If you took a poll of 100 NFL fans and asked them which of the four head coaches in the NFC North was on the hottest seat entering the 2012 season, a majority very likely would choose Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith who survived a mediocre season which was followed by a major shakeup in the Bears’ front office.
In this case, the majority would be wrong. Or at least they should be.
As of late I would argue that Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has caught Smith and perhaps even passed him as the NFC North coach in the most hot water.
To many, this seems like a preposterous line of thought. Schwartz has been a key player in turning the Lions from an 0-16 laughing stock to a team that just qualified for the playoffs for the first time in forever. He has one of the league’s best quarterback/receiver tandems in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and has a formidable defense to boot. Firing Schwartz seems utterly insane.
If you only looked at the on field product, it would be. Throw in events off the field, and things become a little more sketchy. With Lions defensive end Nick Fairley recently being arrested for the second time in nearly two months on top of Ndamukong Suh’s temptation to get stomping mad plus Schwartz’s handshake skills and the happy story of the Lions’ turnaround quickly takes a detour down a dark path.
In the name of fairness to Schwartz, I am not laying the poor decisions made by Fairley and others at the feet of the head coach. The poor choices were made by the players and the players alone.
However, Schwartz’s growing reputation around the league as a class A jerk is surely minimizing the amount of sympathy points he is getting from his peers.
To think Schwartz is being given the short end of the stick is too nearsighted. Take a look at Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals. That team became a punchline around the league thanks to what seemed like a Bengal being arrested every single day. The Bengals were more notable for off the field debauchery than they were for on the field success.
Lewis, however, never really faced heavy criticism for how he was handling his players. Why? Because of how he has carried himself. Lewis is one of the most respected coaches in the league and Schwartz is one of the least. Those brownie points definitely come in handy once in awhile, don’t they?
Same goes for Smith in Chicago. He may have a selfish running back caught up in a contract dispute in Matt Forte and quarterback who occasionally acts like a petulant child in Jay Cutler, but Smith is revered like Lewis as one of the best men in the head coaching fraternity. Smith comes from the Tony Dungy coaching tree and will always say and do the right thing when it comes to off the field trouble.
This is not to say Smith deserves to be off the hot seat just because Schwartz is a bigger jerk. In years when Smith’s teams have faced high expectations, they have fallen well short of them. The Bears rightfully will take a long look at Smith’s status after the conclusion of the 2012 season. Some were surprised he survived 2011, but thanks to an injury to Cutler he earned a reprieve.
The Lions, however, have been spared criticism thanks to their recent string of poor performances. Now that they have had some success and finally returned to the playoffs, their standards have been raised. Perhaps Schwartz didn’t receive that memo.
The Ford family surely has to be watching this closely. They remember how bad things were when fans put paper bags over their heads as the Lions went 0-16 in 2008.
The New Orleans Saints are currently the most vilified team in the NFL thanks to the recent Bountygate scandal. Before them, it was the New England Patriots. Once Sean Payton returns and some time passes after Bountygate, another team will be hated as bad as the Saints are today.
The prime candidate as of right now? The Detroit Lions.
From a talented (but dimwitted) defensive end who thinks it is perfectly fine to try and stomp on an opponent’s face and then brush it off as “trying to get out of the way” to a head coach that thinks a hearty handshake is an insult to his own mother, the Lions are trying very hard to go from playing Cinderella to the role of the evil stepmother.
There is still time for the Lions to save themselves….from themselves.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke