Lions coach Jim Schwartz needs another year to prove whether 2011 was a fluke or 2012 an aberration.
By DAVE DYEFS Detroit
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went from 10-6 in 2010 to 4-12 last season. It got coach Raheem Morris fired.
Detroit Lions were 10-6 last year and are two more losses from also finishing 4-12. Will that get Jim Schwartz canned?
In this day and age, whenever a team fails to live up to expectations, the demand for a coaching change is inevitable.
Sometimes it's justified; other times it's an overreaction.
If you only base Schwartz's future with the Lions on the past 11-plus months, there's no disputing there are reasons to make a change.
But that's being shortsighted. That's dismissing what Schwartz accomplished in his first three years under extremely extenuating circumstances. The man did the unthinkable, taking the 0-16 team from 2008 that he inherited to 10 wins and the playoffs last season.
The remarkable turnaround shouldn't be overlooked if he's going to be evaluated fairly and accurately. He brought this franchise back from the absolute bottom and restored respectability in three seasons.
Whether Schwartz, 46, is the right guy to take the Lions to the next level remains to be seen, especially after what's happened this year.
But I don't think we know for certain whether he is or isn't.
He needs another year to prove whether 2011 was a fluke or 2012 an aberration.
If the Lions don't get back on track next year, then a coaching change becomes a logical option. But not now, not with a young coach who showed such promise before things started to fall apart on him the past few weeks.
After high hopes in the preseason, the Lions have taken a step backward partly because the narrow victories last year turned into narrow losses this year.
That's not unusual in the NFL or sports in general. Teams trying to make the climb up from the bottom often make major improvements before sliding back a bit. Progress isn't always a consistent straight line forward.
The Lions had gone from zero wins before Schwartz took over to two to six to 10 since his arrival. They wouldn't have done that if Schwartz was such a lousy coach and leader as many seem to view him now.
Without question, a lot of bad stuff has happened to the Lions since last Christmas Eve, when they celebrated the clinching of their first playoff berth in more than a decade.
They allowed 90 points combined in their final two games, including a playoff loss, which turned out to be a sign of the problems to come.
The offseason was spent having to address a league-high seven arrests. Two of those players, cornerback Aaron Berry and offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath, were released before the season.
Enigmatic receiver Titus Young became a frequent distraction and finally was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago to end his season, which was really just another form of punishment.
The six-game losing streak is the longest currently in the NFL. The Lions also are tied for the worst record in the NFC and the third-worst in the league.
Sunday's lackluster effort in a 38-10 loss at Arizona has created a firestorm of criticism, much of it aimed at Schwartz.
The Cardinals, who had lost nine straight, needed only 37 combined yards in total offense on their five touchdown "drives" because of giveaways by Detroit.
Coming into this season, the Lions had brought back 21 of their 22 starters, which led to elevated expectations.
The turnover going into next season, however, is almost guaranteed to be much greater because there are so many unrestricted free agents in the core group.
The list includes defensive end Cliff Avril, safety Louis Delmas, cornerback Chris Houston, linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy, defensive tackle Corey Williams, and offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus.
Assuming Schwartz does return — the Ford family is not as quick to pull the trigger as some NFL ownership groups — he will have to determine what changes to make on his coaching staff.
All three coordinators — Scott Linehan (offense), Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Danny Crossman (special teams) — have been under fire at different times.
Schwartz also needs to do some major self-evaluating. He has to get his emotions under control if he expects his players to do the same.
Otherwise, he's not going much further as a head coach.
Schwartz arguably cost his team a game when he lost his cool on a missed call in the Thanksgiving Day game against Houston. He threw the challenge flag to the ground in disgust on a play that a coach isn't allowed to challenge. The blunder gave the Texans a game-turning touchdown.
Schwartz's fiery side helped dig the Lions out of a hole a few years ago, giving them a little much-needed swagger. But there's a time and a place for it.
Schwartz has crossed the line at times. Not surprisingly, so have his players, too many times. That needs to be corrected — or else.
Despite all of this negativism that has returned in the past year for the Lions, when you have players such as Calvin Johnson, it can be fixed and put back on the right course just as quickly as it went bad.
And Jim Schwartz can be the one to make that happen. One bad year shouldn't negate his three years of progress.
Two bad years? That's a different story.
Cornerback Jacob Lacey will miss the final two games after being placed on the injured-reserve list because of a dislocated kneecap.
To take Lacey's place on the roster, the Lions signed Ron Bartell, who was released last week by Oakland. Bartell, 30, was a second-round draft pick by St. Louis in 2005.
Bartell (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) is from Detroit and attended Renaissance High School. He went to Central Michigan before transferring to Howard University to finish his college career.
… Asked what it feels like to go a week without being criticized by an anonymous source, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said, smiling, “It's a little unusual. I'll definitely take it.”