While trolling for information after the hire, I stumbled upon the Free Press article full of 'player reaction' quotes. For a guy who most fans wouldn't mind seeing leave, they had a lot of quotes from Travis Fisher in there. Overall, the impression I got was that these players have barely heard of Schwartz, but like the brand of football the Titans play. The last quote in the article really caught my eye, though:
"I think having a guy in there is great," center Dominic Raiola said. "I think you needed to put a guy in there sooner than later. A lot of this stuff is starting to pick up, especially going down to the Senior Bowl, because that's the main thing. We obviously need people to help us. Hopefully he'll do a good job doing that."
At first, it didn't quite strike me--I mean, there's nothing about that quote that's false. But it echoed around my head for a second, and a thought started brewing . . . Raiola was happy not that Schwartz was hired, but that somebody was hired. In his mind, it was most important to have a coach in place before the Senior Bowl in order to hire a staff and evaluate talent, not to hire the "right guy". To me, this seems backwards--obviously it's better to have a staff in place in time the Senior Bowl than not in time, but I would think it's paramount that they hire the right coach and staff.
But think about this from Raiola's perspective. He was drafted in 2001, with Millen's first draft class. I remember him in training camp that year, trying to fight off Dan Wilkinson while Millen played middle linebacker in dress clothes. He's been through Mornhinweg and 'take the wind'. He's been through the pomp and circumstance of Mooch's installation, and the well-coiffed mediocrity that came after it. He's been through several bitter Thanksgiving failures, and firings thereafter. He's been through "Millen's first post-Ford-meddling" hire, and he's been through 0-16. He's been through the West Coast Offense, the New West Coast Offense, the Martz Offense, and the Power Run With Martz Routes I Don't Know What You Call That But It Sure As Hell Is Not Offense. All the while, he's been booed at and hissed at, chanted and ranted and raved against, and derided as the source of all the Lions' numerous woes. All he's done is given it everything he's got, week in, week out, for eight straight terrible seasons. This season it got so unbearable, he spun around on a heckler and gave him the bird. I'm not about to defend that, but it shows how the eight years of terrible football and a vicious crowd have ground down his spirit.
At this point, it must feel absolutely futile, bordering on irrelevant. This will be his fifth head coach, and God knows-how-manyth offensive coordinator. All he does--and all he'll do--is work his tail off, punch the clock, cash his paycheck, and get ridiculed for it. At this point, how can he feel like anything about this hire will be anything different? It's just a new name on the masthead. Heck, he must be at least half as frustrated as some of the fans (sarcasm)! Reading between the lines of his quote, it looks like he sees what Marinelli has hinted at and what Schwartz has outright said several times: nothing is going to change until the roster is rebuilt.
The importance of this draft, with so many high picks and so many holes to be filled, cannot be overstated. There's a desperate need for good evaluations, solid decisions, and--perhaps most importantly--a clear direction and consistent philosophy in this 2009 draft. As the search continues for coordinators (Guntherball? Really?), I am more concerned with getting a proven talent evaluator in house. For what it's worth, my vote goes to former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist. Fired after disagreeing too often with now-former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, he's done some really impressive work for PFT this season, scouting and breaking down games at a very high level of detail. Since he's currently unemployed, the Lions could bring him in immediately to assist with this draft--and if he's not the right guy for the long term, fine, let him seek full control elsewhere. But, for crying out loud, don't let any opportunity for more help slip by.