Detroit Lions Winning Streak Will Complicate The Offseason


The Detroit Lions are finally on a winning streak. But winning comes at a cost, and the more they win now, the more complicated this offseason will become.

A win Thursday against Green Bay would give the Detroit Lions four wins in a row, and would put them in decent position to make a playoff push. At the same time, the closer the Lions get to making the playoffs this season (in spite of a disastrous first eight games), the more complicated the offseason search for a new general manager (and possibly a new head coach) will become.

When Martha Firestone Ford fired Joe Lombardi, and then Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand mid-season, the Lions had a mere one win.  They were a laughing stock, and a complete mess of a team. Head coach Jim Caldwell was retained, but most assumed it was just as a place-holder.  Someone had to be retained.  Someone had to be head coach for the rest of the season.  And with Teryl Austin’s defense failing to replicate its success from last season, Jim Caldwell got a temporary pass. He got to keep his job, but just for he time being, or so it seemed.

A month later, the Lions have turned over a new leaf. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is now slinging the football all around the field with ease (while cutting down on the turnovers), Calvin Johnson is looking more like Megatron, Jim Bob Cooter is looking like one of the smartest Jim Bobs ever, and the defense has found its moxie, even while fighting numerous injuries to key starters.

All that winning and improvement is a good thing. But it’s also problematic.  After Ford’s midseason firing rampage, she assured us fans that things would change. She held a press conference saying that losing would not be tolerated. She wrote Lions fans a letter saying Detroit deserves better – we deserve a consistent winner. She spoke privately to the team, and apparently demanded excellence. Publicly and (supposedly) privately she promised big changes for the better.

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The Lions current turnaround (assuming it continues) is very likely to complicate the offseason in two major ways. First, Jim Caldwell may get to keep his job. If the Lions make the playoffs after starting the season 1-7, Jim Caldwell would certainly deserve a ton of credit for keeping the team together, and for their success in the second half of the season. But shouldn’t he be responsible for their putrid start to the season? Or maybe his unflinching support of Joe Lombardi?

What if the Lions finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs?  That means they will have gone 7-1 in the final 8 games, but should a .500 record, with this team, be good enough to keep your job? Is the promotion of Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator really the biggest change the Lions need to their coaching staff? Is Cooter really the cure for all of this team’s problems? That seems to be letting Caldwell off easy.

The other complication is how Caldwell (if he’s retained) may affect, and possibly compromise, the new GM search. The hiring of a new GM will likely be the single most important decision Ford will make for this franchise over the next 10-20 years. And it’s easier to fire the wrong person than it is to hire the right one.

Ford has promised a comprehensive GM search. She has hired Ernie Accorsi to help consult. And she has promised of sweeping changes in approach and results. But she also raised some eyebrows with the hiring of new team president Rod Wood.

Wood has managed the Ford’s estate successfully, is an accomplished businessman, and has promised not be involved in player personnel decisions. But he’s also an “inside” hire, a friend of the Fords. In those terms, he appears (on the surface) to be the same kind of hire the Ford family has been making for the past 50 plus years.

A new GM search should include all of the very best candidates. But many GMs may prefer to have the choice of hiring their own coach. If Caldwell is retained, how many of the best GM candidates will be scared off from even considering the Lions? And of those who are not scared off, how many will actually be a good fit/match with Caldwell? Forcing a coach on a new GM is risky. And Ford and the Lions have to get this search right.

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So… Here’s to the Lions continued winning (I’m a Lions fan after all.  And besides, they’ve already screwed up their draft position). But more importantly, here’s to Martha Ford keeping her promises of comprehensive changes for the better.  Let’s hope one half-season of success doesn’t compromise the Lions future for the next several years.