Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lions Season Preview, Part 9: The Coaches and Front Office


I contemplated just posting a picture of an atomic bomb here, and maybe I should do that instead of subjecting myself to the horrors of what lies inside behind this terrible door. GOOD LORD. I am already starting to feel my humanity slip away while images of coaches past pass through my beleaguered brain. OH GOD DARRYL RODGERS' GHOST IS RATTLING HIS CHAINS HE'S COMING FOR ME HEEEEEEELLLLLPPPPPP.

Okay, okay, I think I've got my shit together. I have my puke bucket next to me and I have locked the door. I'm sure I will claw at it like some deranged werewolf, but hopefully in my frenzy I will forget how to unlock it and thus won't escape into polite society, loping on all fours through the streets, sniffing strange asses and growling at kittens, rooting around in strange garbage cans and licking myself while good, honest people look on, horrified and afraid.

Okay, enough with this gibberish. Damn fool. It may be too much, this journey into the savage and the terrible, and it may break me, but fuck it, I am a Lions fan. I know pain. We will get through this.

When I first became aware of the Detroit Lions, Darryl Rodgers was patrolling the sidelines. Darryl Rodgers was not so good with the coaching of the football but because he had the generous Ford Family as his employers he was allowed to coach for several seasons before the stink became too much for even Ford the Elder to bear. Rodgers was sent packing and replaced with the most successful coach the Lions have had during the length of my fandom. Yes, that's right, the immortal Wayne Fontes. Excuse me while I slam my head against the wall for a while.

Okay, I'm back. We all remember Wayne Fontes. No one liked him. I mean, I'm sure he was a decent guy, but as a football coach, no one liked him. And yet, he stayed around for years, alternating good seasons with seasons where Yakety Sax played on an endless loop. Some will point to the good seasons as a reason for his continued employment. I will point to Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Lomas Brown, Jerry Ball, Chris Spielman, Bennie Blades, Kevin Glover, Brett Perriman, Robert Porcher, and . . . okay, I think I've made my point. The Lions couldn't avoid being at least functional and at times decent with that kind of talent. It is almost inexplicable that they were as bad as they were at times with those kinds of players. Thank you Wayne.

Still, Fontes remains the highpoint as far as Lions coaches go, and really, that is . . . that is just . . . uh . . . excuse me, I just zoned out for a moment. This is hard. Anyway, Fontes was finally exiled following the 1996 season and the Lions brought in a real live football coach in Bobby Ross. Ross did what he could, but by this point the stink of decay was all over the Lions, and it was in the middle of this slow collapse that Barry Sanders said fuck it and rode home on a river of tears. Ross followed along not long after, and the Lions and their new hot young executive, a fine fellow by the name of Matt Millen, were in search of a new headman.

Enter Marty "ALWAYS TAKE THE WIND" Mornhinweg. Marty, uh, well, Marty didn't do so well. I mean, I'm pretty sure that a 5-27 record isn't very good. Maybe it's just me, I don't know. Marty will forever be remembered for winning the coin toss before overtime against the Bears and electing to kickoff so his team could take the wind. The Bears of course went right down the field, kicked a field goal and won the game and we all wept bitter tears and swallowed our tongues.

Even the Fords and Matt Millen could see that the Marty Mornhinweg experiment was a grand disaster, and so they turned to another M, Steve Mariucci. Only this time, we were getting a dude who had won at the NFL level before. Mariucci had been the heir to the great 49ers empire begun by Bill Walsh and so we were all naturally excited that he was going to be our head coach. Yeah, about that . . .

Mariucci ended up crushed beneath the wheel, just like Marty had been, and his story in Detroit ended about as happily as the novel of the same name.(Yeah, a Herman Hesse joke. I feel like Dennis Miller right now.)

Thankfully, it couldn't get any worse though, and the Lions brought in Rod Marinelli, whose . . . adgkHFBKLCKJLNCKJLqhjdfefhkefhefjefklfklfklefklf . . . what time is it? Where am I? WHO AM I? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? All I know is that I just woke up with my face on the keyboard. There is blood and vomit everywhere, and . . . wait, I recognize that name. Rod Marinelli.

Okay. I just wept and then went through a couple of days of intensive therapy. I'm back now, and I think I can handle this. Both my therapist and I agree that I should just say that I have written more than enough about those horrible years and that I should just move on. I will just say this: 10-38. That was Marinelli's record with the Lions. I am on the verge of more tears and I am getting all twitchy so let's just get the fuck out of here while we still can.

So, those are the coaches. At least we have had a capable front office to offset their . . . wait, who? Matt Millen? No, I've never heard that name before. He was what? What happened? Really? I don't remember that. Well, surely it couldn't have been that bad. I mean, come on . . . oh, oh really? 31-97. Huh. That's, well, that's AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH


Well okay, we survived. We are still here, and we can finally start to move on. Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand both served in the apocalyptic Matt Millen regime. That right there is enough for most sane people to want to hide underneath their covers and pretend that they are space cowboys or ninjas or some other weird shit. But, the thing is, is that neither Mayhew or Lewand seem to have been Millen yes men. In fact, everything that has come out since they have gotten the job seems to indicate that they did their best to survive in the Lions front office even though they knew their boss was a buffoon.

They have done an admirable job thus far of separating themselves from that terrible past and have shown a remarkable acumen for making quick, decisive personnel decisions in concert with the goals and vision of their coaching staff. It is radically different than the Millen days, when the front office and coaching staff were often at odds over what should be happening. Everyone had their own agenda and everything was, well, 31-97. Mayhew and Lewand on the other hand have done a great job of making sure that everyone involved in the organization are on the same page. Everyone understands what the goals are and everyone understands how they need to get there. It is a unified front, a team with a plan, and for right now anyway, it seems like we are finally moving forward.

The new head coach, Jim Schwartz, has had a billion words written about him the past several months by a fanbase who is embarrassingly in love with him. I will admit to being a part of this mad stampede of adoration. He's a smart, down to earth kind of coach who both understands the subtle nuances that go into being a good football team, the Football Outsiders and Smart Football kind of stuff and all that, and the psychological complexities that go along with dealing with 53 highly talented millionaires whose chosen profession is smacking into other young millionaires very hard. He is smart without being nerdy, tough without being a meathead, and perhaps most importantly, he seems to understand what the Detroit Lions and their fans have been through. He gets it. He gets it all, in a way that none of us could have even hoped for, and even though the possibility exists that we could end up getting clobbered, just like we have for years and years and years, we're willing to trust this dude right now. And really, given our history, that says a whole hell of a lot.

Gunther Cunningham is the new defensive coordinator. He gained his reputation in Kansas City many moons ago, orchestrating the fearsome attack led by Derrick Thomas and Neal Smith. His defenses were always ultra-aggressive and mean and physical and what's not to love about that? Cunningham flopped as a head coach, but he is a proven coordinator in the NFL, and if the Lions can get some talent on the defense, he should be able to make it work.

Scott Linehan is the new offensive coordinator. He made his name running the explosive offensive show in Minnesota featuring Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Robert Smith and, yes, Daunte Culpepper. Linehan likes to have a strong armed quarterback who can get the ball deep to a playmaking receiver while mixing in a strong running game. It's a balanced approach and the Lions seem to have the perfect pieces for what he likes to run.


We have suffered for years as Lions fans with a parade of buffoons and incompetents both on the sidelines and in the front office. We have never had any faith that the guys running the show could lead us to glory. Maybe that is why we have fallen so hard for Jim Schwartz and company. For the first time, we have a dude who treats us right, who holds the door open for us, buys us flowers, smiles at us and tells us we look pretty. It's a nice change, a welcome change, and even though it results in embarrassing paragraphs like this one, I'll take it. We have a chance. For the first time since I have been a Lions fan, we have a chance to be great some day. It won't be the season, and it probably won't be the next, but I have hope. And for a Lions fan, that is absolutely amazing.

GRADE: I'm not going to grade this, because, really, there is nothing to grade yet. My hope is that it is a resounding A.

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