds counter intuitive, but let me explain.  In 2011 the San Francisco 49ers hired the fiery Jim Harbaugh to coach their storied franchise while the Carolina Panthers hired the talented Ron Rivera.  Their careers would take drastically different paths, though for the same (but reversed) reason.

Jim Harbaugh is very good at developing a scheme, very good at managing a football game and calling the plays.  Ron Rivera is as well, so we won’t look at those two (pretty obvious) things.  Instead, let’s look at how they worked within their franchise.  Harbaugh was often at odds with his team’s management.  He wasn’t on the same page and was more about winning as much as he could right at this moment.  It worked for a little while, the team won early and often, but it wasn’t sustainable and the team inevitably chose to part ways (Michigan fans are grateful for this, I’d bet) after his approach fizzled out in year 4.

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Rivera, on the other hand, started off by carefully building up the talent level around his team and newly drafted quarterback.  The self described “Calculated risk taker” won only 6 games in his first season and 7 in the next.  His team would go on to the playoffs in each of the following two seasons and is poised for another at 8-0, easily the best team in the NFC in 2016.  Rivera succeeded where Harbaugh did not because he had a clear vision for his team that he not only expressed to his management, but worked with to bring in players he needed. The team in turn exercised patience that his vision would succeed, and he’s paying them back for that faith.

The Detroit Lions don’t need a Harbaugh, they already had one in Jim Schwartz (They should probably steer clear of guys named Jim altogether, right?).  They don’t need a Gruden, Dungy, or Cowher who would take control over personnel rather than working with the front office to provide him with resources while concentrating on building the team.  That’s part of why the Lions failed with Jim Caldwell.  Caldwell and Mayhew were clearly not on the same page, which explains the drafting of man based offensive lineman and a zone based blocking scheme.  The new Detroit Lions coach needs to work with the new general manager, not take power away from him, to build a team that will succeed not in 2016, but over a long period of time.  No more short term planning.

It isn’t just about taking a proven coach, or a fresh up and comer.  It’s about picking a head coach with a vision for his football team.  Not just a vision for the team, but one that is compatible with the front office and one that can be adjusted as personnel and situations change.  With that kind of head coach, the team can finally move on from the blip-on-the-radar winning season and become an actual, honest to goodness, winning franchise.

What do you think?  Who do you think the Detroit Lions should pick up to coach during the rebuild?  Is there anybody out there you think fits the bill I’ve described above?  Or do you think I’m completely bonkers and wrong?  Let us know in the comments or get ahold of us on Twitter @SideLionReport or myself @MathBomb!

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