Jim Schwartz Coaching Resumé: to whom it may concern

>> 1.07.2009

Titans Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's name has come up a lot lately.  He was a finalist for the Redskins, Dolphins, and Falcons jobs last year, and was reportedly the runner-up to former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan several years ago.  It's not surprising--the Titans have been a consistently good team despite having inconsistently good talent for over a decade.  It's true that head coach Jeff Fisher deservedly gets a lot of credit for this--but while the Titans have cycled through offensive coordinators (Mike Heimerdinger, then Norm Chow, then Heimerdinger again), Jim Schwartz has been the DC in Nashville for the past six straight seasons, was the linebackers coach the year before, and a defensive assistant the year before that.

In researching Jim Schwartz, the first thing that struck me was not his consistent success, nor his impressive rise through the Browns/Ravens organization, nor his Honored Economics Graduate award from his alma mater, Georgetown.  It wasn't his work as a scout and film analyst for the original Browns, under Bill Belichick.  It wasn't even Schwartz’ unique and detailed approach to stats and analysis.  No,  it was the fact that he's an avid chess player.

Before I start this paragraph, go click that link about stats and analysis--it's an outstanding article by the New York Times' Judy Battista about Schwartz's Billy Beane-esque understanding of the game of football.  Any attempt to summarize on my part would be wasting my time and yours.

Okay, have you finished reading?  Great.  If you are a Lions fan, you now probably want to see Schwartz roaming the sidelines at Ford Field at least half as badly as I do.  Where was I?  Oh yes--chess.  Schwartz himself notes in that Times article that the frequent comparison of two football coaches' teams squaring off to a 'chess match' is a false one:

"People talk about the chess match between coaches and coordinators,” Schwartz said. “Anybody who plays chess knows your rook never falls down, your rook never stops one spot short. There’s human nature to football that will never make it into a game of numbers.”

Still, having known some very serious chess players in my life (my brother won the K-8th grade division Supernationals while in 5th grade), I can say with confidence that it takes a certain type of analytical, logical mind to not just 'play' chess or 'be good' at chess, but truly enjoy it and pursue it as a hobby.  Schwartz shows through his research that he understands the game of football at a deeper level than most.  Imagine going from a coach who has literally no idea why his team cannot win a game, to a coach whose understanding of how the game really works is so profound that he stands out wherever he goes, even while working for some of the most knowledgable coaches to ever wear a whistle?

How many times did Rod Marinelli say "I don't know, I don't have the answers.  I just have to work harder, we just have to keep doing what we're doing"?  Rod Marinelli truly believes that if you show up, execute fundamentals well, and leave it all on the field, then you are doing everything you can to win a football game.  The fact that he and his staff were consistently outcoached in Xs and Os—on both sides of the ball—reflects this.  Sure, I bet from his perspective, it seemed like the Buccaneers teams he coached could simply show up and play hard and win games--but consider the difference in scheming and playcalling ability between Jim Colletto and Jon Gruden.  Consider the difference in scheming and playcalling ability between Joe Barry and Monte Kiffin.  The great ones--Belichick, Parcells, Walsh--have always stood out, if not in pure darkroom-brainiac X-and-Os, than at least in preparation, gameplanning, and adjustments.  Listen to how defensive end Kyle Vandenbosch explains (in the above Times piece) how Schwartz's preparation makes it much easier for him to be effective:

“Especially from a defensive lineman standpoint, we don’t usually pay attention to formations and down and distance. He has that broken down for us. We know what to expect out of certain formations, and what plays they can run. It’s unusual for a defensive line. But we have a quiz in front of the whole defense on Friday, and he expects everybody to know that."

This reminds me of Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, whose offensive system is designed to allow the quarterback to make a presnap decision based off of only one or two defensive keys.  It allows the quarterback to worry less about decision-making and more about execution--which resulted in excellent college careers for a lot of quarterbacks who then had slow or difficult transitions into the NFL (Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers, etc.).   Taking the read-and-react burden off of the front seven could go a long way towards unleashing the effectiveness of some of the younger, more talented players on the Lions defense.  Finally, Schwartz doesn't adhere to any kind of strict system--he appears to prefer a 4-3 to a 3-4, and prefers to get pressure from the front four alone, but isn't afraid to blitz when that isn't working.  But beyond that, he seems to be highly adaptive to whatever the situation calls for.

Where I have been throwing out NFL rankings in yardage allowed as proof that Defense X or Defense Y is good, Schwartz understands that scoring defense is what matters--and furthermore doesn't just look at totals and averages, he accounts for garbage time and wasted efforts (like hail mary passes at the end of a half).  Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let's look at how the Titans stack up on regular season defense:

  • The Titans were ranked 6th in the NFL with 293.6 yards allowed per game.
  • They ranked 2nd in scoring defense, allowing a miniscule 14.6 points per game!  For the record, the Titans are one of only three teams whose defense allowed fewer points than the Lions' offense scored (the Steelers and Ravens are the others).
  • The Titans allowed only 1,502 yards on the ground (3.7 ypc), the 6th best in the NFL.
  • The Titans sacked the quarterback 44 times, which slots them as the 5th best.

    So where does this leave us?  Schwartz is definitely one of the frontrunners for the job--in fact Tom Kowalski said yesterday on WDFN that Schwartz is THE frontrunner.  I think it would be an outstanding fit on paper, and yet--and yet, I wonder.  Schwartz is obviously a veteran coach with a LOT of success, but I really wonder if his talents and style will be the best fit for a defense that desperately lacks direction.  IMO, if Schwartz is the pick, he's going to need a defensive coordinator with a lot of fire and motivational ability.  He needs to win over the locker room immediately, and I wonder if he can do that with a reputation as a 'stat guy'.  Still, if Schwartz comes here, than the Lions will have gotten an oustanding football coach, and I will be thrilled.

    Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,jim schwartz,martin mayhew,tennessee titans

    Steve,  January 9, 2009 at 9:07 AM  

    Ty--"You're To Whom It May Concern" features are excellent. Schwartz is an interesting figure.

    I have read his comments included on the "Pro Football Prospectus" stat "geek" books and he seems to a very cerebral coach in a job which is often not lead by someone who operates "cerebrally".

    The interesting thing will be, if he is eventually hired by the Lions, will he be able to win fan support, given the midwestern sentiment for Ditka-styled mouth-foaming coaches, and more importantly, will he be too passive, ala Mike Nolan, to gain control of the Lions locker room, which needs to be clutched by the throat and threatened with it's life, in order to to engineer a genuine change in it's culture.

    I like the continuity that Schwartz could provide, along with some innovative adaptations to the Lions 4-3, cover-2 defense.

    Ty,  January 9, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

    Thanks, Steve! To be honest, this piece was the hardest to write--after reading the Times article I considered just posting a link and calling it good.

    Your concerns are the same as my concerns. I think Spagnuolo would be a surefire hit in the locker room . . . I'm less convinced that Leslie Frazier (who seems to be cut from the Tony Dungy cloth) would work out. I have no idea about Schwartz. His players all say hes a very good motivator, and a great football coach who just happens to have an analytical side. But then, you know, his players are GOOD.

    Honestly, right now, I'd love for the Lions to get the chance to find out if he can pull it off--Frankly I am rooting hard for the Titans to choke this weekend so we can offer him the gig and be done with it! The uncertainty of not knowing when this coaching carousel is going to stop is starting to eat at my nerves.

    Steve,  January 11, 2009 at 7:58 AM  

    Ty--I am not too worried about the coaching search, they are usually only in town for 3-4 seasons, anyhow!! No, you are right, the Lions can't afford to screw it up this time around.

    The "concept" of Todd Bowles is really intriguing. He is a young up-and-comer, who played in the league and has a connection with Bill Parcells from both Dallas and Miami.

    Whether Bowles has a acquired some Parcellian "mojo", remains to be seen. Plus, with a defensive overhaul eventually going to occur, by hook or by crook, adding the additional schematic change of shifting to a 3/4 defense is very worrisome for me.

    The other issue is, if you are going to draft a QB, which is very up in the air, shouldn't you add an offensive-minded coach who can nurture the nascent QB successfully?

    At any rate, the Lions are being incredibly secretive about their process, which I think is encouraging. It would seem that they are trying to make the right decision this time.

    You are right, the playoffs may speed up the process exponentially. If the Lions want Jim Schwartz, he is now available.

    Ty,  January 12, 2009 at 4:33 PM  


    You made a lot of good points here. First, about Bowles--he's been treated as an also-ran candidate (for example, I haven't written my 'To Whom It May Concern' piece about him yet), but everything I've heard points to him getting very serious consideration. I do like the "concept" of Todd Bowles, but then I liked the "concept" of Rod Marinelli, too.

    There are many who support switching to a 3-4, but this is mostly based on watching the Ravens or Steelers and going "I want an awesome defense like the Ravens or Steelers!". People forget that the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Marvin Lewis rocking the 4-3, just as they forget that while the Lions went 0-16 with the Tampa 2, the Colts and Bears met in the Super Bowl with it in 2006.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, what's important isn't WHAT system it is, it's how it's executed, and the Lions simply do not have the personnel for a 3-4. They have a few possible 3-4 ends (Shaun Cody, Ikaika "Five-O" Alama-Francis, Dewayne White), and a possible 3-4 pass rushing OLB (Cliff Avril). But the ILBs should each be 245+ pound monsters, and Paris Lenon at 235 is ten pounds heavier than any other Lions LB. The killer is that the Lions don't have a massive two-gap tackle to run at the heart of the 3-4. Cory Redding is probably playing too big than his sizable britches as a one-gap nose tackle; he's really more of an three-technique. Have him anchor a 3-4 line with Paris Lenon and Ernie Sims behind him, and the Lions might allow 3,500 yards rushing next year. No thank you.

    The #1 overall pick QV thing makes me hiss and bare my fangs every time it's brought up, but at this point I have to allow for the possibility. I don't think that the HC necessarily has to be a 'QB guru'--remember how well that worked with Mooch and Harrington--but it would be best if we had a bright, young, talented QB coach that could groom him, like Scott Loeffler. Oh, wait, that's right, Loeffler left to be the University of Florida's new OC. So yeah, I hope not.

    DrewsLions,  January 13, 2009 at 4:38 PM  

    Hey Ty. Good stuff here. I can appreciate all of the work it took to get this level of detail. I too am intrigued by the prospect of Schwartz. I've always liked the guys not afraid of breaking the mold and being smart about a game that most people think is not so intelligent. I've always considered football as a game of chess with shoulder pads, so it would work well to have a coach that likes chess!

    Anyway, good stuff here.

    Ty,  January 14, 2009 at 9:53 PM  

    Dude, the amount of research I do has made me realize how writers have a full-time job. Reading that Times piece really opened my eyes as to how far I have to go if I want to write truly compelling content. Now all I need to do is be able to score interviews, get access to all the stats and stuff, have fact checkers to make sure I don't put my foot in my mouth, hire a professional editor to whip my writing into shape, and then work really hard for multiple years!


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