COMMENTARY | There is no denying that the Detroit Lions franchise has become better since Jim Schwartz took over as head coach in 2009. The team has successfully moved on from the 0-16 blunder that was 2008 and has even made a trip to the postseason in 2011. However, with the talent currently on the roster, and having come off a disappointing 4-12 season in 2012, is it time to really put Schwartz on the hot seat?
On paper Detroit will be one of the most talented units in all of football this year. The only major piece that was lost to free agency this past offseason was Cliff Avril. Both Chris Houston and Louis Delmas were retained, Jason Jones was signed at defensive end and the Lions made a huge splash by stealing Reggie Bush away from the Miami Dolphins.
In other words, Schwartz has a roster that is ready to compete for the NFC North crown and make serious waves once the postseason rolls around. It would be extremely tough to justify another mediocre campaign, mainly because there are few excuses that are left to be made.
Fans were ecstatic when the team went 10-6 in 2011, but the fact remains that Detroit is 22-42 under Schwartz' watch. Yes, the team was rebuilding when he was brought on board, but that phase is over. The Lions ranked second in the NFL last season in passing yards per game, averaging 307.2. Calvin Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964 and Matthew Stafford was just 33 yards short of back-to-back 5,000 yard-passing marks.
Detroit can score with anybody and has elite defensive playmakers in guys like Ndamukong Suh and Stephen Tulloch. Schwartz has all the talent in the world on the roster and can ill-afford to have any glaring mistakes happen in 2013.
After all, the embattled head coach has a history of head-scratching decisions. Few have forgotten his handshake incident with San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Whether or not Schwartz did anything wrong there is certainly open for debate, but there is no denying that it was not Schwartz' best looking moment as coach.
Schwartz has had off-field incidents with players, including Suh. However, the biggest concern with Schwartz is his actual game-management ability. Last season against Houston the head coach threw a challenge flag after Texans running back Justin Forsett scored an 81-yard touchdown. Forsett's knee was certainly down after about eight yards, but all touchdowns are automatically reviewed. As a result of Schwartz throwing the flag, the play was not reviewed, and the Lions received a 15-yard penalty.
Later in that same game, Schwartz made another glaring mishap. He trotted kicker Jason Hanson out on third down in overtime for a 47-yard attempt when that should have been saved for fourth down.
These are just obvious examples of the types of mistakes Schwartz has made and prove that it is fair to question his ability to properly lead the Lions. How many penalties has Mike Tomlin cost the Pittsburgh Steelers? Or how about Bill Belichick for the New England Patriots?
The elite head coaches in the NFL find ways to lead their teams to victory without off-field incidents and on-field mistakes grabbing headlines. Schwartz still has this season to find the error of his ways. He clearly already moved on from the handshake incident, as there was no bad blood seen between he and Harbaugh when the two teams met last season.
However, there is no excuse for poor decision making and having trouble controlling the locker room. Schwartz must ensure that the players on his roster stay out of trouble and concentrate their efforts on winning football games. If that message gets ignored, or if Schwartz makes more egregious errors during games, his currently warm seat may start burning.
Nick Kostora lives in Michigan and has covered the Detroit Lions for 4 years. His work has appeared on CNN, Bleacher Report and more.
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickkostora
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jim Schwartz