To me sports fandom has always been about community. As such, I have always really liked the fact that the Ford family owned the Lions. I don’t think anyone would deny that Ford Motor Company is one of the primary actors which made Detroit, Detroit. The automotive industry pushed Detroit to be one of America’s preeminent cities. Henry Ford and his Model T assembly lines are an American legend. A sort of real life folk tale. It just feels right, then, to connect the Ford family with Detroit’s branch of America’s pass-time. Detroit and Ford just fit together on so many levels. The Ford family is a major part of the Detroit community, just like the Lions.
I say all this just to point out that I really like the Ford family. I like the fact that they own the team. Heck, my dad won’t even let anyone in my family drive anything other than a Ford. I’m very pro-Ford. I don’t want them to ever sell the team. But it can’t be denied that under their leadership the Lions suck. We’re atrocious. Like really really bad. A lot of this losing comes down to who the Ford’s have had in charge of this team, whether that was in the front office or on the field. Moreover, they traditionally compound this problem with their vaunted loyalty.
“So I know we have the worst defense in the league, and our offensive line consists of 3 obese constructions workers, a tractor tire, and a cardboard cutout of Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard, but I think I’m gonna draft another wide receiver in the first round. This Mike Williams guy hasn’t played football for 18 months but I still think he’s worth the #10 overall pick”
All across the league coaches and executives envy the Detroit jobs because they know its almost impossible to get fired by the Fords. Matt Millen got a decade to build the worst team in NFL history and ensure the Lions go down in history with the only winless season in a league that forces parity out of its teams. Then, when they finally fired Millen they brought in his right hand man (Martin Mayhew) to succeed him and continue the legacy of ensuring that the Lions have one of the most talent depleted rosters in the league.
Anyway, this same loyalty that makes Detroit an allegedly attractive destination is also a weakness. The franchise seems to struggle to move on from bad decisions. Fast forward to this season. Detroit has very much moved on from its abysmal past since the Jim Schwartz era began. When Schwartz was brought in I could not have been happier. I was convinced that for once in my life Detroit had made the right hire with a coach. Schwartz was an up and coming coaching commodity from the distinguished Jim Fisher coaching tree. And you know what? That was all right. Schwartz rescued this team. But noone seems to see it that way.
The penalties were agonizing to watch every week and it was no fun for any of us to be considered a team of thugs (roll the Suh tape) but when you were as low as Detroit was the franchise NEEDED some fire. Schwartz may have been a meathead and he may have egged players on to aggression rather than containing them, but he saved this franchise. Not to mention he really is the single greatest defensive line coach in football. What he did drafting and coaching up these guys has been amazing. The fans, however, had almost unanimously given up on the Schwartz era, and even I can’t defend the guy after the horrendous collapse this year (Cutler and Rodgers out, you sweep the bears, finally win on thanksgiving AGAINST the packers and yet you finish THIRD in the division?) but losing him means this defense, and specifically the D Line, will definitely take a step back.
Ziggy Ansah was a horrendous pick for 31/32 teams, but Schwartz made him into a real football player. I can’t see any scenario where this kid doesn’t end up lost the next couple seasons, only to resurface with another franchise and become great. Maybe Suh and Fairley can coach him up, but if everything everyone tells me is true, Suh isn’t a leader. (Bullshit, but negative press does what it does…). Moreover, I’m terrified that Fairley will eat his way out of the league, and Suh’s forthcoming contract extension will remove a lot of other options for improvements.
So anyway, I was sad to see Schwartz go as I really do see him as the guy who started the turnaround in Detroit, and I think the team will be worse without him. But speaking of contracts, Stafford’s massive extension (along with this year’s collapse) is one of the major reasons I was able to get behind the change this offseason. When Schwartz first got canned everyone was saying the Lions wanted to go in an offensive direction. This makes sense considering the money you paid Stafford, and the fact that you have the best receiver of all time (shut up Jerry Rice, you are not nearly the physical specimen Calvin Johnson is) on your roster. Moreover, when I heard that Ken Wisenhunt was the guy Detroit was looking at to fill this role I seriously considered being optimistic. (can’t say I was happy… whenever a Lions fan starts to feel joy, 30 acres of rainforest start to burn and Japanese sailors harpoon a whale in retaliation)
Anyway, after I got over the initial disgust of hiring a retread who washed out of Arizona I remember that the Cardinals are one of maybe only 5 franchises run as poorly as the Lions and Wisenhunt STILL managed to take them to a Superbowl. This could have been the guy to take Stafford to the next level (look what he did for Phil Rivers this year!) and do for Johnson what he did for Fitzgerald. Moreover, with a few choice picks in this years draft we could have plugged a few holes on defense and tried to duct tape a playoff team together. And then Wisenhunt went to the Titans… Everyone was talking about the far superior Detroit situation … “best job available” “playoff team already constructed” yada yada…. whatever… its the Lions… bad things happen… but then it got worse…
We go from firey Schwartz to emotionless Jim Caldwell. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Jim Caldwell has never shown anyone that he is a good coach. He got the Indy job because Tony Dungy named him as successor and Peyton Manning accepted (knowing the Caldwell was secretly a balloon animal, not a human, meaning Peyton would really be coaching the team). Moreover, once Manning got hurt, the Colts were 2-14 and Caldwell was out. The only reason he got this Detroit job is because of that Superbowl run Manning held his hand for, and the fact that Tony Dungy called the Ford family on multiple occasions to argue Caldwell’s case (Caldwell would have done so himself, but, again, he is in fact a balloon animal, drifting along wherever the winds take him, not a human being).
The issue is further compounded by the aforementioned Ford Family Loyalty. I think Caldwell is the wrong coach for this team. Detroit will hover around 6-9 wins while he’s here. We’re gonna be bad. The Defense Schwartz built will erode more and more the longer he’s here and the offense will stagnate and get older, thus causing Detroit to lose any allure it may have had this year. If the Ford Family Loyalty holds true they’re probably going to give Caldwell a 4-5 year window to win here. Which he won’t do. The team will be unexciting and bad. Moreover, this core probably only has a 2-3 year window anyway. Once you pay Stafford, Johnson, and Suh thats your team. Not much else you can put in place around those 3 massive contracts (which MUST get done). Now, those are 3 great players, but the problem is there are still a lot of holes elsewhere on the team.
I feel like this Caldwell hire wasn’t just wrong, but it slammed the door on the Schwartz Era of Lions teams which I honestly loved. Those teams made me really love Lions football again, even when they were losing. Johnson and Stafford made sure you were always in it even when we couldn’t run the ball to save our lives. Suh, Fairley, and Vanden Bosch played the only good pass defense I’ve ever seen in Detroit in spite of the face that they all play on the D- line. Moreover, the games were just exciting. The secondary was so bad we were always down, meaning we got to watch Stafford and Johnson go off. And if we ever had a lead late you knew Schwartz was gonna blitz the hell out of the other QB because 1) its the only thing he knew how to do and 2) his secondary can’t stop anyone anyway so a sack is the only hope. That was exciting football to me. Much better than watching Joey Harrington attempt to play dead so as to avoid predators. Or watching Dante Culpepper fumble the ball with his comically tiny hands.
“seriously… does anyone remember how tiny his hands were? Look at those things!!! Its like the baby hands Burger King commercials but in real life!!!
So anyway, I don’t want to Fords gone, I know Schwartz had to go, and at the end of the day we still have some great players on this team. I just hope we didn’t just undo all the good things Schwartz did, just because people thought he was a jackass. I’m really not in the mood for another 10 year rebuild.