January 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Lions coach Jim Schwartz shouldn't be the scapegoat

Lions coach Jim Schwartz protects his players, who need to shape up in the discipline department. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)

Detroit -- There are too many things wrong with the Lions to single out coach Jim Schwartz and fire him.

That is why I don't believe reports that the Lions were evaluating whether to bring Schwartz back. I don't believe it and a number of people I talk to believe it was a plant to get Schwartz to crack down more on wayward players who embarrassed the Lions on and off the field.

He had to answer questions for two days about that which sent a clear message that he is being evaluated by ownership. This offseason cannot be as noisy as the last, during which several arrests involving Lions players made headlines.

Schwartz gets another chance to show what he can do and it is the right move to keep him. However, he should be on one of those Bobby Knight zero tolerance plans, which means if players really want to keep him, then some of the responsibility rests on their shoulders.

Lions ownership is not happy with the 4-12 record and breakdown of discipline. It is Schwartz's biggest flaw. He is a man who protects his players and appears gruff in public, but he does not strike the fear of God enough to change them.

The Lions don't make changes until after the Titanic hits the iceberg.

"I don't think lack of discipline is an issue," said defensive end Cliff Avril. "Let's be real. A lot of these guys are grown men so you know when you do something wrong, there are repercussions.

"They (coaches) enforce rules but there were so many things happening people kind of looked at it like that (things were out of control)."

Coach must chill some

It is interesting that receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, who gets in players' grills, is being allowed to walk, but receiver Titus Young, who outwardly pulled an act of mutiny on the field, might come back to the team next season.

The Lions might be stuck with Young because Nate Burleson will be a step slower after an injury. Ryan Broyles is returning from an injury and tight end Brandon Pettigrew has developed hands of stone. A number of players do not want Young to return, but they might have to suck it up and accept him.

I do not believe Jefferson and Young could stomach one another for another season. Jefferson was rough on Young and he did not take well to the tough love.

Schwartz must work on two things. He is hot-headed and stubborn. Players like his grit in practice and in the meeting rooms. He must not melt down in hot situations in games as he's done with the challenge flag and the back slap with San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.

"I like him as a coach," Avril said. "He brings fire to the table. But it is funny how this business is. You do well and just a year ago people loved this guy. I think he is a heck of a coach and hopefully he can come back."

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus gave a different view but also wanted Schwartz to return.

"That is not my place (to speak on front office moves," he said. "I am with the Detroit Lions and I just worry about the right tackle issue."

Attitude change needed

The biggest problem with the Lions is not Schwartz. The organization got fat and lazy after going 10-6 in 2011. It believed it had arrived. There were a bunch of victories based on smoke and mirrors. They are wins you celebrate at the time but you must also recognize that the product still has major flaws and lady luck had shined.

The Lions did not produce one every-week starter in the draft. Players went out and partied like the end of the world was coming and people did not act with a sense of urgency. Schwartz said the attitude will be different this offseason. It should be because with so many free agents and salary cap concerns, this will be the biggest offseason since the Lions dumped general manager Matt Millen.

General manager Martin Mayhew lacks authority to fire Schwartz. That decision can only be made by the Ford family and team president Tom Lewand. Mayhew's job is to build a roster. That's it.

There are a lot of intriguing names to hire as head coach. Lovie Smith and Andy Reid are the biggest names let go on Black Monday. But none would be a savior here. They'd run into the same problems Schwartz did.

The entire organization fell asleep.

You might as well give him a chance to figure things out and see whether the fluke was 2012 or 2011.

terry.foster@detnews.com

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