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Jim Schwartz’s Most Dubious Best Coaching Decisions for the Detroit Lions

Introduction:

Since 2009, Jim Schwartz has brought two things to the Detroit Lions: talent and controversy.

Since taking over as head coach of a 0-16 team in 2009, Schwartz has steadily improved the team’s player quality, implemented effective schemes on both sides of the ball, eliminated the much-discussed “culture of losing,” led the team to the playoffs, and had his decisions questioned numerous times.

This is pretty typical operating procedure for any successful head coach. Pick well, develop well, coach well, win games, make the playoffs, and respond to inquiries about potential blunders.

Jim Schwartz is a fine coach, yet he, like any other coach, has made blunders. That’s unavoidable when you make hundreds of judgments per day. Yet, as is customary, I’m here to highlight some of Schwartz’s more egregious coaching gaffes during his brief tenure as head coach.

Of course, I’m not referring to draught picks, free agent signings, or other personnel decisions. Schwartz had a hand in those, but they weren’t solely his decisions, nor were they coaching decisions.

Schwartz’s coaching judgments are based on what he does with the players he has and the game situations he faces.

Yet, because Jim Schwartz is a good head coach, you’ll notice two things immediately: there aren’t many things to complain about, and the things that are to complain about aren’t all that horrible.

Jim Schwartz

Jim Schwartz Going for It vs. Philadelphia, September 19, 2010

Far be it from me to criticize a coach for going for it on fourth down against an offense that has been difficult to stop.

Unless perhaps this time.

It’s not just that the Lions failed to convert on 4th-and-1. It’s because they ran the same play that failed on 3rd-and-1: Jahvid Best up the middle. It’s also because they were in field-goal range and lost by three points.

Schwartz gets a pass or two here. This was Best’s second game as a rookie, he looked like an unstoppable machine, he was fully healthy, and the team’s inability to execute a power-run plan was not as clear then as it is today.

In other words, there wasn’t as much precedent for that play’s impending failure.

Nonetheless, this is one of the amusing aspects of critiquing coaching judgments (especially play calls). This was a poor choice because it failed. It would have been “brave” of Best to break through and get the first down.

Instead, it brought back memories of the Marinelli era, when every short-yardage situation involved the entire offensive line and the ball carrier simply dropping down a yard short of the line of scrimmage.

Kevin Smith was let go during the 2011 preseason.

I know I stated there would be no personnel changes, but this one is a little different.

Smith was a restricted free agent who might have been signed for a low cost, but the Lions chose to part ways with him.

At least, that was the intention. They even drafted Mikel Leshoure to replace him (and then some).

The Lions then lost their top three running backs, and with no other options, they called Smith and requested him to return.

Smith lit it up for a handful of games before suffering another injury, but he battled through it and finished the season with a respectable 4.9 yards per carry.

So that all worked out, I suppose…except what if Smith wasn’t available? Schwartz let him go with no compensation. Despite splitting carries and playing for a 0-16 squad, he was 24 years old and rushed for 976 yards in his debut season.

It was only by chance that they were able to pry him off his sofa after the first part of the 2011 season, and he now appears to be prepared to play a significant bench role in 2012.

Handshake-Gate

To be sure, this was more of a “response” than a “choice.”

And I’m not laying the blame solely on Schwartz. Jim Harbaugh knew what he did, and he showed it with a smug grin and explanation in the news conference.

But it’s absurd to assign “responsibility” for this to happen to any of them, and that’s not what I’m attempting to do. In certain ways, both men acted like children. What I’m trying to say is that this episode sends the wrong message to Schwartz’s team.

Jim Schwartz’s actions conveyed the message, “Be strong, don’t let anyone push you about,” which is sound football counsel. It is something I can see.

“Hey guys, if you feel like somebody did anything that you don’t like, feel free to go after them—even after the game is finished,” he added.

Given that the Lions finished 10-6, setting NFL records for comeback victories and leading the league in post-game personal fouls, I’d say both messages were received.

That’s not to claim the Lions’ discipline problems began there, but they didn’t get any better after that.

Jim Schwartz

Jim Schwartz 1/1/12 “Lose Your Calm” Timeout vs. Packers

Remember the final game of the 2011 regular season, the one that will eventually be known as the “Matt Flynn Game?”

Remember how many calls were blown in that game? Enough for Schwartz to be free of difficulties in the second quarter.

Yet, because Schwartz had lost one of those challenges on a play with “no indisputable evidence to overturn the decision,” there was nothing he could do on a would-be touchdown pass to Titus Young with incontrovertible evidence to overturn the call in the Lions’ favor.

There was no automatic review because it was not judged a scoring play. Schwartz couldn’t contest the call because he had utilized both challenges and lost one.

So there he was, like a baseball manager, with no redress against a terrible call.

So, like a baseball manager, Schwartz called a timeout to rage at the officials, knowing he couldn’t do anything about it.

To be honest, it was a selfish decision on his part.

Baseball has an unlimited number of timeouts. These are priceless gems in football. At times, the difference between having timeouts and not having them alters the entire complexion of the game.

It was a first-half timeout, after all, and it didn’t come into play later in the game. Yet, this is an issue of principle. One of the most crucial talents for an NFL head coach is time management, which involves the effective use of timeouts.

Even if the (ultimately useless) argument is justified, venting aggravation for no obvious benefit is not a good use of timeouts.

There is no Discipline Hammer.

Schwartz is my all-time favorite Lions coach. Don’t allow any of these little criticisms to detract from that.

I have the utmost regard for the degree of hardship Schwartz endured in this work, as well as his success. And if you think Schwartz’s success is exaggerated, here’s something to consider.

In 2009, Schwartz was one of nine rookie head coaches hired.

Only two are still employed: Schwartz and Rex Ryan and Ryan’s position may be jeopardized depending on the outcome of this season. Except for Schwartz, all of them were employed by clubs that won a game in 2008.

So Schwartz is genuinely fantastic, which is why I just have one significant complaint.

Why does he appear unable to discipline his players?

Jim Schwartz, after all, says all the right things. He knows what his troops are doing is wrong, and he swears that the problems are being handled internally.

But then his guys come out the next week and do something similar, and we all say, “You didn’t deal with it at all, did you?”

The only time there was any hint of repercussions for a lack of discipline was when Schwartz benched Gosder Cherilus after an atrocious post-play personal foul that gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a shot to win when they shouldn’t have.

I understand why Jim Schwartz wants to preserve his toughness while losing his stupid mistakes, but he already has both. To get rid of the DUIs/suspensions/15-yard penalties, he may need to overcorrect slightly.

This team’s lack of toughness is not what threatens to doom it in 2012.
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