Jim Schwartz Coaching Resumé: to whom it may concern

>> 1.07.2009

jim_schwartz_titans 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.

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    Martin Mayhew Knows Allen Park's Walls Have Ears

    There was an awful lot of media snickering being heard after Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand held their mutual introductory press conference.  From Lewand getting players' names horribly wrong, to Mayhew claiming he was the best one to fix Millen's mistakes because he was Millen's top assistant when he made them . . . well, it wasn't well recieved.  But buried in the middle of that press conference was an interesting quote from Mr. Mayhew about their draft strategy:

    "I'll speak on that a little bit, but let me preface that - talking about that - by saying that I think where we've hurt ourselves in the past is by talking too much. I've been there prior to the draft and I've seen us get out there and talk about our needs and what kind of players that we're looking for and I've seen you guys and others hone in on what our needs are. I read the clips for every NFL team 365 days a year; I read everybody's clips and I read what's going on. And I'm doing that looking for a competitive edge and what I don't want to do is be the person that gives somebody else a competitive edge on us. So I'll talk a little bit about that, but I won't get into a lot of detail about what our needs our and what direction that we plan on going."

    Well he sure wasn't whistling Dixie.  According to Tom Kowalski (during a radio interview on WDFN), there's been an unprecedented "information lockdown" in Allen Park.   It seems to be true; the only real leads we have on the coaching search are form other team's beat writers reporting on official requests for interview permission.  Chris Mortensen threw out the names Jim Schwartz and Mike Mularkey as names to watch--and ESPN trumped that up into "Mort reports Schwartz and Mularkey are #1 and #2 in Lions coaching search", which isn't what he really said at all.

    Well, today we got quite the interesting bombshell from NFL.com's Adam Schefter: after hearing from multiple sources on Monday that Cowboys OC Jason Garrett had refused the Lions' request for an interview, he interviewed yesterday.  Nobody knows where, or when, or for how long, but Garrett did sit down and interview with Lions brass.

    The thing that's interesting to me is not that Garrett interviewed; the interesting thing is that the Lions not only kept it completely secret, but that some 'insiders' were kept so far in the dark that they started chirping that it wasn't going to happen--when it fact it already had.  There are two ways to look at this:

    1) The Detroit Lions have been taken over by two extremely competent men on the upswing of their careers, that have been buried underneath incompetent leadership for years.  They have wrested control of the franchise, plugged the media leaks, and are quietly interviewing all of the consensus top candidates, en route to making a very solid hire.

    2) The Detroit Lions have been taken over by two little kids who, once King Daddy gave them the keys to the castle, pulled up the drawbridge--and are now running up and down the halls wearing pieces of knight's armor over their PJs, knocking over statues, and drawing moustaches on the paintings.

    Meanwhile, all interested parties can merely gather outside Allen Park and wait for a sign.


    Leslie Frazier Coaching Resumé: To Whom it May Concern

    >> 1.05.2009

    leslieLeslie Frazier is a name that elicits groans from most of the Lions faithful.  He's an assistant, and moreover not a 'hot' assistant--he's moved both up AND down the coaching ladder in his career.  He's currently coaching for the Minnesota Vikings, which causes a little division-rival bile to rise in the throats of Lions fans--as well as conjure nasty thoughts of the ineffective milquetoast currently wearing the whistle there. The final nail in the coffin is Fraizer's coaching of the Tampa 2 defensive system, made infamous by Rod Marinelli's implementation of it over the past three seasons.  Leslie Frazier, it's assumed, must be a washed-up retread, brought in just because he fits the 'system' so lamely in place.  Don't be so sure.

    Leslie Frazier broke into the NFL as the defensive backs coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, coaching under coordinator Jim Johnson.  While there, Frazier coached Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins, Al Harris, Lito Sheppard, and Sheldon Brown--all of whom but Brown have been Pro Bowlers either during or since Frazier's tenure (and he's arguably been snubbed a few times).

    After three years of being a top assistant on one of the best defenses in football, Frazier got his big break: being hired away to be Marvin Lewis' defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.  Who did the Eagles promote from 'defensive assistant' to take Frazier's place?   None other than Candidate 1A himself.

    In Cincinnati, Frazier came in with Lewis to turn the Bengals around--and that they did, immediately elevating the Bengals to two straight 8-8 seasons after over a decade of sub-mediocrity.  Rookie DE Robert Gaithers, rookie S Madieu Williams, and rookie OLB Landon Johnson all stepped in and not only started, but played like impact players.  It seemed as though Frazier's guidance of the defense was going to give the increasingly explosive offense the compliment it needed to be a real power in the AFC.

    However, cracks in the relationship between Frazier and Lewis became apparent almost immediately.  The two came from different defensive philosophies: Lewis ran a coventional two-gap 4-3 base defense in Baltimore, but Frazier was a disciple of Jim Johnson's aggressive one-gap 4-3 scheme, which calls for a lot of outside linebacker, corner, and safety blitzes mixed with an agressive upfield push from the line.

    This was very similar to the dichotomy between Rod Marinelli's Tampa Two, which relied on a one-gap front four and rarely blitzed, and Donnie Henderson's blitz-heavy 4-3, which led to Henderson's dismissal after just one season.  Not only that, the two men's coaching styles were different as well: Frazier favored the stoic, walk-softly/big stick approach, but Lewis liked to get fired up. This all culminated in Lewis wresting playcalling duties away from Frazier during an embarassing 2004 loss to the rival Browns.

    After the '04 season, Lewis chose not to renew Frazier's two-year contract; the fast-track career of Leslie Frazier was derailed.  Interestingly, former Cincy LB phenom Landon Johnson was just released this offseason, and now plays a backup role with Carolina.  Robert Gaithers has managed only six sacks in the last two seasons combined.  After being forced to play linebacker due to the position being mauled by injuries last year, Madieu Williams left Cincy and signed a big free agent deal . . . to play for Frazier in Minnesota.  Marvin Lewis is now on his third defensive co-ordinator, and likely won't get the opportunity to hire a fourth.

    Tony Dungy immediately saw the value in Frazier, and signed him to coach DBs in Indy.  Frazier was also given the title "Special Assistant to the Head Coach"--presumably he was a sounding board for Dungy in gameplanning and defensive strategy--and during this time learned the Tampa 2 defense from the master himself.  While in Indianapolis, Frazier guided Bob Sanders to the 2005 Pro Bowl in his rookie season.  In the playoff run in 2006, with Sanders back from injury, the Colts defense had the swagger and mojo to match its offensive firepower--and Leslie Frazier earned a 2006 Super Bowl ring.

    When Tampa 2 disciple Mike Tomlin was hired away from the Vikings, they hired Leslie Frazier to step in and run the defense.  That he did, and more.  After the '07 season, Frazier had the responsibilities and title of "Assistant Head Coach" added to his nameplate.  His mission for 2008 was maintaing the defense's effectiveness against the run, while improving the pass defense.  He did that, bringing in fearsome DE Jared Allen and mixing in more man-to-man coverage to maximize CB Antoine Winfield's considerable shutdown skills.  The results in 2008?

    • The Vikings ranked 6th in yardage defense, with 292.4 yards allowed per game.
    • The Vikings ranking 13th in scoring defense, allowing 20.8 points per game.
    • The Vikings had the stingiest rushing defense in football, allowing only 1,240 yards (3.3 ypc).
    • The Vikings racked up 45 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL.

    It's true that a lot of this production comes from the monster DT team of Pat and Kevin Williams.  And yet, everywhere he goes, we see a pattern: young players bloom quickly, defenses get nasty, safety play is top-notch.   Cincinnati observers see that they missed out, and Broncos fans want him.  Keeping the T2 (or a more agressive hybrid of T2 and the blitzing 4-3 style) would save having to turn over quite so much of the roster, and allow more of the 'foundation' Marinelli laid to stay in place.

    While Spagnuolo is still my favorite candidate, he is definitely the belle of the ball right now. Frazier--to me--is a candidate with an equally impressive resume, who would probably already be a head coach if it weren't for the clash with Lewis.  If the Lions "settle" for Leslie Frazier, we might just end up with one hell of a coach.


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