DETROIT — The Fords didn’t have a choice.
They no doubt cringed, hands trembling when they cut fired head coach Jim Schwartz a parting check worth a reported $12 million. But the Fords’ public credibility’s never been lower than it is now – and that’s including the aftermath of 0-16 five years ago. Neither father nor son has established the necessary confidence that either is capable of targeting the right pieces capable of finally making the Lions a legitimately respected NFL operation.
But for the first time, they’re actually dealing from a position of strength when looking for another new head coach.
The Lions’ opening should be the most attractive one available.
They’ve got a fundamentally flawed, yet still extraordinarily talented quarterback. They’ve got the best wide receiver in the game. They’ve got a search-and-destroy defensive tackle tandem requiring more discipline. They’ve never had a better opportunity for getting it right – finally.
Blow it this time and the Fords can forget about ever getting this poor excuse for a professional football franchise to a Super Bowl. Blow it this time and the two cents worth of remaining public trust in ownership will disappear. Blow it this time and the Lions will experience an even greater emotional separation from those finally resigned to the inevitability that this team simply is no longer deserving of the tears and treasure stubbornly invested in them over the last half century.
This is your last chance, Mr. Ford.
But this time he’s got a job that’s actually coveted for something more than just being one of only 32 similar positions in the world.
Of the top 10 teams drafting next spring, only the Lions and Atlanta had the same starting quarterback for all 16 regular season games. The next head coach must have a special rapport with quarterbacks, capable of refining what remains raw. And that’s certainly Matthew Stafford, unquestionably talented but also mechanically inconsistent. He’s in dire need of coach who practices tough love.
There will be a race for those coaches.
Cleveland canned head coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season. The prevailing wisdom is that the Browns made the move because they’re confident – with two first round draft picks in 2014, including the fourth overall selection – they’ll get a potential franchise quarterback in what’s considered a strong quarterbacking draft class.
They’ll want an offensive minded head coach capable of developing that quarterback.
Minnesota fired head coach Leslie Frazier on Monday morning. The Vikings will probably target a quarterback with the eighth overall draft pick. They’ll need an offensive-minded head coach as well because they’ll need a good quarterback when they move into their new downtown domed stadium in the fall of 2016.
Washington dumped two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan because of a divisive conflict with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Whomever owner Dan Snyder throws his massive checkbook at next, guaranteed it will be someone who can work well with Griffin.
The Lions should strongly compete for the best offensive minds available, whether it’s a top assistant with no NFL head coaching experience such as San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman or Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden or a college coach like Penn State’s Bill O’Brien who worked with Tom Brady at New England or former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who helped engineer Philip Rivers’ resurgence in San Diego this season as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator.
There’s no excuse for the Fords settling this time because there’s an inherent advantage they’ve never previously enjoyed in a head coaching search.
Of course, they can still blow it because…well, they’re the Fords and these are still the Lions.
Didn’t they have the advantage in the NFC North just a month ago?