Schwartz returns to Tennessee with Lions
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz spent 10 seasons with the Tennessee Titans and on Wednesday in a conference call with Nashville media he reminded the locals that some of them started out just the way this one is unfolding for the Titans and that they didn't always end up so badly.
"We saw about everything that you can imagine from making sort of a Cinderella Super Bowl run to best record in the NFL, losing in the first round, to having a salary cap purge, young quarterback, veteran quarterback -- there was so many things," he said. "Starting 1-4 and ending up in the AFC Championship Game (2002). Starting 0-5, a very bleak outlook and still having a chance to make the playoffs in the last game of the season."
The moral to Schwartz's story is that while the Titans might be 0-2 and have started off as poorly as they could have imagined (if not worse), there's plenty of time for redemption.
The irony is that with Schwartz returning to LP Field for the first time on Sunday since he took over as the Lions' coach in 2009, he might want to see his former colleagues on the Titans' sidelines turn things around, but just not this week.
Schwartz, who helped to get the Lions in the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999, is coming off a 27-19 defeat to San Francisco, giving his squad a 1-1 record. In his talk with Nashville media, audio of which was posted on the Titans' Web site, Schwartz was mostly unsentimental about his return.
In Week 1, he played St. Louis, whose head coach Jeff Fisher gave him his start with the Titans and allowed him to work his way up eventually to defensive coordinator. Coming off a 13-3 season in 2008, Schwartz earned the Lions job the following season.
Schwartz was asked about the relative reunion tour the NFL had put him on in the season's first three weeks.
"Honestly, I don't really think about it very much," he said. "You're so engrossed in schemes and the personnel and the matchups and everything that goes into the game. Other than 15 minutes before the game when you're saying hello to some people that you haven't seen in a while, it doesn't really come up. It's about two teams. It's going to be about the Lions and the Titans, it's not going to be about the fact I used to coach there or friends with (Titans head coach Mike) Munchak or anything else."
Titans safety Michael Griffin was a rookie when Schwartz was the defensive coordinator and also played under him in '08 when Griffin had seven interceptions, second-best in the NFL, and went to his first Pro-Bowl.
"I just remember him playing to his strengths," Griffin told FOXSportsTennessee.com "He's a great guy. He'll tell you all the time he never played the game, but he knows how to play the game. He was a great defensive coordinator. He knew the ins-and-outs, almost like playing a game chess or checkers. He's always a step ahead of the offensive coordinator."
Munchak, who was on the staff for Schwartz's entire tenure in Tennessee, said he recalls Schwartz as someone who wanted to be a head coach from the time he arrived as quality control coach. Munchak said Schwartz was "very professional, always prepared, very smart and very confident."
"For me to be on the other side of the ball in those years, I was confident he had things under control and his players played that way," Munchak said.
For the Titans to get things under control and turn their season around, they face a daunting task against Schwartz's Lions. They face a quarterback coming off a Pro-Bowl season in Matthew Stafford and arguably the league's top receiver in Calvin Johnson. Oh, and the Titans' 72 points allowed is the third-most so far in the league.
Munchak is preaching calm while acknowledging that the Titans haven't played anywhere near as well as they can so far. Griffin said the defense has to improve communication. An injury in Week 1 to starting middle linebacker Colin McCarthy has hurt. In Week 2, his replacement, veteran Will Witherspoon, went down, forcing rookie Zach Brown into action.
Griffin said the defense has personnel that is either young or new within the last two years at every level.
"All around, we got new guys so the chemistry -- we're still trying to work and build that chemistry and trying to work together and get back to basics, the way we were playing in preseason," he said.
For an organization that had so much continuity for so long under Fisher, it's an adjustment. In his return, Schwartz is a sort of symbol of that legacy. Schwartz got his start in the NFL with Cleveland in the personnel department when Bill Belichick was the Browns' coach.
"I was very fortunate to have some good teachers and good role models and they prepared me very well for the fact that you can't anticipate everything that goes on," he said. "Both of those guys had a lot of confidence, they were unshakeable in what they believe.... That's probably been the thing that's served me best."