After black Monday, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is still standing.
The four-year coach’s job security has been a controversial topic in Detroit and understandably so.
At 4-12, the Lions finished with six fewer wins than in 2011 and demonstrated troubling behavior at times during the season.
Still, despite some indicators to the contrary, retaining Schwartz is the right decision.
At 22-42, he has a blemish-laden won/loss record but that is misleading.
By coming to Detroit, the former defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans was inheriting a 0-16 team. A still relevant excuse, if there ever was one.
Schwartz improved the team’s record and roster the following two seasons but still compiled 24 of his 42 losses in that time. Despite the record, the team’s identity and direction had been established with a clear philosophy and plan on both sides of the ball.
He had also paired with general manager Martin Mayhew to recreate the roster; entering 2012 the team had replaced 10 of 11 of the defensive starters and six of 11 offensive starters they inherited.
With a refurbished roster, Schwartz led the team to its first playoff berth in a decade in 2011 via a 10-6 record. With that, expectations increased which made the team’s failures this season more disappointing.
It is important, however, to consider just how close the Lions were -- and that they remained competitive. Ten of the team’s losses came by one score and two came in overtime. The Lions finished with a minus-65 point differential and gave up 70 points on non-offensive scores.
The Lions didn’t register a single non-offensive touchdowns this season and were aided by only two defensive points – a safety against the Atlanta Falcons. That means that offense-to-offense, despite a 4-12 record, the Lions actually outscored their opponents this season.
To put that number in perspective, the Lions not only had the smallest point differential of any double-digit loss team, the other 9 teams averaged minus-135 – more than twice as Detroit.vThat should help illustrate just how close the Lions are and why belief in a quick turnaround under Schwartz is feasible.
Furthermore, knee-jerk reactions have proven to backfire in the NFL.
In the early 90s, the Cleveland Browns bench boss was Bill Belichick. He guided the team to losing records in each of his first three seasons but the fourth saw the team win 11 games and make the post-season before they came crashing down to earth with a 5-11 record in Belichick’s fifth year. He was fired.
Since being removed from Cleveland, Belichick has won more Super Bowls as head coach of the New England Patriots (three) than the Browns have won playoff games (0).
The Green Bay Packers stuck by Mike McCarthy after a 6-10 record in his third season and were rewarded with a Super Bowl championship two years later. The Minnesota Vikings stood behind Leslie Frazier after a 3-13 campaign a season ago and have been rewarded with a playoff berth this season; the Cincinnati Bengals, meanwhile, didn’t bail on Marvin Lewis after they went 4-12 in 2010. They have made the playoffs in each of the subsequent years.
The morale of the story is, even top coaches can falter and organizations that make the right decisions are rewarded and those that make rash decisions are regretful.
Schwartz should remain in Detroit for at least another season. A decision that could be accompanied by success in Detroit.