Detroit Lions' midseason coaching changes have brought winningest coach, darkest era

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Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read
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The Detroit Lions34-30 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears was their first under interim head coach Darrell Bevell; it’s the fifth time since World War II the Lions have changed coaches midseason. Here’s how the previous four fared in their debuts, and down the line.

Detroit Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell watches a replay with an official during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Dec. 6, 2020.
Detroit Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell watches a replay with an official during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Dec. 6, 2020.

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Oct. 10, 1976: Tommy Hudspeth

Lions 30, Patriots 10: QB Greg Landry had as many touchdown passes (three) as incompletions against a New England team that would finish 11-3. Hudspeth — a former college coach who was elevated from a scout position to replace the embattled Rick Forzano, who had resigned after just four games — finished 5-5 and was the coach in 1977, but he was fired after going 6-8 that season, for an 11-13 career record.

Nov. 20, 1988: Wayne Fontes

Nov 10, 1991; Tampa, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Detroit Lions head coach Wayne Fontes on the sideline against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 1991; Tampa, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Detroit Lions head coach Wayne Fontes on the sideline against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Lions 19, Packers 9: Four field goals from Eddie Murray were enough for the Lions after Fontes was elevated from defensive coordinator. Fontes was teary-eyed after the win, and made sure to pump up the team postgame: “I said the Lions could come back! We won an old-fashioned football game. I’m proud of your effort. I’m proud of the assistant coaches’ preparations. Gentlemen, I can’t thank you enough; I owe you one.” The suddenly motivated Lions, calling him "a breath of fresh air," finished 2-3, which was apparently enough for the full-time gig. He coached the Lions for eight more seasons and finished with 66 wins, the most in franchise history, and 67 losses, also the most in franchise history.

Nov. 12, 2000: Gary Moeller

Lions 13, Falcons 10: After Bobby Ross quit in Week 10, the Lions went outside the organization with the former University of Michigan coach. He won his first three games with the Lions, including this one in which Corwin Brown and Bryant Westbrook made late interceptions to secure the win. He didn’t sound particularly upbeat after the victory: “This is a business that can break you if you let it. You just have to ride it out and roll with it. Take it as far as you can.” Moeller finished the season 4-3, but lost the finale to the Bears as Paul Edinger’s last-second 54-yard field goal ended the Lions’ playoff chance. Soon after, owner William Clay Ford cleaned house, hiring Matt Millen as general manager and Marty Mornhinweg as coach — it did not go well.

Former Michigan head coach Gary Moeller watches from the sidelines as new head coach Jim Harbaugh walks by during Michigan football practice March 19, 2014, in Ann Arbor.
Former Michigan head coach Gary Moeller watches from the sidelines as new head coach Jim Harbaugh walks by during Michigan football practice March 19, 2014, in Ann Arbor.

Dec. 4, 2005: Dick Jauron

Vikings 21, Lions 16: Jauron — promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Steve Mariucci — and the Lions were scorched by wide receiver Koren Robinson’s four catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Jauron finished the season 1-4 and was considered for the full-time job, but the Lions went with first-time head coach Rod Marinelli instead (which also did not go well). Jauron was hired by the Bills instead; he remains the only Lions head coach to get another head coaching job in the NFL.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' midseason coach changes gave us Fontes, Millen