Whom the Lions hire as their next coach could determine the futures of president Tom Lewand, left, and general manager Martin Mayhew. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Allen Park — While president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew commence wooing coaches, let’s tie up some loose ends:
Q. Do you believe finding a coach will be a long process or something that will happen quickly?
A. Lewand said the process had begun the minute the team’s exit interview with Jim Schwartz ended but I suspect he and Mayhew were drawing up a prospects’ list as early as after the Monday night loss to the Ravens.
There is pressure to move quickly. Obviously the Texans have had a month-long head start and Cleveland, Washington, Tampa Bay and Minnesota are fishing in the same pond.
“I think we can be thorough. I think we can be expedient. I think we can be efficient,” Lewand said Monday. “There is no more pressure than finding the right person that can help us reach our goals in 2014. The goal isn’t to hire the biggest name or the most popular name and win the next press conference; it is to win football games in 2014 and win a championship.”
Lewand said he would not put any “artificial timetable” on it, and they are dealing with some league-mandated restrictions.
They cannot, for example, talk to San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt any sooner than next week. If the Chargers grant permission, the Lions could interview Whisenhunt next week — between the wild card and divisional playoff games.
They can interview coaches on teams who have a bye this week. After that, they will have to wait until after the conference championship games.
Best guess is, they will have the coach hired before the Super Bowl.
Q. The team is going for an offensive mind. Right?
A. One way or another. They will either hire an offensive coordinator as the head coach — Whisenhut, Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden, San Francisco’s Greg Roman, Cleveland’s Norv Turner or Denver’s Adam Gase — or they will make sure whoever they hire will bring with them a proven offensive coordinator.
Mayhew smartly said he wasn’t going to pigeonhole himself into a type. He’s looking for specific leadership skills. He wants an experienced NFL head coach. But the success of that coach will be tied, as Schwartz was, to quarterback Matthew Stafford.
It’s only logical they bring in a coach — either the head coach or the OC — who has a track record of developing quarterbacks. That’s why Whisenhunt seems like a top candidate.
On the flip side, whoever is hired has to be willing to hire a defensive coordinator who runs a 4-3 scheme. The Lions have too much invested in players like Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah, Stephen Tulloch and others to switch schemes and start over on defense.
Q. In your mind, who is the perfect hire?
A. There’s probably no such thing. Like everybody else, I am intrigued by Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. He clearly is a dynamic leader and his work with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick has been well-documented. Houston, though, might have the inside track with O’Brien.
The Lions cannot hire a college coach with no NFL pedigree, so rule out Brian Kelly. And I think it would be risky to hire somebody like Gase, who is 34 and has no head coaching experience.
Generally, I like the idea of hiring a coach with Super Bowl credentials — Whisenhut, Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden.
Q. Do you believe this is the top job currently available?
A. No, I think Houston and Washington probably are better draws. But a situation like this, playing in the NFC North with a roster that is just about ready to win — even if it’s the downtrodden Lions — is pretty attractive.
Q. Which loss do you believe doomed Schwartz?
A. There was no one loss. It was the accumulation of games lost in a similar fashion. I think the Fords, as well as Mayhew, got real tired of hearing the “we were just one play away” lament.
The challenge for Schwartz was clear coming into the season — get the team into the playoffs. To lose six of the last seven down the stretch, after losing the last eight games last season, well, Schwartz wasn’t going to be able to survive that.
Q. Was Stafford as bad in the second half as people are saying?
A. Yep. The team’s slump coincided with his slump — cause and effect. Somehow after a brilliant second quarter in Pittsburgh, the wheels came off for Stafford. He started making more bad decisions, more bad throws and his confidence plummeted.
And as his confidence plummeted, his technique seemed to get worse. He was like a pitcher who lost his arm slot.
I heard one of the former quarterback-turned-network-analysts talk about Stafford’s mechanics. He said in warm-ups, Stafford would be knocking dimes off receivers’ shoulders, throwing with pinpoint accuracy. But when the game started, he looked like he’d never learned how to throw a proper ball.
There is some truth in that. Stafford has good mechanics. We’ve seen him thread it into small windows and we’ve seen him throw it 70 yards on a line. He can make all the throws and he can be accurate throwing out of different arm angles.
But when the pressure started to mount — real or imagined — he lost it. He lost his footwork, he lost his composure and he lost his technique. He was like the golfer who can’t slow down his swing under pressure.
Is he a bad quarterback? No. Can he be the guy who takes this team to the next level? I believe he is. He is still young, he will be 26 next season. The issues he dealt with this season are correctable. And please don’t buy into all the chatter that he isn’t motivated, that he doesn’t work hard or that he’s not coachable.
That’s garbage. The guy is tough-minded and he is driven to succeed. I would be shocked if he let this past season define him. He has played three full seasons, discounting the two injury years. He is just now entering the prime of his career.
Q. Who else should be blamed?
A. Everybody has a share of it. It was a total team collapse. But I liked what Lewand said, there is no benefit from looking backward now. The Lions — the organization, the fans, the media — have spent too much time wallowing in the past.
Q. Going forward, then, besides a new head coach, what positions need to be bulked up?
A. Same as always, it seems — receiver and defensive back.
The Lions paid a price for not getting a second wide receiver to complement Calvin Johnson this season. They will also need to find a slot receiver because of Nate Burleson’s age and Ryan Broyles’ injury issues. They might also want to look for a tight end. Brandon Pettigrew is an unrestricted free agent.
In the secondary, there are several young corners who might be ready to be productive — Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green. But they could use another sturdy veteran, and they will most likely have to replace Louis Delmas at safety.
Q. With the 10th pick in the draft, the Lions will draft a player at what position?
A. It’s too early to say with any credibility, but there are a lot of talented receivers who will be there at 10. Go with that.
Q. Will Jim Schwartz return to the NFL as a head coach or a defensive coordinator?
A. I believe he will, though it may be a while before he gets another head coaching job. I think he would be hired as defensive coordinator this offseason, if he wants to coach this year.