Jim Schwartz could break curse of ex-Lions head coaches

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will face the Lions for the third time since he was fired as head coach in 2013.

Allen Park — Jim Schwartz was unable to snap the Super Bowl streak in Detroit.

But while he scratched that itch in Philadelphia, Schwartz also seems poised to someday foil the coaching curse that comes with leading the Lions.

Not only have the Lions not played in the Super Bowl since its 1967 inception, only one of the 15 former head coaches in that span has been hired for another head coaching job: Dick Jauron, who coached five games for Detroit in 2005 on an interim basis and later coached Buffalo for four seasons.

It seems mathematically impossible, given the coaching carousel that seems to stop at the same names over and over again in the league.

Take Adam Gase, for instance, who made news with a dig Wednesday at his own Lions coaching past, incorrectly intimating that he was probably more than a 23-point underdog sometime in his five seasons as a low-level assistant with Detroit.

Well, he wasn’t. But at 41, Gase is already on his second head coaching position in the league, going straight from Miami to the New York Jets despite a 23-25 record in three seasons with the Dolphins.

There’s plenty of retread stories like that, but not for many former Lions coaches over the years.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson thinks Schwartz, who will face the Lions as a coordinator for the third time Sunday since being fired by the team in 2013, could buck that trend.

“He has had a really good track record as a defensive coordinator and also here with me in Philadelphia,” Pederson said. “The defenses that he’s coordinated over his career and it’s a little surprising that he hasn’t. He’s a really good coach.”

Since his firing, Schwartz’s record against Detroit is 1-1, including a 17-14 come-from-behind win in 2014 for Buffalo after which his players carried him off the field, per his wishes.

In Schwartz’s first season with Philadelphia in 2016, the Lions beat the Eagles, 24-23, on a late Matt Prater field goal for coach Jim Caldwell's team.

Jim Schwartz finished with a winning record once in five seasons with the Lions.

Hired after the winless 2008 season and brought in the same offseason the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford first overall, Schwartz went 29-51 with one playoff loss in five seasons with the Lions. 

“I appreciate him a lot for giving me the chance,” said Stafford, who said he has stayed in touch with Schwartz. “We did a lot of good things to get us to where we are now, which I’m proud of, and I know he is too.

“His guys play extremely hard, they’re in the right spot, they play aggressive. Year in and year out, they’re really good defenses, they’re top echelon defenses. And this one seems to be no different.”

The praise also came to Stafford from Schwartz, who told Philadelphia reporters Tuesday that Stafford was comparable to last week’s opponent, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.

“There’s a lot of carryover from that style that we saw last week,” Schwartz said. “Matt Ryan was the same way. It was move the ball around to a lot of different targets, throw accurate passes, manage the game. All the good quarterbacks do that and I’d put Stafford in that category.”

Schwartz noted Stafford’s arm strength but said his ability as a game manager has “gone a little bit under the radar.”

Only Stafford, punter Sam Martin, long snapper Don Muhlbach and cornerback Darius Slay are left from Schwartz’s last Lions team in 2013.

“Wow, it shows you how much turnover there is in this league because it really doesn’t seem that long ago,” Schwartz said. “Maybe it has been.”

Since his Detroit days, Schwartz has reassumed his post as one of the league’s most well-regarded defensive coordinators, a reputation he established in Tennessee. He spent one season in Buffalo and is in his fourth season with the Eagles, a run that included a Super Bowl LII win against the New England Patriots and their former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

“Personally I try to not look back at that Super Bowl,” the Lions coach said Wednesday of the 41-33 game, his last with New England.

Philadelphia features Schwartz’s 4-3 alignment, led up front by four-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox inside and outside by defensive end Brandon Graham, a Detroit Crockett and Michigan product.

“They’re really masters at creating minus-yards plays and just creating pressure,” Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “(Schwartz has) always done a really good job of making the quarterback uncomfortable with the marriage of rush and coverage.”

Though the coverage has been strong with three interceptions early this season, there hasn’t been much rush: The Eagles are tied for 28th in the league with two sacks through two games.

Philadelphia brought aggressive blitzes in key spots Sunday during a 24-20 loss to Atlanta, but the result for Ryan was one Stafford would like to replicate against Schwartz this weekend.

“He’s very, very aggressive — you could see the other night, he was really going after the Falcons, but he could also change that at any moment if he needed to — he could go to full coverage,” Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He has everything that he needs to, he has all the personnel that he needs, and he knows how to use those players well.”

Lions at Eagles

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

TV/radio: Fox/760

Records: Lions 1-0-1, Eagles 1-1

Line: Eagles by 6

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.