A memory no Detroit Lions fan wants to remember is the 0-16 2008 NFL season. However, with the record breaking season came change to the coaching staff and a number one draft pick that turned into Matthew Stafford. Back in the off-season the Lions interviewed Jim Harbaugh, who will coach the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, before settling on Jim Schwartz. Here’s why the team made the right decision at the time.
When the Lions interviewed Harbaugh, he had two years of NFL coaching experience as a quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders. Harbaugh was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky from 1994-2001. Harbaugh finally got the attention of NFL owners with stints at San Diego (head coach 2004-2006) and Stanford (2007-2010). Consider this though, when Harbaugh was interviewed by the Lions, he had appeared in zero college bowl games and had just come off a 5-7 record with Stanford.
Harbaugh was interviewed by the Lions, but talks never went past the exploration stage, according to reports. Harbaugh was also considered for coaching roles with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins. Ultimately, Harbaugh decided to return to Stanford University, where he would stay until 2011.
The Lions hired Schwartz because of his defensive experience. In 2008, the Lions defense ranked last in the league in points allowed, yards against, defensive first downs and rushing yards allowed. The team also ranked 27th in the league in passing yards against.
In 2008, the Titans defense ranked second in points allowed, seventh in yards against, ninth in passing yards against, second in passing touchdowns allowed and sixth in rushing yards against. Schwartz became a hot commodity and scored interviews with the Lions, Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins. Schwartz was the defensive coordinator with the Titans from 2001-2008, after two seasons as a defensive assistant coach. Schwartz also had NFL experience as a scout with the Cleveland Browns and defensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.
On January 15, 2009, Schwartz was hired as the Lions head coach. Schwartz helped the Lions slowly turn their team around posting two wins and six wins in his first two years in Detroit. In 2011, the Lions made the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 1999 with a 10-6 record. The 4-12 record posted in the 2012 season has many fans calling for a new head coach. Schwartz’s overall 22-42 record doesn’t help his case.
Harbaugh may have helped the Lions with some of their current disciplinary problems. The former NFL quarterback may have also improved Stafford’s mechanics. At the time, the Lions needed a defensive minded coach and that’s the direction they went. In the end, Harbaugh is coaching in the Super Bowl, while the Lions sit at home. Whether he deserves his job with the Lions now, Schwartz was the perfect hire at the time. Please don’t tell me that the Lions should have hired Harbaugh in 2009.