Detroit Lions head coaches: From ordinary to catastrophe
The Detroit Lions have had their share of woes at head coach. Here’s hoping Matt Patricia is not only an exciting hire, but also delivers a winning team.
Sometime in the upcoming week, the Detroit Lions will hire New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as their next head coach. Patricia will officially be the 27th head coach in Lions history, which goes all the way back to the 1930 Portsmouth Spartans.
There has not been much excitement in terms of hires by the Detroit Lions. The results have ranged from mediocre to all-out disaster. A good starting point is the last 30 years of hires. This includes the last Lions head coach to be on the job for over 100 games.
The Fontes Era (1988-96)
Head coach Wayne Fontes was in charge for 133 games in his eight plus seasons (interim coach in 1988 for five games). His record was 66 and 67 (.496 win percentage).
The highlight of Fontes’ tenure was his one win in the 1991 playoffs. The Detroit Lions made it all the way to NFC Championship that year.
Fontes playoff record was one and four overall. Outside of 1991, the Lions also made the playoffs in three straight seasons under Fontes: 1993, 1994, and 1995. Fontes final season in 1996 produced a losing record (5-11), which got him fired.
Unfortunately, that one playoff win was over a quarter of a century ago, not one since.
Fontes never produced in the playoffs outside that one magical season. So, when he was fired, there was a level of elation for Detroit fans. The Lions were ready to build a winner. Unfortunately, the next coach achieved even less than Fontes, and he cost the Lions more than just falling short of expectations.
The Ross Era (1997-2000)
Head coach Bobby Ross amassed a 27 and 30 record (.474 win percentage) in three and half seasons, with two playoff losses in 1997 and 1999. Ross quit during the 2000 season, which was completed by interim head coach Gary Moeller (4-3 record, .571 win percentage).
The lasting legacy of Ross: Was he to blame for the early retirement of Barry Sanders on the eve of training camp in 1999? The Detroit Lions went 8-8 in that “Barry-less” season and somehow managed a playoff berth.
There is no way to know if Bobby Ross cut short Barry’s career in Detroit, but the Ross era did lead the Lions to shed the perception of mediocrity. Their new perception was abysmal.