TIM AND MIKE: How does new head coach change the culture?

Posted Jan 8, 2014

Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara talk about candidates and objectives for the next head coach in Detroit

Joique BellThe Lions nearly had two 100-yard rushers on Thanksgiving Day vs. the Packers. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

It's a typical January in the NFL. The playoffs are creating high drama on the field, and there is intrigue and speculation from teams that are looking to hire head coaches.

The Lions are involved in the head coach search, while the playoffs move along without them. How would the Lions have fared if they'd have hosted a wild-card game at Ford Field?

Mike: If I was asked that question after Game 9, when they won at Chicago, or after they beat the Packers at home on Thanksgiving Day, my answer would have been that they could play with anybody at Ford Field.

But the last impression can be the best or worst impression, and ending the season with a four-game losing streak left a bad impression – bad enough for head coach Jim Schwartz to get fired.

Ask me if the Lions had enough talent to compete in the playoffs, and my answer is yes.

Ask the same question about their performance late in the year, and the answer is no.

And ask me if the new head coach is inheriting a team capable of competing for the NFC North title in 2014, and the answer is yes. But one of the first things the new head coach has to do is to make the team get over the disappointment of missing the playoffs and get it focused on starting over.

Is that easier said than done, or is the mental part easy for the next coaching regime?

Tim: It'll be easy for this team to turn the page on 2013.

Quite frankly, there won't be time to look back. These players are talented, they know they have a talented team, but they'll have their work cut out learning two completely new offensive and defensive schemes, the terminology that accompanies those schemes, all while trying to acclimate themselves with a coaching style that's tasked with changing the culture around here.

There's going be so much to do this offseason that feeling sorry for themselves won't have a place.

If I'm a player, especially a young veteran, I'm excited about the changes. This is a team that can win right now under the right head coach.

Mike: "Right head coach." You said it, and it begs more than one question: whether the new guy should have head coaching experience; if a background on offense is more important than defense; and if he starts from scratch with his staff or keeps some coaches from the current staff.

My choice from the beginning was Ken Whisenhunt, the current offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, but I've also gotten a better feel for Jim Caldwell. He had three seasons as head coach of the Colts, and current offensive coordinator of the Ravens.

If Whisenhunt gets the job, I'd ask – but not demand – that he bring Frank Reich with him. Reich is the Chargers' quarterbacks coach, and his background as a player and coach makes him ideal for the Lions.

He spent 14 seasons in the NFL, mostly as a backup with the Bills, and the last two with the Lions. At this stage of his career, Matthew Stafford would benefit from having a veteran NFL quarterback coach on the staff.

Reich has spent his career around Hall of Fame quarterbacks – Jim Kelly as a player in Buffalo and Peyton Manning as an assistant coach with the Colts.

Tim: Couldn't agree more about Reich, but I wonder if he'll be in line for an offensive coordinator job, maybe in San Diego, if Whisenhunt leaves.

He might not be a bad choice for the Lions offensive coordinator job if Whisenhunt gets the head coaching job, though there'd probably be little trepidation about a first-time coordinator stepping into such a crucial role, even one with as much playing experience as Reich.

Whisenhunt remains my first choice for the vacant head coaching position, but I will say I was impressed by some things Jim Caldwell told me when I got a chance to talk to him during his interview last Friday.

Whisenhunt is an offensive-minded coach with experience working with quarterbacks and has head coaching experience. Don't sleep on how important the latter part of that is.

The Lions have interviewed Caldwell, they're reportedly interviewing Mike Munchak later this week and will interview Whisenhunt this week, too. All three of those candidates have head coaching experience.

The Lions are trying to change course 180 degrees from the last coaching search that produced first-time head coach Jim Schwartz.

Whoever the new coach is, his job will be to change the culture. How does he go about doing that?

Mike: Good question, and let's start a blitz session with my answer.

He changes it by winning. Nothing else. The Lions have a good work ethic. They just need to play better, play smarter and win.

And now two questions for you: what's your opinion of a culture change, and who are the winners of this weekend's playoff games?

Tim: He needs to make this a smarter football team all around. Smart football is winning football.

As for this weekend's games: Seattle, New England, San Francisco and Denver.

Who do you have winning this weekend?

Mike: 49ers, Patriots, Seahawks, Chargers. Sorry, Peyton Manning – the Chargers give you another first-game playoff exit. And sorry, Lions. You have to wait to hire Whisenhunt. But it'll be worth it, right?

Tim: If the Lions think he's worth it they won't mind waiting, but it certainly isn't the ideal situation.

Let's just say Whisenhunt ends up being the guy, does Matthew Stafford make the Pro Bowl in 2014?

Mike: If the Lions add a playmaking receiver to go with Calvin Johnson and make the playoffs, he'll make the Pro Bowl. And if the Lions win a first-round playoff game at home, they'll rename the stadium Staf-Ford Field.

Have I missed anything?

Tim: Philip Rivers earned a Pro Bowl bid this year playing in Whisenhunt's offense. Why can't Stafford if the Lions give him the help he needs?