Jim Schwartz’ firing was inevitable.
And, it can be argued, a year too late.
Schwartz’ tenure with the Detroit Lions has been one of a front-runner. Each season starts out better than it ends. (Aside from 2010, when the Lions finished 4-0 after a miserable 2-10 start).
Sure, he pulled the franchise out of the muck of an 0-16 season into playoff contention in two of his five season. For that, Lions fans should be thankful.
But he appears to lack the ability to take the team any further.
In 2012, Detroit started the season 4-4 and appeared to be a playoff contender. An 0-8 finish doomed those hopes.
This year, the Lions were 6-3 and their main division rivals had sustained injuries to their starting quarterbacks. With the division sitting there waiting to be taken, Detroit stumbled its way to an immensely disappointing 1-6 finish. In each of those six late-season losses, the Lions led in the fourth quarter and couldn’t seal the deal.
You can say things like turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and missed tackles aren’t necessarily the coach’s fault. And that’s true, to an extent. He’s not on the field doing those things. But those mistakes needed to be corrected or minimized in order to win — and in Schwartz’ tenure in Detroit, they weren’t.
The Lions consistently hurt their chances to win with those four factors: turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and missed tackles.
Basically, all a coach can hope to do in their job is give the team a couple extra percent in their chances to win. That is most clearly evident in baseball, where a manager will make a pitching change if a reliever has a one-percent better chance of getting a batter out in a key situation. Add up those one-percent chances over the course of a game, and a good game manager — or one that prepares his team in practice — gives you an increased chance of winning a ball game. Not a guarantee, but a better chance.
Reducing those types of Lions mistakes would have done that.
Schwartz didn’t do that. It’s safe to say he probably tried to. But what he attempted didn’t work, because the mistakes reared their ugly head time and time again — and often at the worst times.
In his first year at the Lions’ helm, Detroit committed 98 penalties for minus-768 yards. Over the next four years, the Lions averaged 121 penalties per season at a cost over more than 1,000 yards per year.
The Seattle Seahawks led the NFL in penalties this season and the Denver Broncos were third, so it’s obvious that a team can have penalties and still win. But the Lions compound penalties with turnovers, drops and other mistakes to create a poisonous football cocktail.
It’s a cocktail that doesn’t sit well with frustrated fans.
And one that gets coaches fired.