Wojo: Heat now on Lions’ Quinn to hire right coach
Allen Park — With a swift, decisive move, GM Bob Quinn just reset the Lions’ standards and ratcheted the expectations. In some ways, that was the easy part. Now, the tough part — it’s on Quinn himself to reach those standards.
The Lions fired Jim Caldwell on Monday despite a winning record, albeit a modest 9-7. Quinn saw what many saw, that the Lions couldn’t beat the top teams, that they’d hit their ceiling after four seasons under Caldwell. It was the correct conclusion, let’s be clear on that. Caldwell’s time had run out, and now the clock shifts to Quinn.
It also shifts to Matthew Stafford, who will enter his 10th season with a new head coach and perhaps a new offensive system. Stafford said Monday he’d love to keep playing under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. A couple hours later at his news conference, Quinn said the next coach would pick his staff, and no current player would be involved in the interview process.
In strong words and deeds, Quinn just stamped his imprint on the franchise as he enters his third season, after arriving from the highest-standard franchise in the league, the Patriots. It was noteworthy for its departure from the norm here, and impressive in its clarity. This was all Quinn, without apparent influence from owner Martha Ford, who released a glowing statement about Caldwell after his early-morning dismissal. Players also praised Caldwell, who posted a winning record in three of his four seasons and had the highest winning percentage of any Lions coach in the Super Bowl era (36-28 regular season).
Measuring stick of mediocrity
Caldwell is a decent coach and a genuinely good man, but in winning organizations, sentimentality gets trumped by stark calculation. Quinn said the record wasn’t good enough, and it isn’t. He essentially expressed this without saying it — if the Lions are sick of being tied to their dreary past, they need to stop measuring themselves against it.
Quinn also took responsibility as he embarks on a crucial search, with numerous teams competing for coaches, and with the Lions sitting somewhere between contention and intention to contend.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to take this team to the next level,” Quinn said. “And to me, that’s winning championships, that’s winning playoff games and that’s winning the Super Bowl. Ultimately, I’m the person in charge of the football operations of the Detroit Lions, and ultimately, the record we’ve had the past two years is on me.”
When asked if the talent on the roster was capable of finishing better than 9-7, Quinn answered, “Yes.”
In his mind, the Lions underachieved, and I’m not sure that’s accurate. They had holes on the offensive and defensive lines and no running game whatsoever, and that’s on Quinn. At least now, with his own coaching hire, he’ll get a chance to prove if he’s correct.
He plans to interview several candidates, and if New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is the leading option, as some have reported, Quinn isn’t revealing it. The new coach will inherit a roster loaded with receivers (Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, Eric Ebron) and light on impact defenders. But if we’re going by the restated standard — 9-7 isn’t good enough — a win-now mentality is firmly in place, right?
“My expectations are what I said before,” Quinn said. “That's why I was hired and that's why I'm here. That's why the new head coach is going to be here as well. ... I think we have enough players to contend. But the question is, do we have enough players to get over the top? Thirty percent of our team is gonna be different, so my job is to make sure that 30 percent is better than the 30 percent that’s here.”
No preconceived notions
Quinn said there’s no template — he’s not necessarily looking for an offensive guy or a defensive guy, an experienced guy or a first-time head coach. Based on the success of several teams with first-time head coaches — including playoff participants in Buffalo and Los Angeles — inexperience doesn’t diminish the chance of immediate impact.
Make no mistake, the new coach will rely heavily on Stafford, who strongly voiced support for Cooter. Since Cooter took over as coordinator midway through the 2015 season, Stafford’s accuracy has improved — from 60 percent to 66.2 percent — and his interception total has dropped.
“I feel like I’m playing some of the best football of my career, so I’d love to have the opportunity to keep working with (Cooter),” said Stafford, who turns 30 in February. “I haven’t been a part of a coaching search with this front office before. Obviously, I got to sit down and talk with some of the (candidates) last time, and I appreciated that opportunity. Don’t know if it’ll happen again. If it does, I’d absolutely be all for it.”
Quinn doesn’t appear inclined to cede any control. He said the new coach could consider keeping Cooter, but that wasn’t a primary focus. I like the appearance of firm leadership from Quinn, something the Lions have lacked for decades, although it’s more important to see actual results.
Quinn’s drafts have been solid and his free-agent signings have been mixed. He wouldn’t admit he made a mistake passing on running backs last season, but you can bet he’ll add them now. If the Lions are as close to contention as he thinks, he’ll have to demand more of the new coach, and of himself.
It starts with a search that could get quite competitive, with at least six openings. Quinn didn’t want to settle for a coach with a record slightly above .500, and he can’t settle for a lesser candidate now. Three with Patriots ties — Patricia, Josh McDaniels, Mike Vrabel — are expected to be in the mix, but Quinn can’t limit his search to the friendly or familiar.
The Lions should be a prime job, with a franchise quarterback locked up for five years and a 41-year-old GM willing to put his budding reputation on the line with his first coaching hire.
“I think we have a lot to offer,” Quinn said. “I think we have great ownership. I think we have great resources. We have a tremendous fan base. You saw the stadium (Sunday) and we had nothing to play for and that place was rocking. I think we have a really good, solid nucleus of players that could be molded into what the new head coach wants his team to look like."
We don’t know what it’ll look like, but we do know one thing. The new coach will inherit heightened expectations, which can only be met if Quinn’s production matches his pedigree.