Today, the Lions announced their latest casualty -- Jim Caldwell.
And one happy man, Ken Whisenhunt, is now in the employment of a far less-talented team but a far more talented owner.
Whisenhunt was the chosen one. He was the reason we all were rooting for the Chargers to lose on Sunday to Peyton Manning. But as luck (and Lions lore) would have it, Peyton did win a rare playoff game -- but Kenny chose the Titans over working for his former teammate and current Lions GM, Martin Mayhew.
Very wise choice, KW. No Lions coach has ever been a head coach after his tenure with this franchise. It's really an incredible run. Even the Bengals have been to the Super Bowl a few times. Even Tampa Bay and Seattle, who joined the NFL a hundred years after the Lions, have been there -- Tampa Bay even won.
Fantasy Coaches and Curses
The names have been batted around, of course. Jon Gruden is smart. Bill Cowher is crafty. Jimmy Johnson is a genius. Tony Dungy, who grew up a Lions fan and dared to call the Lions "S.O.L." (Same Old Lions) knows better than to doom his career by accepting the tough colors found only in a Martha Stewart paint swatch of... ahem... "Honolulu Blue and Silver." These are all Super Bowl-winning coaches who wisely decide to follow the career decision of John Madden, and stay in the studio and never lose another game.
Jim Schwartz was fired a few weeks ago because the Lions lost six of their last seven games -- most while leading in the fourth quarter. It wasn't his fault that Matthew Stafford threw an interception at 3rd and 1 on Monday Night Football against the Ravens. Nor was it his fault that Stafford threw another one at 3rd and 2. It's not like you had a Heisman-winning back you could hand the ball to -- er, check that. Calvin Johnson forgot how to catch the ball (fine, he's the greatest in the game and was injured, but he did drop the ball), and Reggie Bush found himself unable to play in temperatures that plummeted below 55 degrees.
Bobby Layne dropped a curse similar to one that befell the Red Sox when they traded their talented pitcher, Babe Ruth, who could also hit the ball. Layne was the last quarterback to lead the Lions to their last championship in 1957 -- his third consecutive title, the year I turned negative-six.
As a reward for his greatness, Layne was promptly traded to Pittsburgh. I started my 40 years of masochism when the Lions had their last quarterback to make the Pro Bowl, Greg Landry. A few years later, after spending some brilliant years of decline in the new Pontiac Silverdome, Billy Sims won the Heisman and got to wreck his knees on the 1/8" astroturf that blanketed the concrete of the arena.
A Proud Tradition of Spectacular Mediocrity
I watched the Cowboys become a great team, then a terrible team, then a great team, then a bad team, then finally as a "Romo-is-underperforming" team. Even Carolina is good again. In 1979, two teams were 2-14 -- my Lions and the San Francisco 49ers. If you remove Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Bill Walsh, their paths have been nearly parallel.
In November, 1963, the son of Edsel Ford, purchased the Lions. Like the namesake of the greatest lemon of all time, William Clay Ford achieved such high levels of mediocrity that towers of flat expressway on I-75 have been erected in his honor.
This season, in what will probably remain my favorite terrible season ever, the Lions achieved superb levels of bad -- poised, at 6-3 for a decent chance at grabbing that impossible brass ring, a possible first round bye or at least a playoff loss. What were the odds they would lose first place? They were only playing lousy Pittsburgh and then more lousy Tampa (at home). Oops.
Oh well. At least both Chicago and Green Bay have injured quarterbacks. And the Lions won both games against Chicago. A win in Soldier Field is as common as an arctic vortex. And tah-dah! They did it! They won on Thanksgiving for the first time in 10 years. They beat the Packers! They held them to no yards of offense (nearly). We were on our way -- said the lotus-eaters.
The next four games dripped by like water-torture. The Eagles won in the foot of snow in Philadelphia -- oh well -- tough conditions against McCoy, the best running back in the game. The Ravens won the Monday Night game -- umm that was pretty much Stafford. The lowly Giants with Eli Manning's evil twin even came to town and beat us up and suddenly the kitties were mathematically eliminated. At least the Vikings won on the final day to ensure a higher mid-range draft pick. (Draft day is the pinnacle of the Lions season.)
You Can't Fight the Fates...
It was a perfect season -- if you're a fan of Greek tragedy. The planets had to align themselves just right to create the right circumstances for Schwartz to be blamed -- then fired with $12 million still coming his way. Granted he has no personality with the press, has a short fuse with handshakes with better coaches whose names rhyme with Smarbaugh, and throws challenge-flags that negate touchdowns -- but it's not his fault that Nick Fairley and his little buddy Ndamukong Suh get penalized as soon as they floss their teeth.
Jim Caldwell took the Colts back to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning credits Caldwell with getting him his ring. Jim Tressel thinks he's a genius. These are all major obstacles that Caldwell will have to overcome if he's going to become a successful former Lions coach.
He's going to have to study film and learn from the experts -- Monte Clark, Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross, Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, etc. This ownership is very patient. It will not only give you enough rope to hang yourself, it will let you weave that rope from the piles of pulled hair swept from the stands eight Sundays per year.
To quote my favorite former Lions coach, Darryl Rogers, who had to toil diligently to get to 18-40 before the Ford family finally decided to trade him in for a '88 Fontes...
"What does a coach have to do around here to get fired?"
You're about to find out, Mr. Caldwell. I'd wish you the best, but instead you ended up with Detroit.