Looking back at January 2009: The road the Lions didn't takeDecember 29, 2011
With the Lions finally breaking through the mediocrity barrier and becoming a playoff team under the tutelage of 3rd year head coach Jim Schwartz, I thought it would be interesting to look back at what might have been.
After the end of the 2008 season, NFL head coaches were dropping like flies hit with DDT. In January 2009, a hiring binge took place. 11 teams, including the Lions, who had sent Rod Marinelli and his shovel packing, either promoted an interim coach or brought in someone new to take over as head coach. Jim Schwartz being one of the 11.
Under Schwartz, the Lions have moved in a steady progression, from 2, to 6, to 10 (possibly 11) wins. Schwartz has become a candidate for NFL coach of the year in the process.
So we all know what Schwartz has done in his 3 years. But what about the other 10 coaches who were hired in the same time frame?
Seahawks - Jim Mora Jr: In 2008, Mora was named both Seahawks' assistant head coach, and as Mike Holmgren's replacement before Holmgren's final season. Mora took over in 2009, led the Seahawks to a 5-11 record, then was unceremoniously canned in order to hire USC refugee Pete Carroll. Mora was recently hired to resuscitate UCLA as their new head coach.
Broncos - Josh McDaniels: Considered a coaching wunderkind as Patriots offensive coordinator, McDaniels was only 33 years old when the Broncos gave him a 4 year deal in January 2009. His career started off like gangbusters, going 6-0 to start the 2009 season...then the Broncos dropped off a cliff, finishing 2-8 in the 2nd half of 2009. McDaniels didn't even make it 2 years into the contract, getting fired 12 games into the 2010 season with a 3-9 record, 11-17 overall. McDaniels (who is also the man to blame/praise for the drafting of TIM TEBOW) is currently the offensive coordinator for the Rams under another coach who was hired for the 2009 season, and now in deep trouble, Steve Spagnuolo.
Raiders - Tom Cable: 4 games into 2008, after a very public pissing match between head coach and owner, Raiders' head coach Lane Kiffin got the ziggy from Al Davis. Cable was named interim coach, finishing the season 4-8. Davis removed the interim tag in February 2009. Cable made more news for breaking the jaw of one of his assistant coaches in a fight than anything his Raiders did on the field. Cable went 5-11 in 2009, 8-8 in 2010, and was summarilly fired by Davis. He's now the offensive line coach for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks.
49ers - Mike Singletary: Was named interim coach of the Niners when Mike Nolan was fired after 7 games in 2008. Singletary led the Niners to a 5-4 record, and had the interim tag removed at the end of the season. Singletary made more news arguing with and benching players while acting like a loon than he did winning games. Singletary was 8-8 in 2009, then canned with 1 game left in the 2010 season with a 5-10 record. Singletary is now making his googly eyes with the Vikings, as linebackers/assistant head coach for Leslie Frazier, who is on the hot seat himself.
Browns - Eric Mangini: Mangini parlayed a single playoff season in 3 years as Jets head coach into a 4 year deal with the Browns in January 2009. Mangini spun his wheels in Cleveland with back-to-back 5-11 seasons, and was fired after the 2010 season. The Mangenius is now a talking head for ESPN.
Chiefs - Todd Haley: Another very hot name after the 2008 season, thanks to Haley being the offensive coordinator for the Super bowl losing Cardinals. Hired by the Chiefs in February 2009, went 4-12 in his first season. Stepped up with a 10-6 record in 2010, making the playoffs but losing in the wild card round. Big things were expected in 2011, but Haley was fired at mid-season with a disappointing 5-8 record. Haley is now at home counting the money received from the remainder of his 4 year contract.
Rams - Steve Spagnuolo: The hottest of NFL coaching names after the 2008 season as the Giants' defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo was a rumored candidate for several head coach openings, including the Lions'. The Rams won the Spagnuolo sweepstakes, giving him a 4 year deal in January 2009. Coaching in the NFL's weak sauce NFC West, Spagnuolo was 1-15 in 2009, earning the 1st over all draft pick. The Rams narrowly missed winning the division at 7-9 in 2010. Instead of taking a Lions-like leap forward in 2011, the Rams are in midst of another fight for the 1st over overall draft selection, their record currently standing at 2-13. Reports out of St. Louis say Spagnuolo is a dead coach walking, and will be fired at the end of the season.
Bucs - Raheem Morris: Hired to be Jon Gruden's defensive coordinator in December 2008 for the upcoming 2009 season, Morris was elevated to the top job after Chucky was surprisingly canned in late January 2009, after almost every other NFL head coaching job had been filled. Morris was 3-13 in his first year, but narrowly missed the playoffs in 2010 (much in thanks to a week 15 OT loss to Schwartz and the Lions), finishing 10-6. The Bucs were expected to take the next step, making the playoffs in 2011. Morris started the season 4-2, and all looked good. But the Bucs have undergone a complete and utter meltdown since week 7, losing 9 straight, getting blown out in the their last 4. Word is Bucs’ ownership is ready to move on after the late season el-foldo, and Morris is to be relieved of his duties at seasons end.
Colts - Jim Caldwell: The question with Caldwell is simple. Was his early success only due to the previous regime, with a likely hall of fame head coach and QB? In 2008, Tony Dungy announced the coming season would likely be his last as Colts head coach. Caldwell was Dungy's long-time offensive assistant, and named as Dungy's successor before the 2008 season began. In 2009, Caldwell inherited one of the best teams in football, ending the regular season 14-2, but losing the Super Bowl. In 2010, the Colts were 10-6, and lost in the wild card round. Without an injured Peyton Manning for all of 2011, Caldwell's Colts started the season 0-13, and are 2-13 going into week 17. Caldwell is definitely on the hot seat, his job in jeopardy, but will likely remain in Indianapolis by the skin of his teeth. With the Colts having gone into a tailspin, Caldwell will be on a very short leash if he returns in 2012.
Jets - Rex Ryan: Overweight, extremely controversial, likes to run his mouth and make foot fetish videos...but Ryan wins games. Ryan made his name as defensive coordinator for the Ravens, but missed out on the open head jobs in early 2008. In January 2009, he was given a 4 year contract by the Jets to replace...the aforementioned Mangenius. Ryan led the Jets to the AFC Championship game in 2009 (9-7 regular season record) & 2010 (11-5), only to lose both. Ryans' Jets have a long-shot chance at a 2011 wild card with 8-7 record, his mouth yapping the entire time.
So, out of the 11 coaches hired in the 6 weeks following the end of the 2008 season, the only 2 who are completely safe in their jobs are Jim Schwartz and Rex Ryan. Odds are Caldwell will barely hold on to his gig, thanks to the Manning injury deflecting much of the blame for a rotten season. But Spagnuolo and Morris are all but assured to join the other 6 on the NFL coaching scrap heap.
Lets call the record for 2009 NFL coaching hires 2-8-1. If you're feeling generous, 3-8. Either way, it's not a very good winning percentage. It shows just how difficult it is to strike coaching gold in the NFL.
Despite the success of Ryan, who inherited a much, much better team (the Jets were 9-7 in 2008, with a top 5 pick in the 2009 draft), it really looks as if the Lions had the best hire of the 11 teams. He's done the most with the least, building what had been an 0-16 team into one with a very bright future.
When was the last time you could say the Lions made a great coaching hire? You would have to go back to Joe Schmidt in 1967. The Hall of Fame linebacker, despite having a winning career record as a head coach, walked away from the dysfunctional Lions after the 1972 season in order to keep his own sanity.
Looking back, some Lions' coaching hires were thought to be highly pedigreed, but turned out to be God awful fits (Monte Clark, Bobby Ross, Seve Mariucci). Others were bad from the get-go (Darryl Rogers, Marty Mornhinweg, Rod Marinelli). Some were completely clueless hires (Rick Forzano, Tommy Hudspeth, Wayne Fontes). A few had the job thrust upon them for only a short time (Gary Moeller, Dick Jauron). And one passed away (Don McCafferty).
Meaning there was a 42 year span between what appears to be honest to God well-researched, quality coaching hires by the Lions, from Schmidt to Schwartz.
About damn time.