From inside the Lions den: A conversation with former member of the Detroit Lions
In the three seasons that Logan Played in Detroit, they Lions were 6-10 in 2010, 10-6 in 2011 with a wild card appearance and 4-12 in 2012. Those were three of Jim Schwartz’s five season as head coach the other two, 2009 and 2013 which were also losing seasons. When the lions made the playoffs in Schwartz’s third season, it was the first time the Lions saw the playoffs since 1999. I asked Stefan if making the playoffs in 2011 saved Jim Schwartz’s job as the head coach. Much to my surprise Stefan told me that if the team did not make the playoffs that year Jim Schwartz would have surely been fired after the season. With him saying that moved to talking about the team after he had left, I asked Stefan what he thought of Jim Caldwell and if he thought Caldwell was pushed out of Detroit too soon. Jim Caldwell was brought in 2014 and was let go from the team after the 2017 season. In Caldwell’s first season as head coach the Lions went 11-5, making the playoffs, but losing in the wildcard round to Dallas due to a very controversial pass interference no call. The went 7-9 in 2015, then in 2016 went 9-7, making the playoffs for the second time under Caldwell. The Lions lost in the playoffs to Seattle in 2016 26-6 and with a 9-7 finish and failing to make the playoffs in 2017 Caldwell was fired by the Lions. Jim Caldwell’s overall record with Detroit was 36-28(.536). He was the first coach that coached more than one season in Detroit to have a winning record since Joe Schmidt (’67-’72). Caldwell also had the best record for Lions head coach since Buddy Parker in the 1950’s.
In 2017 when the Lions fired Jim Caldwell, I personal thought that the team was making a mistake and that the progress that Caldwell was making with the team did not warrant getting fired. When I asked Stefan about this, he also felt that Detroit pushed Caldwell out to soon. Stefan made an interesting comparison to me, he compared the results of Caldwell seasons to Marvin Lewis, former head coach of the Cincinnati Bangles. Marvin Lewis coached the Bangles for 15 years, making the playoffs 7 times and all 7 of those times the Bangles lost in the wild card round. So, Stefan brought who could a mediocre coach like Marvin Lewis get 15 years at the helm of the Bangles but yet Caldwell who was Detroit most successful coach in 60 years only got 4 seasons. Stefan also added that Caldwell’s Lions had the success that they did with their only reliable form of offense being their WR group and he thinks that if Caldwell was still the Lions head coach with the current group of players the team would be doing much better than they did from 2014-2017. Looking at the past three Detroit head coaches, Jim Schwartz, Jim Caldwell and the current coach Matt Patricia. Schwartz and Patricia are defensive minded coaches were Caldwell is an offensive minded coach and out of the three, Caldwell being the offensive minded coach had better success than Schwartz and Patricia. So, I asked Stefan if he thought which type of coach Detroit would be better off with and he said that it doesn’t really matter weather they are defensive or offensive minded, what matters the coach’s style or system is. Jim Caldwell coached for awhile before Detroit, he had a coaching style and system that worked, just not the proper personal. Matt Patricia on the other hand has the personal but not his own style or system. Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator for New England for so long and Stefan pointed out the because of that Patricia is trying coach using the Bellichck system, but that’s not going to work. For Matt Patricia to be a good coach in Detroit he needs to find his own style of coaching.
Stefan went on to talk about how the Lions either under utilizing or over utilizing players were an issue that plagued the team. Stefan talked about his personal experience of how he was not use properly in the offense. Stefan was a running back in college and after proving his wroth on special teams, he was integrated into Detroit’s offense though as a wide receiver, not a running back. Stefan did not know why Lions Offensive coordinator Scott Lenahan was making these nonsensical decisions that was hurting the offense. Stefan went on to tell that the lack of building a proper offense in Detroit lead to the retirement of one of Detroit’s greatest. Calvin Johnson was drafted in 2007 and the retried from the NFL in 2015, Johnson had 731 receptions, 11,619 yards and 83 TDs in his career. Johnson also broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record in 2012. Calvin Johnson rose to be one of top wide receivers and considered one of the greats, so it was a complete shock when he retired in 2015. Stefan talked about that with no cohesion, the Lions offense always went to Calvin. And the more they went to Calvin, the more he got hit. The More Calvin got hit, quicker his body started breaking down, the less Calvin wanted to put in for a team that could not find success. Calvin Johnson got so frustrated that the team keep losing and that the coaches and GM would not listen to his suggestions and ideas. So, with a lot of frustration and a lot of acing bones Calvin decided to retire after Detroit would not trade him.
From injuries to frustrations with play calling and personal groupings, the Detroit Lions could not pull it together on Sundays. Detroit had a capable team of players on both offense and defense to get the job done and win more games, yet the failed to do so. Stefan told me that the lack of cohesion on the offensive side of the ball was the team’s biggest issue. The team could not establish a run game, the offensive line could not get into a rhythm, and the tight ends were unreliable, among other things. The issue with the offense is not just that they could not score, it was also the fact they could not stay on the field. Stefan described from game to game, the defense would get a stop forcing the opponent to punt, then the offense would take the field and in two minutes the Lions would be punting, bring the defense back on the field. Though the Lions defense was a solid defense, the lack of rest due to the offense’s inability to stay on the field, the defense would break and they would loss by huge margins. This led to the fans starting to turn on the Lions, Stefan recalled a game when he was sitting on the sidelines in Ford Field and heard all the Lions fans booing them, Stefan looked around baffled that they were getting booed by their own fans.
Though as much as the team tried to fix the issues, Stefan told me that no matter would the team did, if it was mid game adjustment or trying new things in practice, the team just could not figure out how to fix their issues. From what Stefan told me, finding the solutions to the team’s issues did not seem like the front office’s biggest priority. Between all the coaches and members of the front office, no one that a good idea unless it was their own. There was a lot of bickering in the front office and they just could not agree on anything. The coordinators could not find an agreement with the head coach about play calling and personal grouping. The Head coach and the GM could not agree on opinions of players to keep on the team or bring in to the team. With all that bickering in the management and coaching staff the team never found the solutions they were looking for. I thought this was very interesting because how Stefan was describing this, it was something that was a detriment to the team, but all this unrest in the team seemed to be kept lowkey. I asked Stefan if there’s a similar thing going on in Detroit today, especially with what happened last season where out of no where the lions Traded Quandre Diggs and then in the offseason traded away the star of the defense Darius Slay after his relations with Matt Patricia broke down. Stefan told that he sees some degree of dysfunction in the administration of the Lions today, but as far as personal movement such as with Slay a coach wants to build his team with his guys. Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs were part of the Lions before Patricia was the coach and something that Stefan said throughout are conversation, when a head coach comes into a team, they bring in the people they want and that means pushing out players that were left from the previous head coach.
Seeing all the things happening within the organization that affected the team’s ability to win, I asked Stefan if the division that the Lions played in had an effect on the success of the Lions. The Lions play in the NFC north with the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. The NFC North is considered on of the toughest divisions in the NFL, especially over the last ten years. Stefan put it this way, what is the number one objective of the team for any season? To make the playoffs. What is the one way that grantees a playoff spot? Winning the division. When a team is building for the upcoming season, the teams wants to build to win the division. The Lions do need to build their team to beat the Saints or the Seahawks, they may need to game plan for those teams, but they need to build to beat the Packers, Bears, and the Vikings. Over the last few years, the Lions have struggled to win the division. The last time the Lions won a division title was 1993. Looking at it, the fact that the Lions are in the NFC North has an effect on the team’s success season to season. To end our conversation, I asked Stefan if the Lions could be a winning team. Stefan believes the Lions could one be a winning team if they could bring in the right people at the right time.
The Lions have always been known as a bad team and it was interesting get insight in to how and why the team has struggled. Because Stefan played in Detroit eight years, I wasn’t sure how or even want to recall his days in Detroit. Stefan Logan shared a lot of interesting insights, and let us all look into a lot of cool and interesting things about what is was like playing for “one of the worst teams in the NFL”.