When Detroit coach Jim Schwartz talks during the week, he’s like many NFL coaches – choosing his words carefully, avoiding controversy and saying little that might motivate an opponent.
Once the game starts, however, Schwartz becomes a lot more demonstrative.
”Coach is fiery. We love that about him,” offensive lineman Rob Sims said. ”I think he’s a great leader in regards to that, just staying positive, being emotional. Some guys, they try to just hide.”
Schwartz wasn’t about to back down Sunday after his team’s 25-19 loss to the 49ers. When San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh gave him an exuberant handshake and a firm slap on the back, Schwartz took exception and chased him all the way to the tunnel. The two were kept separated, but the dustup became the talk of the league.
”I think that it is unfortunate that the events after the game have overshadowed the fact that it was probably one of the better games played yesterday,” Schwartz said Monday. ”It’s unfortunate. The game’s played by the players on the field, and you certainly don’t want things like that to occur, but there’s competitive people in the league. That’s said, we need to do a better job of just leaving it to the players on the field.”
The NFL said after the game the incident would be reviewed. Schwartz said he talked with the league Monday morning – and also had an opportunity to talk to Harbaugh after the game.
”Afterwards, in the tunnel, I got a brief chance to speak with him, sort of,” Schwartz said. ”Everything had died down a little bit. I’m sure we’ll talk again.”
Schwartz is a big part of Detroit’s resurgence. The Lions went 0-16 in 2008, the season before he became their coach. After a couple losing seasons, Detroit started 5-0 before losing to San Francisco.
The Lions actually had a nine-game winning streak – dating to last year – before Sunday’s loss. Along the way, Schwartz was as emotional as ever on the sideline. He charged onto the field and pumped his fist after a dramatic overtime win at Minnesota last month, and the following weekend, he appeared to have words for Dez Bryant after the Dallas receiver’s catch was overturned on a challenge by Schwartz.
In the first half against San Francisco, Schwartz seemed to yell something across the field when the 49ers tried to challenge a Detroit touchdown – and instead were hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because they weren’t allowed to challenge that play.
Schwartz says he doubts that played any role in what happened after the game.
”I don’t think he was watching on TV, and you can’t hear things across the field,” Schwartz said. ”You can’t challenge a scoring play.”
Before coming to the Lions, Schwartz was a defensive coordinator with Tennessee. Titans safety Michael Griffin was amused by what happened after the Lions-49ers game.
”He used to always get us fired up,” Griffin said. ”Schwartz comes off as a nice guy, but when it comes to football and that game is on and it’s ready to play, coach Schwartz is into it and ready to play and he backs his guys up 110 percent.”
For his part, Schwartz downplayed the effect of his emotion.
”I don’t know if it really means a whole lot,” he said. ”Everybody’s competitive in a game, and usually when the game’s over, everybody shakes hands and goes on to the next game.”
Of course, that handshake was the whole problem Sunday, leaving Schwartz and his players to answer as much for the postgame brouhaha as for anything that took place during the four quarters.
”I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. It’s one of those things that happens,” wide receiver Nate Burleson said. ”We’re an emotional team, and we go as our head coach goes. We’re going to continue to approach the game with passion just like he does, and I think how we’ve been playing is a direct reflection of how Jim is.”