Lions have turned around under Mayhew, Schwartz
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz yells on the sideline, pumps his right fist after good plays and shouts not-fit-for-print words when things don’t go well.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew? Sometimes seen, rarely heard.
The two different men and their formula for building the Lions from laughingstock to contender is clearly working. A franchise that was bad enough to be the only 0-16 team three seasons ago has now reached the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
Schwartz, though, doesn’t want the Lions to think they’ve arrived at their ultimate destination Saturday night at New Orleans in the wild-card round.
”It’s not an end game for us,” he said Monday. ”This isn’t college bowl game season, where you’re getting a watch and a new warmup suit and it’s a reward for the season. This is a chance to win a championship and that’s that only thing that’s important.”
Since winning the NFL title in 1957, Detroit has won only one playoff game and that was two decades ago.
The Lions hit rock bottom under former GM Matt Millen, whose busts in the draft and in free agency led to a 31-84 record from 2001 through the first three games of the winless 2008 season.
”Matt and I have different viewpoints on a lot of things about football, but I’m a Millen guy,” Mayhew said on Sept. 25, 2008, the day after Millen was fired.
Mayhew, who was hired by Millen, has made many productive moves since being promoted to clean up the mess. The first was trading receiver Roy Williams to Dallas less than a month on the job to acquire a first-round pick was used to draft tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Mayhew, in his first full season in charge, gave Schwartz his first shot to be a head coach and selected Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick to end a decades-long search for a franchise quarterback.
He has hit more than missed in free agency and trades over the past two years, adding players such as defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, receiver Nate Burleson, defensive tackle Corey Williams, offensive guard Rod Sims, and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant.
”He’s done a fantastic job of turning 0-16 into a playoff team,” Schwartz said.
Mayhew, a former Washington and Tampa Bay cornerback with a law degree from Georgetown, has done his business quietly, rarely answering questions from reporters in three-plus years of improving the roster.
”Martin could easily walk around patting himself on the back,” Burleson said. ”He’s just not going to do that because he’s low key and keeps to himself. He’ll high-five us and say `What’s up?’ when you cross paths, but he focuses on doing his job behind the scenes.”
No behind the scenes mystery with Schwartz, who is one of the main faces and voices of the Lions.
He earned distinguished economics graduate honors at Georgetown, then paid he dues on his path to becoming a head coach with an unpaid job for Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns, and then as an assistant in his hometown of Baltimore with the Ravens before going to Tennessee where he became a defensive coordinator.
Schwartz oozes with confidences and unleashes his passion on game days. The rest of the NFL got a glimpse of that when he ran after San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, upset over a postgame handshake and back slap.
His players seem to follow his lead by playing with a lot of emotion and a competitiveness that won’t let them ever think they’re out of a game, which has helped them become the NFL’s first team to win four times after trailing by at least 13 points in a season.
”That has nothing to do with me,” Schwartz insisted. ”All that credit goes to the individual players.”
One of those players, Burleson, deflected praise back toward his coach and said there’s more to him than what the TV cameras catch.
”People don’t see what a great communicator that he is with us,” Burleson said. ”He gets his point across – and sometimes we don’t like them at the time.
”While other teams were getting days during training camp, having an ice cream truck pull up to practice or a trip to the movies, we were working. Jim told us we had a lot of work to do and because we did it, I think it helped us get on that hot streak that set us up to be where we are today.”