Bitter Swill: Lions Hire Scott Linehan

>> 1.23.2009

you've . . . you've got to be kidding me.

I'm sitting here looking at the sad remains of a pint of Guinness, what's left of the once-proud head lamely pooling at the bottom of my glass.  The nitrogen-fueled fury of the pour and surge is gone, memorialized by the dried lacing clinging to the inside of my pint glass.  I want more beer, but . . . is it worth it?  The last foamy mouthful?  The hollow, bitter swallow that covers my tongue but evaporates before it makes it to my gullet?

This is the worst possible hire.  I'm absolutely speechless right now.  Every move up until now, including the Bob Slowik hire that apparently wasn't a real hire, I've either loved or warmed up to.   But Scott Linehan?



For those not in the know, Linehan started his football career as the quarterback of the illustrious Idaho Vandals, playing for head coach Dennis Erickson (some of you might remember Idaho's defensive coordinator at the time, one John Lewellyn Smith).  He had a cup of coffee in the NFL, then quickly moved to coaching.  First, John L. hired him at Idaho to be the wide recievers coach, then he scored the OC gig at UNLV.  Linehan then returned to Idaho as the OC, then went on to the University of Washington as the WR coach and was quickly promoted to OC.  From there, John L. hired him away to coach Louisville's offense.  In his second year, Linehan's offense led the Cardinals to an 11-2 season, and he accepted a position as the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings.

Ugh, excuse me for a minute . . .

Okay, I feel a little better now, but my toilet might never forgive me.

In his three years as offensive coordinator of the Vikings, Linehan drew up the schemes that allowed Duante (*urp*) Culpepper (*gag, choke*) to throw for 12,049 yards and 82 TDs . . . don't get too excited, the Vikes went 23-25 in that stretch.  On the strength of this, Nick Saban hired Linehan to run his offense in Miami.  After a stunning 2005 season where the Fins won their last six games to finish 9-7, the St. Louis Rams tabbed Linehan to be their new head coach. Late Rams owner Georgia Frontiere said of him at the time:

“It’s like picking a star for a movie, you want the right person. My first impression was that he was youthful and upbeat and had great energy. Just a down to earth person. Very genuine. He told me of his plans for the Rams, and it made me want to get the season started right away.”

He got started right away, lifting the team to a .500 season.  However, the 2007 Rams squad was absolutely decimated by injury, as badly as I've ever seen.  The best the Rams could muster was a 3-13 finish.  Hopes were high coming into the 2008 season, but the Linehan-led Rams were hopelessly overmatched, and dropped their first four games, getting outscored 147-43 in that stretch. Linehan controversially benched veteran starting QB Marc Bulger in the fourth game, looking for any kind of spark.  Like the Lions, the Rams had a week 4 bye.  Unlike the Lions, the Rams had seen enough.  Linehan was summarily fired.

So, what on earth does Jim Schwartz see in this guy?  Linehan had been on the sidelines for some really explosive passing games, but never for more than a few years, and in most cases the offense was successful either before he arrived or after he left.  It was never clear that it was his gameplanning or scheme or playcalling that made the difference.  When he finally got to call the shots on his own, he was an unqualified disaster.  Well, Schwartz gave us a clue during the search:

"The philosophy's gonna be ours.  We're not going to count on that guy to bring the philosophy. I think personality is going to be important, experience is going to be important -- those kind of things.  What I'm saying is, we're not looking to hire a guy to bring a scheme to us. We have a good vision of what we want the team to be, and what we're looking for is somebody to be able to execute that vision."

Well, wasn't the philosophy going to be "run and stop the run"?  What on earth is reuniting Scott Linehan with Duante (*hork*) Culpepper going to do for a running game?  We saw how pathetic Culpepper is; he was noticably worse than both Kitna and Orlovsky, and the numbers bear that out.  Sure, we have Megatron, and sure, we can play jumpball with him, but a consistent offense that does not make.  You can't run the ball and control the clock when you're constantly trying for the moonshot TD.  I mean, just look at the numbers:

* In 2002, Linehan's first year as coordinator, Michael Bennett, Duante Culpepper, and Moe Williams combined for 2,507 yards and 26 TDs, with a 5.3 ypc average--leading the NFL in all three categories.

Um.  What?

* in 2003, Minnesota's three-ring running back circus of Moe Williams, Onterrio "Whizzinator" Smith, and Michael Bennett spearheaded a rushing attack that compiled up a 4th-ranked 2,343 yards on 493 carries (4.8 ypc) and 15 TDs.

Holy wow.

* In 2004, the Vikings rushed much less often as Culpepper was going crazy through the air--they had the 4th fewest attempts of any team--but they maintained a 4.7 yard-per-carry average, 2nd best in the NFL, to rack up 1,823 yards.  This despite the fact that Onterrio Smith led all Vikings rushers with just 544 yards, and Culpepper was the next-highest rusher.

Criminy!

* In 2005, rookie Ronnie Brown and Ricky "Sticky Icky" Williams combined for 1898 yards on 444 attempts, good for an 8th-ranked 4.3 ypc average.

Remember, this was when Ronnie Brown was a bust.

* In 2006, Linehan's first year with a stud running back in the stable, Steven Jackson carried the ball 348 times for 1,528 yards (4.4 ypc) and 15 TD . . . not to mention 90 receptions for 806 yards.

As a friend of mine once said, "That's totin' it".

Color me stunned.  I thought Schwartz had foolishly decided that reuniting Culpepper with Linehan would recapture some sort of magic, and the Lions could play pitch-and-catch with Megatron in lieu of rebuilding the O-line or establishing the run.  Actually, Schwartz has already come out and said that the Minnesota reunion has nothing to do with it, and Linehan's hire will not affect whether Culpepper stays or goes. It turns out that Linehan actually has a bulletproof resume as a run-first coordinator, using a bruising rhythm many-carries-per-game run scheme to draw in the defense, then bomb it over their heads.  With Linehan in the fold, Schwartz has now hired two men who've both been coordinators and head coaches before to sit at his right and left hands.  He's unafraid to hire strong coordinators because he values their strength and experience--and confident in his own ability to lead.

I'm staring at that last bit of bitter, empty foam in the glass.  I suppose I'll have to swallow it--and my pride--on this one.  And with that, I propose a toast to the Grandmaster.  Salud.

10 comments:

Steve January 24, 2009 at 9:56 AM  

Hey, I loved this post. Excellent work, Linehan is not a sexy pick for sure....I shuddered, too. That being said, his prior success is undeniable and he WILL get Megatron the ball, which unfortunately, Colletto struggled with.

Drew Stanton and Kevin Smith are excited, too!

def January 24, 2009 at 11:48 AM  

Nice post. Now I want a beer. But I think I will refrain judgement until this team takes the field next umm, August. My God. What I do like is his experience and if anything, that is a good thing for a first year HC to have. Wait and see time, w00t!

Ty January 24, 2009 at 12:51 PM  

Steve--

Thank you kindly; I had to deal with my frustrations somehow, and in the middle of writing a big rant, doing the research really opened my eyes to how well this hire might work after all. What really turned my opinion was Schwartz saying that Culpepper wasn't a factor in Linehan's hire, and Linehan's hire won't be a factor in Culpepper staying or going.

Man, I hope Drew Stanton is excited . . . we need him to make an impact this training camp (but that's a whole 'nother blog post!).

Ty January 24, 2009 at 12:56 PM  

def--

Well, I'd like to refrain judgement unitl the season starts, but that would mean I'd have to just stop caring until the fall, and, well . . . it's not going to happen. I'm still going to obsessively follow and root Lions whether or not it does any good! Wait and see--but blog about it constantly in the meantime, LOL.

DrewsLions January 24, 2009 at 10:15 PM  

Ty, you're getting a bit dramatic for me here! I can't really tell if you like the hire or not. I read some of your comment on the Pride site and with this blog, I'm a bit confused. I take it you initially thought the hire made you want to wretch... now you think the hire might be okay? Not quite clear.

I think it's a good hire. Not gonna do any handstands or backflips, but he's a talented, experienced coordinator that will do well. Remember, you have to compare him to what we had... Colletto. Still unimpressed? I didn't think so. I still think that they will release Culpepper... draw no connections to this hire and that former relationships. I believe Schwartz will want to go another direction.

As for crying in your beer... there will be days ahead to do that. It's FAR too early in the season for that. In fact, this season is not even over. I can think of about ten people I'd like less than Linehan. Don't waste your beer over this.

Ty January 24, 2009 at 10:50 PM  

I know it was switching gears . . . basically, when I first heard the news, I was absolutely disgusted. A large part of it was that it seemed to signal that the Lions were going to keep Culpepper and try to "build around" him.

Keep in mind that I hate Culpepper with a passion; I thought he was a fraud his entire career, and the consistently low (like low 60s) passer rating he's put up ever since Randy left Minnesota has, in my mind, proven me right. Watching Culpepper do that ridiculous "we rolling" thing made me physically ill. For me, it was just as bad as, say, Patrick Roy coming out of retirement and starting for the Wings. The idea that we were picking up Linehan, plugging Megatron in for Moss, and trying to put the band back together, so to speak, was more than I could bear.

Everyone has been talking about Linehan's history of masterminding the vertical passing game, but while doing research for my I HATE LINEHAN diatrible, I realized that that's not really the case. Everywhere Linehan has gone, he's built a relentless power running game that both gets lots of reps, and averages over 4 yards per carry. It's indisputable: Linehan's passing attacks key off of repeatedly smacking people in the mouth with the run, then bombing it over their heads--which is a perfect fit for the philosophy that Schwartz laid out. Between the shocking numbers and Schwartz's insistence that this had nothing to do with Culpepper, my mind was actually changed so much that I actually had to stop writing this blog post in midstream and start over.

I now praise this hire the same way I praised the Cunningham hire: he's not a hot commodity, but he's been tested and proven as a coordinator, he fits the philosophy that Schwartz has laid down . . . but he's also had the learning experience of being a head coach, and getting fired.

Having two coordinators who have been there and done that will be such a help to him. Partly because they aren't "hot" names, both coordinators will probably be happy as coordinators for several years, too. Neither is going to be like Martz, openly campaigning for plane ticket to Anywheresville.

So yeah, sorry for the confusion: I hated the hire at first, but now that I've done my research I'm thrilled--not to have Linehan necessarily, but because Schwartz seems to be just as competent as advertised. He's handling his staff hires really really well, and that's a great sign.

Peace
Ty

Todd January 25, 2009 at 12:11 PM  

Ty, did you watch the senior bowl? I posted this over at detfan but wanted to ask you and your readers too. I just watched it as I had it recorded but will be going back again. Defensively I was pretty dissapointed as no on really stood out. Even my boys from USC had a few mistackles and didn't look like anything special. If we switched to a 3-4 larry english would be a nice kind on the outside opposite side of avril if sims can move inside (not totally studied up on a 3-4
yet waiting til we actually switch or not). English has a great motor though and can hit, not sure about his coverage though. Was
dissapointed in bj rajii as I watched practices and he was talked up being dominant in practice. I didn't really see it watching some of the practices but even more so not in the game. Never saw him really do a thing or even mentioned for how hyped he was. Alphonso smith dissapeared in the game too but I was already shying away from him after I found out he's only 5'8". That's pretty short for a corner no matter how good you are, only my opinion of course. Offensively parker wilson from alabama stood out at qb (boy is harrel bad not in the shotgun and taking under center snaps-rough draft ahead for him). It
did help wilson playing in alabama and having his own center snap him the ball but he looked very calm and checked down well and ran when appropriate to keep the play alive (reminded me of stanton actually-i think haha its been so long since I've really got a good look at him on the field). Aside from wilson I'd be happy getting a WR, I know the
dreaded position but I'm talking later like second pick 3rd rd. If we could ever get a derek williams or somehow percy harvin 2nd rd that could serve the duel purpose of compliment to calvin as well as pr/kr.
That potential for a td on special teams is fluid throughout the nfl now and the lions have seriously lacked it since drummonds glory days. Not only that but line of scrimmage at the 18-20 compared to 30-35
with one of these dynamic guys changes the game. I doubt we get one of them but I think its a decent class for 3rd and 4th rd wr's like my USC boy patrick turner or carr from flordia st. Not sure their speed yet but say a 4.4 guy opposite calvin with furrey standeford or colbert in the slot? We talk about the deep ball after pounding the
rock like linehan has done in the past-read Ty, your above article is a
great piece and analysis on that-but that'd be a great wr core to utilize deep ball
after hitting u in the mouth with the run all game. Ok just typed all that on my blackberry and my thumbs are as tired as our safetys trying to run down rbs after they run through the lbs every play. -Todd

minker January 25, 2009 at 12:50 PM  

Ty, this was a beautiful and thoughtful piece and your later comment about getting the band back together made me laugh out loud!

I had the same misgivings about Linehan, (like we hired Bobby Ross again, who I still hold responsible for Barry's disgust and departure from the team) that he would ride the same horses (Cullpepper to Moss-atron) into the ground, wrecking one of the few bright spots we had left on the team, but after also researching his record, came to the same conclusions as you.

Great post!

Ty January 26, 2009 at 2:25 PM  

Todd--

Unfortunately no, I didn't get to watch the Senior Bowl. I needs me one of them TiVo things . . . as the father of three little kids, my time for sitting down and watching football for "scouting" purposes is minimal. I'm bummed that Raji didn't make more of an impact in the game; I was hoping he'd show us a little more consistency. As it is right now, he went from being "A guy we could totally get with the 1.20" to "a guy we'd be butt lucky to get with the 1.20"; so who knows. It sounds from the reports that I'm reading like several linemen (on both sides of the ball) upped their stock; guys like DTs Mitch King and Peria Jerry are getting kudos across the board, and my boy Michael Oher upped his stock as well.

To be honest, at this point I prefer Oher to Andre Smith. Oher was projected as a 1.15-1.20 guy last year, and I wanted him then. I was crushed when he didn't come out, because I thought our chance at a franchise LT that DIDN'T come with the 1.1 was blown. I realize that Smith is overwhelming at the point of attack, but our problem at LT has been lateral speed and pass protection. I think Oher is going to pick up the NFL game very very quickly, but Smith might struggle to handle the Kampmans, Allens, and Ogunleyes of the world.

You know, I really wouldn't be opposed to a WR in the 4th or 5th round, but I think if we take a WR in the third, it HAS to be one with breathtaking return ability. Our return blocking was very good last year, but the inability of anyone on the roster to get upfield with it killed us time after time. There are definitely some games where punts would have been long field goals if the returner had gotten it done; and there were a few games where a long field goal or two was all we needed to win. To me, the Lions have to come up with an electrifying returner this offseason, and what better way than with the draft?

More to come as I scour the interwebs for pics/video/wrapups . . . thanks for breaking your thumbs to share your take with us, Todd!

Peace
Ty

Ty January 26, 2009 at 2:37 PM  

Minker--

Thank you so much; I worked really hard on this one. I'm trying to hone my content a little, more engaging and less dry. Your words mean a LOT to me, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

Right now, I'm really pleased with the hires. I'm kind of anxious to see what happens with all the position coaches; I thought once the coordinators got picked that the rest of the staff would round out quickly, but it looks like that's not the case. At this point I just want see the staff set, so we can all get down to the important business of biting our fingernails until April.

Peace
Ty

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