Lions fire coach Jim Schwartz after 5 seasons

Jim Schwartz was hired to turn around the Detroit Lions and he

did it for three seasons.

He failed to keep the Lions going in the right direction the

next two years – and it cost him his job.

The Lions fired Schwartz on Monday, one day after their

late-season slide ended with a loss at Minnesota. He had two years

and nearly $12 million left on his contract.

Schwartz informed the players of the decision during a team

meeting.

”I feel awful for him,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. ”I

feel like we let him down.”

Team President Tom Lewand said the search has begun for what he

thinks is one of the most – if not the most – attractive

opportunities for a head coach in the NFL.

”I can verify that by the number of calls we have already

gotten since the announcement was made,” Lewand said. ”Going

through a thorough process is extremely important. That doesn’t

necessarily it has to be a long process.”

San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is among

the potential candidates. Whisenhunt led the Arizona Cardinals to

the Super Bowl during a six-year run as their coach and Lions

general manager Martin Mayhew is a former Washington Redskins

teammate.

The Lions also let offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and wide

receivers coach Tim Lappano seek other jobs, saying the rest of the

staff is under contract, including some assistants for the 2014

season.

Detroit flopped to a 7-9 record this year after a 6-3 record

start put the franchise in a position to win a division title for

the first time since 1993.

”That is the reason we are sitting here having this

conversation,” Lewand said.

Schwartz was 29-51 over five seasons, including a 10-6 mark in

2011 that lifted the Lions to their only postseason appearance this

century. The former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator was

hired in 2009 when Detroit was coming off the NFL’s first 0-16

season.

”Jim inherited a very tough job,” Mayhew acknowledged.

Schwartz led the Lions to two wins in his first year, six the

next and to double digits in victories two years ago for the first

time since 1995 to help them end an 11-year postseason drought.

The Lions lost their last eight games last year after a .500

start. They collapsed again this season with four straight losses

and six in a seven-game stretch – blowing fourth-quarter leads in

each setback – after they took control of the NFC North race.

Detroit and the 2000 San Diego Chargers are the only NFL teams

since 1940 to lose fourth-quarter leads in seven games in a season,

according to STATS.

”From where we were in 2008 to where we are now it’s a big

difference,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. ”We owe a lot of

that to him. He’s a really smart guy and helped us get to where we

are. Obviously, we didn’t win as many games as we needed to or as

we should have this year.”

The Lions took on the personality of their demonstrative and

emotionally charged coach and that wasn’t always good news for

them.

When Detroit ran the ball instead of having turnover-prone

Stafford throw late in regulation of its 23-20 overtime loss to the

New York Giants in Week 16, the crowd reacted with a loud chorus of

boos. Schwartz responded by looking away from the field and

screaming something toward the stands.

Schwartz negated a video review and was called for

unsportsmanlike conduct by angrily throwing a challenge flag last

season when Houston’s Justin Forsett scored after two Lions tackled

him, leading to a defeat during an eight-game, season-ending slide.

The previous year, Schwartz had a heated exchange with San

Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and had to be separated following

their postgame handshake.

”The stuff that happened with Harbaugh just was an incident,”

Detroit guard Rob Sims said. ”The stuff with the fans just was an

incident. That’s not an everyday occurrence.”

Schwartz was 12-32 in games in November or later for a .273

winning percentage that was the worst for a coach in five-plus

straight seasons with a team since Denver’s Lou Saban won

one-quarter of those late-season games from 1967-1971, according to

STATS. His .363 winning percentage overall with the Lions is the

worst by an NFL coach in his first five full seasons since John

McKay won fewer than 30 percent of his games with the expansion

Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976-1980.

The Lions gave Schwartz an extension entering the 2012 season,

when he had one year left on his four-deal worth about $11

million.

The second contract made him the longest-tenured coach the

franchise has had since Wayne Fontes led the Lions from

1988-96.

Bobby Ross, Gary Moeller, Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick

Jauron – on an interim basis – and Rod Marinelli all had a chance

to lead a franchise with only one playoff victory since winning the

1957 NFL title before Schwartz got a shot to be a head coach for

the first time at any level.

The Lions would like to hire someone, who runs a 4-3 defense and

has head coaching experience, but they’re not going to overlook

assistants who fit the profile they’re looking for.

”The goal isn’t to hire the biggest name or the most popular

candidate and win the next press conference,” Lewand said. ”It’s

to win football games in 2014 and to win a championship.”

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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