Lions' Offseason Hires Show Dedication To Fixing Problems
By Scott McMahon
Anyone who watched the Lions in 2013 down the stretch saw three key problems with the team: inconsistent quarterback play from Matthew Stafford, a porous secondary prone to allowing big plays at the worst times, and a lack of discipline that resulted in costly penalties. With the Lions out of rebuilding mode and into the playoff hunt, GM Martin Mayhew and the rest of the Lions brass felt that they were in a position to address these issues head on, but with a shift in the team’s coaching staff.
Issue number one: Discipline
So what did they do? They fired head coach Jim Schwartz, and brought in Jim Caldwell to take over head coaching duties. I won’t get into my opinions on Caldwell’s background again, but one thing that most people agree on is that Caldwell is a no-nonsense kind of guy who expects a well-disciplined team. The days of Schwartz’s hands-off, boys-will-be-boys attitude are gone—it’s now up to Caldwell to corral the emotional intensity of this Lions team.
Issue number two: Secondary
That still left the defensive coordinator position open, since Caldwell is an offensive-minded coach. Enter Teryl Austin, a former secondary coach with Seattle, Arizona, and Baltimore who has appeared in three Super Bowls as a coach (winning Super Bowl XLVII last season with Baltimore). Austin brings 22 years of coaching experience, along with years of playing experience as a defensive back, to the Lions, although he has only held a defensive coordinator position for one season (University of Florida, 2010). Still, with an already solid defensive line and linebacking corps, bringing in a defensive backs coach to lead the defense should help the weakest part of the Lions defense get itself into shape.
As for the actual secondary coach in 2014, the Lions hired former Vikings DC Alan Williams, whose Minnesota defense struggled mightily last season. However, Williams has had success in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, where he worked with the shutdown Buccaneers defenses of the early 2000’s, and with players like Bob Sanders and Kelvin Hayden.
Issue number three: Stafford
So with the front office under the assumption that they have brought in the right personnel to address their smaller problems, the focus now shifts to their biggest issue: making Matthew Stafford into a winning NFL quarterback.
First, Caldwell’s hire put an offensive-minded coach with a background working with quarterbacks at the helm. Having worked for years with the likes of Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, Mayhew chose Caldwell in hopes that his experience with some of the best quarterbacks in the league could help Stafford realize his full potential as an elite QB.
Apparently, nabbing the guy that worked with the best quarterback of all-time (yeah, I said it) wasn’t enough, so the Lions brought in Drew Brees’ quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi as the team’s new offensive coordinator. With Lombardi as his QB coach in New Orleans, Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards three times, and also set the single-season passing yards mark in 2011. Did I mention that Lombardi also won a Super Bowl, when Brees’ Saints beat Jim Caldwell’s Colts in Super Bowl XLIV?
Having already brought Manning and Brees’ quarterbacks coaches to Detroit, rumor has it that Tom Brady’s nutritionist is next. I kid, but bringing in the guys that worked directly with two of the best winners in the game should ideally help Stafford transform himself into a winner.
The Lions brass believes, as do I, that Stafford has the ability to put up the kinds of numbers that the top-tier quarterbacks in the league put up year in and year out—it’s just a matter of translating the passing yards and touchdowns into wins. The best are able to do that, and the Lions hope that Stafford can learn the trade under Caldwell and Lombardi.
Whether or not Caldwell, Austin, Williams, and Lombardi are the right guys for their respective jobs is debatable, but you have to give credit to the Lions front office for understanding the needs of their team and doing something about it. It sounds like a logical progression—fix what’s broken—but too often, teams look at the best available personnel and/or plug someone in whose system doesn’t work with the players on the team. The Lions knew they needed help in discipline, the secondary, and in teaching Stafford, and they got coaches that they feel can get the job done.