It is the reality of professional sports that eventually, the hot seat awaits those who do not win – and often those who do win.
As Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz prepare for the launch of their fifth season together as the Lions’ General Manager-Head Coach tandem, the combined 22-42 won-lost record of the previous four regular seasons sparks questions about their job security.
It was one of the first questions directed at Mayhew in his annual session with the media at training camp Tuesday.
“It’s the NFL,” Mayhew said, not flinching from the question. “The urgency is there every single year. You talk about hot seats. There are 32 hot seats – on every GM, every head coach.
“There are expectations in this league of perfection. People are imperfect. There are high expectations, a high urgency level every season.”
The expectations of winning might not change, but the demands can become greater. And the penalties for losing can be more severe. That’s also a fact of life in the NFL.
Mayhew deserved a grace period when he replaced Matt Millen as GM early in the historic 0-16 season of 2008. The roster already had been set.
As one former NFL personnel man said at the time, building the Lions was tougher than building an expansion franchise because of the roster rot he inherited from failed draft picks and bad free-agent signings.
Mayhew hired Schwartz in 2009 and began building the roster with his own draft picks and free agents. The 2-14 start in 2009 should have been predictable. The rebound to 6-10 in 2010, with a season-ending four-game winning streak, and a 10-6 record and wild-card playoff berth made it look like the Lions had finally gotten over the hump of consistent losing.
A lot of that tumbled down with last year’s 4-12 record. The offseason arrests and misplays on the field gave the image of an undisciplined team.
It also turned up the heat for this season. At least that’s the perception, since Lions Owner William Clay Ford has not spoken publically on the subject.
But logic, and the history of the NFL, dictates that winning eventually supersedes everything in determining the fate of a GM and coach.
Based strictly on that history, I think either Mayhew or Schwartz – and possibly both – would be in jeopardy if the Lions are not serious playoff contenders this season. I think Schwartz would be most vulnerable.
I also think the Lions have the tools to win this year. Key issues were addressed in the draft and free agency. And not just talent. The Lions have upgraded their character from a year ago.
The roster has a good mix of quality veterans and young players to enable a playoff run. That could be undermined by injuries, but the talent level has been upgraded in most areas – running back, defensive line, secondary and special teams.
Offensive line and linebacker are areas where depth could be a primary issue.
“I like our group,” Mayhew said. “I like our talent level. I think it’s safe to say is the biggest, most athletic, fastest team that we’ve had.”
Mayhew will not make any predictions or comparisons to last season – except regarding the talent level. A week ago, Schwartz talked about how last season was “humbling.”
“I think I’m going to let last season be last season and let this season be this season,” Mayhew said. “We move forward. We learned a lot from last year. We’re going to take those lessons into this season.
“There an expectation that we have success here. That’s across the board everywhere in the NFL. I’m going to do everything I can to keep my seat cool.”