It would surprise me if Jim Schwartz is in any real jeopardy of losing his job as head coach of the Lions, and that’s my mistake.
Nothing should surprise me or anyone else if a head coach showed up for work one day and was told his services were no longer needed. Even head coaches shouldn’t be surprised.
There have been too many examples of coaches getting fired who seemed secure in their jobs. And others on the hot seat have been brought back for another season on the grill.
If anything has been proven in the NFL it is that change is a constant – everywhere, including the Lions under owner William Clay Ford.
Let me state again three things that I’ve already written about Sunday’s report on ESPN that Schwartz’s job is under review.
I don’t discount the report because of the track record of Chris Mortensen, who reported it Sunday. His sources are gold-plated.
Also, if I were the owner or major decision-maker of an NFL franchise, I would review the job performance of any head coach whose team had a 4-12 record and lost its last eight games.
And finally, I don’t think Schwartz is in serious jeopardy of being fired after his fourth season as head coach, nor should he be.
Schwartz did not sound like a coach on his way out in his season-ending press conference Monday. It was business as usual.
As it was explained to me recently by someone with insight into the matter, the Lions look at teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who stay the course with their head coach and do not react to a bad season. It works for them, the way it hasn’t worked in Houston, San Diego or Dallas.
That bodes well for Schwartz.
But don’t be surprised – by anything.
Today is Black Monday in the NFL, and it seems like half of the NFL’s 32 teams are weighing the future of their head coaches.
That includes playoff teams such as Houston, ones with near misses and winning records like the Bears, others like the Eagles and Chargers where established coaches have hit the end, and a few others who fall into their own categories.
History shows that Ford will do whatever he thinks is right – either changing head coaches or keeping one.
There is no sure way to predict what he will do, whether it involves money, hiring a college coach or making an unexpected change.
Here are some factors to consider, and why they dictate that nothing should surprise anyone:
Money: Schwartz signed an extension before training camp, and it has been reported that he has three years and about $15 million left on the deal. It’s a big hunk of dough. Some have speculated that it is too much for an owner to eat for the sake of change.
But Ford has done that in the recent past.
Steve Mariucci was fired with five games left in the 2005 season. He had two years and $11.5 million left on the five-year, $25-million windfall contract he got when he was hired in 2003.
Money did not keep him from losing his job.
College: Ford has hit the campus circuit in his previous coach searches, and at times when it was least expected. In 1985, he hired Darryl Rogers, best known for his tenure as head coach at Michigan State. Rogers was head coach at Arizona State when Ford made the surprising decision to hire him after firing Monte Clark.
In other seasons, the Lions interviewed college head coaches such as Nick Saban, Tommy Bowden and Don James – all with sterling records at the time.
NFL veterans: Monte Clark had been head coach of the 49ers for one season when Ford hired him in 1978. Clark was considered a bright, young coach on the rise, but he left the 49ers in a contract dispute.
In 1997, Ford hired Bobby Ross, who won a national championship at Georgia Tech and got the 1994 San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl.
And in 2003 came the massive failure of Mariucci.
Unexpected hook: In a season-ending press conference in 2002, former Lions president Matt Millen announced that Marty Mornhinweg would be back for the third and final season of his contract, despite records of 2-14 and 3-13 in his first two seasons.
Less than a month later, the 49ers had fired Mariucci and he landed in Detroit.
Hanging on – a year too long: The Lions were 3-6 and had gotten blown out at Atlanta when Ford made a lockerroom declaration that he would fire Wayne Fontes if the Lions did not make the playoffs.
The Lions won the last seven games to finish 10-6 and make the NFC playoffs as a wild card.
They were the hottest team in the NFL and were favored to win at Philadelphia in the wild-card round.
It turned into one of the most humiliating games in franchise history – a 58-37 loss.
Fontes kept his job and returned in 1996 for his eighth full season as head coach.
It also was his last. The Lions were 5-11 and went 1-9 in the last 10 games.
Tony Dungy: There is no doubt in my mind that if Fontes had been fired after the 1995 playoff debacle, Dungy would have been the next head coach of the Lions.
He was a hot commodity and fit the profile for what the Lions would have been looking for. Dungy was young (41) and with 12 solid seasons as a defensive assistant in the NFL.
With a reprieve for Fontes, Dungy was on the market and was hired by the then-lowly Tampa Bay Bucs.
Dungy got the Bucs to the playoffs in 1997, where they beat the Lions in the wild-card round.
Dungy is one of the most respected NFL men of his generation. He coached 11 NFL seasons with the Bucs and Colts and won the Super Bowl with the 2006 Colts.
Dungy has persistently put off any possibility that he would return to coaching.
With Black Monday in full swing, it wouldn’t hurt for an owner to call him.
After all, no one should be surprised by anything.