Have Punt, Will Travel

>> 1.23.2010

UPDATED with fixed link to must-read GQ article. Thanks, David!

Often lost in the hullabaloo of professional football is the first half of the equation: professional.  Much is made about the thousands, even millions of dollars thrown around to athletes, coaches, and executives that make the game we follow--but then we naively ascribe all sorts of amateurish motives and ideals to these men: honor, loyalty, the love of the game.  We take all we know of them—their on-field personas and their public statements—and we build them up in accordance with this paradigm.
Marvin Harrison was a receiver of electrifying ability.  On the field, he did nothing but his job; off the field, he didn’t exist.  He didn’t make commercials, didn’t blog, didn’t Tweet, didn’t even speak unless he absolutely had to.   The football viewing public decided he must be classy, humble, and workmanlike.  He was held up as the anti-TO—a wide receiver whose grace, maturity, and selflessness elevated him beyond his look-at-me contemporaries.
Faced with the GQ article that will surely go down as one of the most powerful pieces of sportswriting this year, we must face the reality: we know absolutely nothing about Marvin Harrison.  All we saw was what he did on the field—and on the field, he did nothing but his job.  He was a professional football player: he showed up, punched the clock, busted his ass, got results, punched the clock, and went home to do whatever he does in private.
Stan Kwan had a job in the NFL, too.  But he wasn't getting results—and his firing had been called for, vociferously, by just about everyone in the Lions blogosphere, myself not excepted:

As for Kwan . . . well, there is absolutely no excuse for what Stan Kwan’s coverage and return teams did to the Lions’ chances for victory on Sunday. According to the official game book, the Lions’ average starting field position was their own 18-yard-line. The Bears’ average starting field position was the Lions’ 48. As pointed out by Killer, the defense allowed the Bears only 276 yards of total offense—but 277 yards of punt and kick returns.
It’s undeniable; the Lions’ special teams were absolutely wretched this season.  According to Football Outsiders’ special teams analysis, the Lions put together the second-worst special teams unit in the NFL this year.  His performance was manifestly wretched; his firing, inevitable.
Yet, it must be pointed out that Kwan had practically nothing to work with.  Nigh-on a decade’s worth of fruitless drafts had left, ahem, the cupboard bare, and Kwan was making do with the rejects of the rejects.  The promising and developing young players that competitive teams allocate to special teams were instead forced into starting roles, evaluated, and often released.
Reader TimT’s incredible analysis of the Lions’ roster churn proves the point: Kwan was often saying “hello” and “goodbye” to his players before a game had elapsed in between!  Think of it this way: we’re all marveling at the quick development of DeAndre Levy as a three-position reserve linebacker, and possible 2010 starter—but on a “real” team Levy would have spent all of this season, and likely the next, destroying people on special teams.  In his place, we had street free agents like Vinny Ciurciu.
Kwan did the best he could under the circumstances, but he readily admitted to the Detroit News’ John Niyo that it wasn’t anywhere near enough:
"Bottom line is results, and I don't have any regrets, other than that I didn't fulfill that for him and the Ford family and really the fans. It's disheartening, because a lot of people, especially with the economy we're in, everybody's working hard and that one Sunday out of the week, they want to see a winner. And I didn't fulfill those duties."
Wow.  It’s rare that someone who just got fired speaks with such candor about his failures.  He didn’t blame the roster, he didn’t blame the Rogue’s Gallery of coaches and executives he’s worked for here, and he didn’t even dissemble about “going in a different direction”, a “difference in philosophy”, or even a “mutual parting of ways”.  No, his performance didn’t measure up—he knew it, he accepted it, and he admitted it.  You think that’s classy?  Wait until you read this:
"I hope the people of Detroit realize that they have got the right guy (in Schwartz)," Kwan said. "We became good friends, and for him to have to let me go because the special teams wasn't where it needs to be, I mean, that speaks volumes about what he's trying to get accomplished.
I mean, I just . . . wow.  While I’ve never been fired for poor results, I have been laid off—and my first reaction was not to call the local paper and tell them the guy who just took my badge and laptop is doing a hell of a job.  Kwan must be a hell of a friend, and a hell of a class act.
Unfortunately, he’s unemployed.
He'll be traveling to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl: the annual college all-star game which doubles as a job fair for football coaches with steep mortgage payments but no income.  On the sidelines for the North squad will be Jim Schwartz, Gunther Cunningham, Scott Linehan, and the rest of the Lions’ staff—including Danny Crossman, the Lions’ new special teams coordinator. 
Sean Yuille over at Pride of Detroit already has a great little background piece on Crossman’s background and recent performance.  It also includes a link to the Panthers’ SB Nation blog, wherein Crossman’s firing garnered eerily familiar proclamations of joy—and eerily similar defenses of his 2009 performance.  Quoth Panthers cornerback Dante Wesley:
“You’ve got to look at what he had to work with. It seemed like we were bringing new guys in each and every week. Then with the injuries we had, the backups are playing bigger roles on offense and defense, and we never had the same group. With that, I mean, Danny was teaching things over and over and over, because he never knew who he was going to have. It can be frustrating, because so many guys are coming through. You want to try to do it by yourself, but you can’t. That’s not how it works.”
And how did Schwartz settle on Crossman?
"He brings a wealth of both college and NFL coaching experience that undoubtedly will have a positive impact on our special teams play. I've known Danny for a long time, and I've always had tremendous respect for his special teams units."
It’s hard not to conclude that the Lions have made a lateral move here.  Yet, it was a move that had to be made.  There are plenty of good people out in the “real world” who can’t hold on to jobs because their performance doesn’t warrant it—or, more accurately, they’re not so amazing at their jobs as to be indispensable.
I hope Danny Crossman’s fresh face, fresh voice, and approach will catalyze great improvement here.  I hope a full offseason of roster-building will result in a little quality depth trickling down into the coverage and return units.  I hope Crossman, a former all-Big East cornerback, Pitt team captain, inaugural World Bowl MVP (!), and, briefly, Lions DB (!!), can connect with Lions special teams aces like Ciurciu and Zack Follett. 
Meanwhile, I hope Stan Kwan finds a good job in Mobile.  I hope he finds a head coach who values the quasi-Olympic ideals we foist upon our professional sportsmen: honor, loyalty, diligence, and work ethic.  I hope he finds a team with young talent, a winning culture, a supportive fan base, and—why not?—better weather.
Hey, I hear Carolina’s looking.


David,  January 23, 2010 at 1:13 PM  


the GQ article is a dead link.

Thanks for building up Kwan, I never knew much about him. I always am glad to hear about a humble person.

Anonymous,  January 24, 2010 at 9:52 AM  

Kinda makes me feel bad for Kwan...

A lateral move? Yes. But with the Backus type outrage fans were beginning to garner for him I think Schwartz had no other choice.

As for Crossman, he's been around Carolina for a while now and is just getting fired so he obviously had some good years (as detailed in the Detnews.com article). Would Bobby April have been nice? Sure. But realistically it wasn't going to happen. At least the Lions get a guy that has a lot of experience.


Ty,  January 25, 2010 at 10:32 AM  


First, thanks for pointing out the dead link! It's been fixed.

Second, you're welcome. I always hesitate to villify guys, and reading the quotes in Niyo's piece, well, it blew me away. I hope he catches on somewhere else and does a killer job.


Ty,  January 25, 2010 at 10:47 AM  


Yeah, that "outrage" is something I always fight against; as fans we often don't have the context or perspective to know who is doing their job and who is not--ESPECIALLY when it comes to line play. Since line play is really hard for fans to understand, we look at stats like "sacks allowed"--but we've seen incidents where Backus was supposed to allow the TE to block the DE, and the TE forgot.

Moreover, stats like "sacks allowed" are affected much more by the Lions throwing 50 times a game while down by multiple TDs, than by Backus' actual level of play.

I suspect the same, or similar, is true of Kwan here: he was doing the best he could with what he had, but it wasn't anywhere near good enough.


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