be my valentine?

>> 2.13.2009

From Dave Birkett's blog, a quote Martin Mayhew on the hiring of Shack Harris as the oft-mentioned "personnel man":

"Mayhew was asked if he'd be OK if Harris voiced strong opposition to his decisions as they related to, say, the No. 1 overall pick. 'There were any number of yes men available, and we didn't pick any of those guys,' he said."

I gotta say folks, I know I have to be all "WTF why didn't they CLEAN HOUSE!!!?!?!?!?!?" in public . . . but I have a secret man-crush on Martin Mayhew.  Sometimes, even the blind old rich dude finds the acorn.


the fellowship is complete

>> 2.12.2009

Killer of has the info on the Lions' complete coaching staff.

I think Steve Mariucci mentioned that between head coaches, coordinators, and assistants, the Lions hired and fired nearly eighty coaches from the time Millen took over until now.  I haven't done the research to be absolutely sure this is true, but I believe that every player that's been here more than two years since Millen took over has had to deal with a different position coach, coordinator, head coach, or all three.  That's really depressing--and it's no wonder that players like Roy, Kevin Jones, and Shaun Rogers learned to tune out the coaches!  The players with big salaries figured out that they'll be there a lot longer than anyone telling them what to do . . . so why do it?

As Schwartz made each of his coordinator hires, I said to myself (and to you all): this guy might not be the 'hot' hire, but he's had plenty of success as a coordinator, he's been a head coach, he believes in Schwartz and Schwartz's vision, and he's more than qualified to be a coordinator again.  It made me expect to see that level of expertise, that extensive resume, that level of "This is a wise and rock-solid hire" reaction to each position coach.  Like the QB, RB, WR, TE, and OL coaches all should each have had been an NFL coordinator, or college HC.  Well, with this crew, it ain't the case.

Looking over the offensive staff, it has Linehan's Pac-10/WAC/Mountain West fingerprints all over it.  The QB coach will be Jeff Horton, who was a 'special assistant' to Linehan in St. Louis, and the head coach at Nevada and UNLV before that.  The OL coach--a position we were all looking at hard for some improvement--will be George Yarno.  He's coached offensive lines in college for 17 years, including stints at Arizona State, LSU, and Washington State (all hotbeds of Gillman/Martz/Erickson coaching tree talent).  His one year of NFL experience?  Last year, as an assistant OL coach in . . .

. . . wait for it . . .

Tampa Bay.  Not exactly the bulletproof, unassailable, gosh-this-guy-will-spin-this-straw-into-gold hire we were hoping for there.

However, it's worth noting that not every position coach isn't meant to be a coordinator, just like every coordinator is not cut out to be a head coach.  The position coach is actually the main interface between the player and the coaching staff--that's the guy with the player in the classroom, in film sessions, in position drills.  On a day-to-day basis, the position coach is doing the teaching and coaching and guiding and player development, while the coordinators are working on the scheming, gameplanning, and execution.  As the Grandmaster himself said, as a head coach, you aren't coaching the players--you're coaching the coaches.  Therefore, for a position coach, having encyclopedic X-and-Os knowledge is nice, but not a requirement--and as we saw with Martz and Stanton, having a guy who thinks he's a bigger deal than he is might not be in the best interests of the player.  What's most important in a position coach is his ability to work with players, and his ability to work with the coordinator and head coach.

I look to this line from Jim Colletto's farewell interview:

"I had a talk with Jim and he said he wanted someone who was going to be here (for more than one year)," Colletto said today. Colletto, who has one year left on his deal, planned to retire following the 2009 season.

This speaks volumes about the staff the Grandmaster is trying to put together.  He himself hired a strong right hand in Guntherball, and a strong left hand in Linehan.  Then, he allowed them to pick position coaches and assistants that would make THEM comfortable and let THEM perform at their best, rather than a bunch of recently-fired coordinators who will want to help stir the soup.  You know what they say about too many chefs in the kitchen . . .

But above all, it looks like Schwartz wants to build a staff that will stay together.  Linehan said it in his introductory presser: he's sick of moving.  He wants to settle down.  He turned down offers from franchises in better on-field positions, to work with a man whose vision he believed in and who he could be happy working for.  Gunther is at a point in his career where he'd like to cement his legacy as a DC under a man who he deeply respects.  None of these position coaches are "hot names" who are going to be moving on as quickly as they arrived, changing nothing while they're here (Scott Loeffler, I'm looking at you).  It's hard to get excited about most of these hires--but with luck, they'll prove to be a group that can provide the professionalism and continuity this franchise has desperately lacked for so long.


the Turk comes for six

>> 2.10.2009

As has been extensively reported (here's Tom Kowalski's piece on it), the Lions cut five former starters yesterday, as well as an OT nobody was ever aware was on the roster, Jon Dunn.  The other five? Leigh Bodden, Dan Campbell, Mike Furrey, Edwin Mulitalo, and Dwight Smith all got the axe, freeing up quite a bit of cap room (around $11 million), and depleting the Lions' roster of anyone who would ever start for another team at cornerback, tight end, and offensive guard.

All of these guys were set to earn more than they were worth, and none--with the possible exception of Bodden--will be hard to replace.  Bodden's travails have been well documented. Yet Campbell, Furrey, Mulitalo, and Smith are all very high character, very high effort guys.  When Campbell was signed, I had Cowboys fans come out of the woodwork to congratulate me and all Lions fans on getting such a great player and great person.  Unfortunately, injury kept him from ever showing us how good he really could be.  Furrey was a fan favorite rags-to-riches story--from being cut off the Rams as backup safety, to leading the NFC in receptions in 2006.  Furrey wasn't the same without Martz calling the shots--and without lining up against third corners and linebackers instead of #2 CBs.  Big Ed Mulitalo was big, and a tough guy with a suitable name ("Ed").  We didn't learn much about him during his time here, but he was by far our most dependable, highest-performing guard, and the only interior lineman who could push the pile when asked.  Smith wasn't nearly the ballhawk he's been everywhere else in his career, but he was a great guiding hand for our young safeties.

What I'm saying here is that the Lions are not just sweeping yesterday's trash to the door, but good players who work hard and deserve better than to be rubber stamped "BAD EGG" and dumped down the furnace.  Moreover, this team that was desperate for decent starting talent just lost quite a bit of it.  The situation at corner is officially dire--we're talking Red Alert, Defcon 1, all hands on deck bad, here, folks.  Even if you argue that TE and OG are positions where you can get by with scrubs, we've been doing that for years and years and years now--David Sloan and Jeff Hartings were our last two talented starters at those positions.  #2 WR is now a concern as well--though given the glorious talent of Megatron and the desperate needs everywhere else on the field, I don't expect it to get major attention.

To bottom line it, these cuts (and the others that are coming) were probably necessary to set up the cap for future years, and to fully close the chapter on what little Rod--and Millen--had built.  Still, as my next round of position breakdowns is about to show, the talent level of this roster is bordering on nonexistent.  Mayhew, Lewand, Schwartz, & Company better have a real clear roadmap going forward--and enormous stones.


baby, it's cold outside

>> 2.09.2009

Yesterday, I took the minivan out for a desperately-needed car wash.  The family truckster was smothered in a chalky, dingy coat of salt and dirt; three straight rounds of "I'll wash the car when it stops snowing and warms up", only to have niether happen, had taken their toll.  Well, I happened to be out and about, it was a bright, beautiful day, and the little ones always enjoy the big floppy cloths and the "rainbow soap" and the roaring  flamethrower turbine dryers.  With the mercury rising dangerously close to what we Michiganderanians consider T-shirt weather--fifty degrees--it seemed like the perfect thing to do on a lazy Sunday.  Then, I got to the parking lot.

  Fifty other people'd had the exact same idea.  The line for the car wash extended all the way out into the street, and people were just parking in one of the driving lanes with their turn signal on.  Everyone had followed the same thought process I had: beautiful day, been putting it off for months, doing nothing else . . . wash the car.  It's one of the things about the long, cold winter--it synchronizes our thoughts and actions.  It adjusts our expectations.  It makes us thrill for the merest hint of warmth.  It messes with our heads.

It's been funny as this year's NFL Draft Circus puts up the big tent.  The mockers are mocking, the analysis is flowing, and guys are rising and falling up the chart as the only real piece of info anyone has to go on--the Senior Bowl--has created almost unstoppable momentum.  Some of you might remember, I'd identified  B.J. Raji as a guy we should look at with our 1.20 . . . he had a good practice in the Senior Bowl--he was completely invisible in the game--and he's now a lock for the top ten, according to most mocks.  This, despite the fact that he wasn't graded as a top ten guy mostly because of his inconsistency.

It's funny, because with all the Lions fan mocks, comments, analysis, reaction, blogpost, blog comments, forum threads and replies, texts, tweets, and smoke signals, they all say the same things: "we need linemen", "we need corners", and my favorite, "we need five immediate impact players in this draft".  It's the same thing we do every year: we look at the team, and we think about the team we wish it was.  It's part of where we've grown up: we want tough.  We want a vicious, stingy defense.  We want to be stout against the run and relentlessly attack the pass.  We want to control the ball, control the clock, control the game.  Hit people in the mouth so hard they can't hit back.  We all follow the same, reasonable thought process.  We look at the 2008 Lions, and subtract, at least, Mike Furrey, Leigh Bodden, Edwin Mulitalo, and Dan Campbell.  Then we examine the differences between the 2008 Lions and the mythical, "2000 Ravens + QB + Megatron" we wish they were.

Then, we look at the pool of available candidates and start trying to check them off.  Crushing OT: Andre Davis, check.  Dominant MLB: James Laurenitis, check.  Smothering cover corner: D. J. Moore in the second . . . check?  Pair of RB-eating defensive tackles:  Um, maybe we trade up for B.J. Raji?  And, uh, I guess we sign Haynesworth?  You're dreaming.  Double-digit-sack DE?  Brian Orakpo.  Come on, you've already spent your two first-round picks three times.  Well, uhm, uh, is Julius Peppers going to be available?  Not to the Lions he isn't!

Hey, nice to see the National Football Post has been reading and agreeing.  Hey, fellas, what's up?

Seriously though, some of the reaction I've gotten on my Freeman pick in the NSS Interblog Mock Draft has gotten me thinking.  It's funny, because I often take a rap as an "optimist", an "apologist", a "sucker", or even an "idiot" because I never stop cheering for the Lions.  I never call the players bums, I never call the coaches or morons or idiots.  I never loudly proclaim that "I'm done with them", threaten to kill them, or root for the Reaper to come swiftly for Big Willie Style.  But then a lot of the so-called 'realists', the loudest complainers and most aggreived moaners, are right in line with me at the car wash!  We're all in a big herd saying, we need OT, we need DT, we need CB, we need LB, we gotta get five impact players, we need more talent, we gotta get bigger, we need, we gotta, we need, we gotta . . . whoa, whoa, WHOA!  I'm going to say something I never say during the season:

The Lions suck.

They suck, folks!  Our team, the Lions?  They suck out loud.  They blow goats.  You cannot add enough 23-year-old fatsoes to this roster to turn them into the 2000 Ravens.  You have to step back.  You have to take a breath.  Throwing rookies at pressing needs is not going to help--rookies, for the most part, can't fill those needs.  If you need Ray Lewis now, you can draft eleven MLBs and not get the one Patrick Willis that would help.  If you need Jonathan Odgen now, you can draft eleven offensive tackles and not get the one Jake Long that would help.  SO FEW rookies make an immediate impact!  First-rounders play like top starters as an exception, not as a rule.

Well, what about free agency?  Not much better.  This isn't the 90s anymore--good teams aren't shedding veteran starters in their prime for the rest of the league to gobble up.  The great dynasties of this era are all ten or twenty million under the cap.  Nowadays, almost by definition, if free agents were worth the amount of money they're asking for, they'd still be with their original team.

So . . . what, then?  You build for the future, because it's all you can do.  You have to take the players that you want to build up.  That you want to build your team around.  Coming into the 2011 training camp, these players should be the core of the team.  But coming into the 2009 camp, these players should--and will--be learning, and growing.  One or two of them might catch fire and contribute right away--but they will be hope for the future, not the foundation of a contending team.  We can't grade the players drafted this April by what happens on the field this September.

What we WILL get to grade, though, is the way Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand handle this draft.  We can see how they feed the roster, what positions need attention, if they appear to be working with the coaches, if they make trades, if they stand pat, how they react to the board unfolding in front of them.  THAT is what we should really be anxious to see in April--not eleven new Lions, but the performance of the men charged with drafting, teaching, coaching, and leading them.


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