Karmelowicz, Kocurek, and Construction

>> 1.26.2010

While penning this blog’s “birthday post”, I realized that this offseason is going to be much, much different than the last one.  January 2009 saw the complete and total destruction of the prior decade’s worth of work.  It was the demolition of a hideous, towering boondoggle; a structure half-complete, yet completely half-assed.  With the dust of the Old Lions still hanging in the air, new architects and new contractors were hired, and they immediately broke ground on the New Lions.  It was a time of great uncertainty, passion, and (Internet) violence. 

This offseason, meanwhile, should have no such upheaval.  Construction continues apace, and the blueprints haven’t changed.  The architects continue to oversee the work, the general contractor is meeting the goals, and all of their subcontractors are back for another season. 

Well, almost all of them.

Doing research for the birthday post, I realized something awful: the Detroit Lions have not retained both the offensive and defensive coordinators over an offseason in thirteen years.  That’s absolutely astonishing.  Is it any wonder that the Lions have never made any progress?  That haven’t had a direction or identity beyond “Barry Sanders” in decades?  That they haven’t developed a young quarterback into a consistent starter . . . well, ever?

Of course, that got me thinking.  What’s the first thing people point to as a reason why Drew Stanton’s failed to develop into a proven player?  The carousel of OCs and QB coaches who’ve broken him down and built him back up over and over: Mike Martz and Adam Gase, Kippy Brown/Jim Colletto and Scott Loeffler, and now, Scott Linehan and Jeff Horton.

Thank goodness, I thought, that Matt Stafford won't have to go through any of that.

My frustration was understandably palpable when I saw the news that Horton would, as Loeffler did, leave the Lions after one year to become an OC in the college ranks.  However, something Jim Schwartz said during his presser for Linehan’s hiring came back to me:

"I think that the quarterbacks need one voice -- they need the offensive coordinator's voice. We still may have a quarterback coach, but the quarterbacks coach is going to be responsible for fundamentals and drill work. The only voice to the quarterback is going to be the offensive coordinator.”

I can convince myself that Horton was essentially a drill runner and a ball fetcher—that Linehan was, and is still, Stafford’s only teacher and mentor.  Schwartz actually backed that up the other day:

“When we named Scott the offensive coordinator, it was very important to me that the offensive coordinator speaks directly to the quarterbacks,” Schwartz said today. “And Scott has led every single meeting that we’ve had with the quarterbacks. He goes into every single one. So it’s really not a change.”
But doing the defensive tackle review, I got to thinking about how critical the development of young DLs like Sammie Hill and Cliff Avril will be to success in 2010. 

Thank goodness, I thought, that we have Coach Karm in the fold for another year.

Well, that's apparently down the drain, too.  Bob Karmelowicz, the Lions’ 2009 DL coach, didn’t make the trip down to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, and is said to be strongly contemplating retirement.  According to Nick Cotsonika’s report, assistant DL coach Kris Kocurek would get strong consideration to replace him.

That’s very interesting, indeed—because Kocurek’s only 31.  A three-year All-Big-12 defensive lineman at Texas Tech, Kocurek was voted team captain and defensive player of the year as a senior.  He was drafted in the seventh round by the Seahawks, but landed in Tennessee (ah-HA!), spending two years on the roster.  He only got into one game, and had no stats, but Kocurek clearly made an impression on Jim Schwartz and/or Gunther Cunningham—and they made an impression on him.

Kocurek returned to Texas Tech to be a graduate assistant.  After one year, he went to Texas A&M-Kingsville to coach their defensive line, and get his master’s in Kinesiology.  He continued to bounce through small Texas colleges, coaching up prospects and building great defenses all the way.  He landed at Stephen F. Austin in 2008, and in the one year before the Lions hired him, he rebuilt:

a youthful defensive unit whose depth chart consisted of 15 players who were sophomores or younger. Kocurek had an immediate impact on the defensive front during his lone season in Nacogdoches. The 'Jacks led the Southland Conference with 32 sacks during the 2008 season.

Kocurek also helped transform junior Tim Knicky into one of the top defensive ends in the country. Knicky finished year with 74 tackles, and was among the national leaders in sacks and tackles for losses. Knicky wrapped up his junior campaign by earning AP third-team All-America honors, and Sports Network Honorable Mention All-America honors.

So.  A former standout player and leader, not far removed from his playing days, played for Schwartz and Gun, returned to his alma mater to take up coaching, moved up a rung practically every single year he coached, and has already been here for a year, learning the system and the players.

Okay.  Maybe losing Coach Karm isn’t the end of the world, either.  Maybe I needed to be prepared for a little turnover on this coaching staff.  Maybe I need to remind myself that the having one set of blueprints, one general contractor, and one unified vision of teambuilding means that losing a single subcontractor won’t doom the project.


Neil,  January 26, 2010 at 9:30 PM  

I am hoping for the best, but every time we lose one of these dudes - aside from Kwan, who was never really Schwartz's guy, and thus never seemed part of the solution to me - it makes me nervous, if only because the whole thing still feels very, vary fragile.

In a situation like this, I would actually prefer it if they promoted from within, someone who will take up the voice of the fallen, instead of a new voice, with a new plan.

I think it's very possible - incredibly likely, really - that we are all just shell shocked though from years of seeing what happens when there is too much coaching turnover, and what happens when the coaches who are there aren't all on the same page. So, as much as the situation seems fragile, I think we, the fans, are even more fragile.

Weston Corbitt,  January 27, 2010 at 1:47 AM  

Usually great teams hire from within. It is nice to see the Lions finally try that. Keeping the same coaches is essential. In college look at Notre Dame. Always firing people, never making progress. Then take a school like Penn St, who has had Joe Paterno since the mid (18)60's and even after a down year or two, they kept him knowing he was their guy. Oakland is firing everyone left and right and wasting some decent talent on that roster. We have to give Jimmy and company at least 3 more years, to actually teach some players and get some talent.

Brendan,  January 28, 2010 at 10:17 PM  

Great post and good information. That is unbelievable that the Lions have gone 13 years without once keeping their OC and DC coordinators in place.

I thought you might enjoy this description of our new DLine coach by Matt McQuire of Walterfootball who is down at the Senior Bowl.

"My most favorite coach on the Lions staff is without a doubt defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. He's giving a lot of good pointers technique-wise, and I love his backwards hat and fiery demeanor."


Ty,  January 29, 2010 at 1:25 PM  


Yeah, exactly, the whole thing seems so delicate . . . as if the slightest breath of change will topple the whole thing over. That the Lions can promote from within, and not miss a beat? It should be a sign, to extend this tortured Marinellian analogy, that the foundation is set.


Ty,  January 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ty,  January 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM  


Agreed completely; that continuity is so important. Not to pick at a sore spot for any Wolverine fans reading, but it's why they absolutely couldn't fire RRod at the end of the season--if they completely upended their program for RRod and then fired him after two years, the whole thing would be destroyed.


Ty,  January 29, 2010 at 2:44 PM  


Yeah! I'm wondering, more and more, if Schwartz didn't have this succession in mind from the get-go.


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