Regner: Coach, not draft, will determine Lions’ fate

New Lions coach Jim Caldwell needs to be the difference-maker that everybody talks about at draft time.

Andrew Weber

When former Michigan football player and 38th President of the United States Gerald Ford took the oath of office, he said:

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

Although President Ford was referring to the Watergate scandal, I can relate to his words because that’s how I feel about the NFL Draft, which finally begins Thursday.

Has anything ever been as drawn out as this overhyped, made-for-TV event?

Obviously, drafting college talent is the lifeline for the league, but once the smoke has cleared, it won’t make that much of a difference for the Detroit Lions.

Whether they trade up for a wide receiver or down for a cornerback or stay put with the 10th pick overall, their fortunes rest on the shoulders of head coach Jim Caldwell.

For an eternity, Lions fans have tried to figure out what’s plagued this moribund franchise — Why, despite all the maneuvering, does this team always seem just a step away from death’s door?

Ownership has always been the common denominator when pointing the finger of blame. And, yes, ownership has been a catastrophe.

But the other consistent variable has been the lack of a legitimate, proven, NFL-tested head coach.

Bobby Ross comes close, however, the Lions broke his spirit and he resigned during the season — just walked away.

Wayne Fontes has the most wins (67) and losses (71) as Lions head coach, which says it all.

What the Lions really need is an effective head coach who can mold a football team, a man who has a definitive plan of what it takes to win at the NFL level and is able to implement that plan into a system the players can relate to and excel at.

The last two Decembers — when everything was on the line — the Lions went 0-9.

Think about that for a moment. The last time the Lions won in December was on Christmas Eve 2011, when they throttled the Chargers 38-10 and clinched a playoff berth.

Since that time, they’ve had epic collapses to finish their seasons.

Certainly, the players share blame, but when a team folds that badly, it’s a true reflection of their head coach.

Caldwell needs to be the difference-maker that everybody talks about at draft time.

If he can’t lead and inspire the team, and kick butt when he has to, the Lions will be what they have always been — a rudderless ship that has some impressive assets, but can’t steer into championship territory.