Goodbye, Jim

I mistakenly assumed, given the California time difference, that I would awake to news of Jim Schwartz's firing.  I did not.  After a few hours of refreshing Twitter like a madman, it finally came through.

I think back to his hiring in 2009-- a Georgetown educated former middle linebacker with a track record of success working under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee-- and can't help but feel saddened at what could have been.  Instead, Schwartz has turned a young, talented group of players into a team of undisciplined and unaccountable individuals.  There is a reason why defensive players continue to commit boneheaded penalties without consequence, and why Stafford continues to throw with poor mechanics: it's coaching.

At this point, I feel comfortable with Mayhew and Lewand remaining in their current roles.  This comfort is cushioned by the fact that the first draft class Brian Xanders assisted with has been just short of phenomenal.  The coaching choice is obviously the most critical thing right now, and I believe the Lions finally have the talent in place to attract a winner.

With the talent not being an issue, for once, the culture takes center stage.  Can the new coach make them believe?  Can he make them accountable?  Can he help them perform consistently?  Can he help them WIN?  It became very clear this season that Schwartz was incapable of any of the above.  

Goodbye, Jim.

How Lions Fandom Damages Personal Growth

I have always wondered what an interviewer thinks when they learn the interviewee is a Lions fan.  Do they admire the incredible level of loyalty required?  Do they respect the mental toughness it took to watch the only winless season in sports history?  Or do they simply question the interviewee’s intelligence, and why in the world anyone would keep coming back, year after year, for more of the same? 

As I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about yet another epic collapse, I realized that being a lifelong Lions fan has taught behaviors and mentalities that have inhibited my growth as a person.  Below, I will give you a glimpse into the broken psyche of a Lions fan that used to be a normal, happy, loving, logical human being.

You Grow Resentful and Contemptuous

I have heard that contempt ruins more marriages than any other emotion.  As a fan that has been let down this consistently, this dramatically, for an entire lifetime, one can simply grow numb.  The flashes of positive moments, like sweeping the Bears and embarrassing the Packers on Thanksgiving, are buried under the weight of fourth quarter defensive breakdowns, unfathomable drops, and oh so many turnovers.

You Become Paranoid

I consider myself a very logical person, and yet, at this point, I have convinced myself that the NFL is directly targeting the Lions with phantom penalties.  I trace this back to the October 30, 2011 game against the Broncos, when NFL.com published a headline story entitled “Good vs. Evil”-- pitting the Lions as the demons against Tim Tebow and his team of angels (you know, the one that included alleged rapist Perrish Cox).

There have been multiple game-changing penalties against the Lions ever since, and three straight years of bad breaks leading to rule changes.  I think the final straw for me was this week, when the NFL announced that Darnell Dockett had indeed stomped the hand of Rams guard Chris Williams.  The defensive tackle was fined $7,875 and not suspended.  Suh’s infamous stomp led to a two game suspension and cost him $164,000. 

I realize that the referees are professionals doing a job that includes a massive amount of human error due to the speed of the game.  We get to pick apart slow motion replays and complain.  When it comes to something that is 100% subjective, though, like assessing a fine after the fact, it starts to get ridiculous.

I always have to laugh when the Lions play on national television, since each phantom or blown call is followed by a dozen texts from sympathetic but unbiased viewers.  I don’t feel the need to respond anymore.  They know I agree.  What they don’t know is that it happens to us every game that they don’t watch, too.  It has started to defy statistical logic at this point.    

Even When Things Are Going Well, You Can’t Be Happy

If you have ever listened to Detroit sports radio, you know this one well.  When the Lions captured the NFC North lead, there was little to no excitement.  There weren’t sighs of relief and high fives celebrating the fact that the Lions had exceeded expectations to that point.  The question was: “How will they blow it?”  How about eighteen turnovers across a critical five game stretch?  Yea, that should do it.

You Develop Coping Mechanisms

There is a reason a great deal of Lions fans are obsessed with the NFL Draft.  It represents hope and change, two things that the regular season Lions have no interest in providing.  There is something special about the infusion of new talent and the uncertainty of it all.  For that short period in the offseason, there is optimism.  There is the gradual shift of slightly positive expectations starting to quiet the jaded voice in the back of your head.

People may turn to overeating, excessive drinking, or even hoarding when faced with significant stress and adversity.  I’ll happily take the draft.  In fact, I think I’ll watch some prospect tape today. 

In Conclusion…

If you have made it this far as a non-Lions fan, thanks.  Give the Lions fan in your life a hug today.  Remind them there is a real life to live, where disappointment doesn’t lurk around every corner… and don’t forget to RSVP to their draft party.

Post-Draft

First off, you will not be seeing any "Draft Grades" here.  I'll leave it up to the "professionals" to grade players who have yet to go through an NFL practice.

I expected the Lions to play it safe in order to preserve the jobs of the brain trust and coaching staff.  Minus the Larry Warford pick in Round 3, they did the exact opposite.  Multiple upside gambles, another highly selected injury risk, and not a single offensive tackle were what Lions fans were left with when the lights turned off at Radio City Music Hall.

In a way, the boom-or-bust nature of this class will define the tenure of Martin Mayhew.  If Ansah can dominate off the edge early, as he did in the Senior Bowl, and Slay becomes a shutdown outside corner, Mayhew will be viewed as a strong drafter who took calculated risks and won.  If the rawness of those two players requires years of development, which is likely, Mayhew may not be around to see them as finished products.  

The major downside to the Lions draft, to me, is the lack of offensive line help.  I love the Warford pick, since I wanted him at the top of the second round.  He is a plug-and-play guard that will immediately upgrade our interior blocking.  However, not a single tackle was taken after losing both starters, and we could have used a developmental center to push Raiola.  It really won't matter how the other picks pan out if Stafford goes down with a significant injury this season.

Our defensive line got bigger, stronger, longer, and somehow more athletic at the same time.  I think Devin Taylor will be a great situational pass rusher, and our run defense should be much better going forward.  Everything else is just a guess at this point.  As only a Lions fan can understand, "here's hoping."