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01-18-09, 12:58 PM #1
Jim Schwartz learned how to attack a challenge from his father, a Baltimore County police officer. Now he's got the challenge of a lifetime.
DETROIT -- Jim Schwartz learned how to attack a challenge from his father, a Baltimore County police officer.
Multitasking became an asset thanks to his late mother, who raised nine children.
As Detroit Lions coach, Schwartz will need every bit of knowledge and inspiration he picked up from his parents, as well as mentors Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher, to help a historically bad NFL team.
"There's no better feeling in football than turning a situation around," Schwartz said Friday, a day after agreeing to a four-year deal worth about $11 million. "That's what drives me here."
Former Lions president Matt Millen drove the William Clay Ford-owned franchise into a ditch, making a series of moves that led to the NFL's first 0-16 season to cap an eight-year stretch by what has been the worst by any team since World War II.
Millen was fired during last season before Detroit made history, but his mess is left behind for team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew to clean up.
After firing Rod Marinelli two weeks ago and interviewing several candidates, the Lions insist they've taken a step toward respectability by hiring the former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator.
"He's been a scout, he's been a position coach, he's been a coordinator and he's been very successful at all of those things," Mayhew said. "We think that he's going to be the guy to take our football team to where we're trying to get to."
The problem is, many of the same scouts and front-office executives will be making decisions -- such as who to draft No. 1 overall in April -- that built a team bad enough to be 31-97 since 2001, when Millen took over.
The Chicago Cardinals, who won just 23 percent of their games from 1936-43, are the last team to perform as poorly as Detroit has over an eight-season stretch.
That franchise has since moved on to Arizona, leaving the Lions as the NFL's laughingstock with only one playoff victory since winning the NFL title in 1957.
"I can't speak of the past, I'm here right now," the 42-year-old Schwartz said. "I'm not here to exorcise any ghosts."
If Schwartz fails to overcome the losing culture that has taken down the coaches before him -- Marinelli, Steve Mariucci, Marty Mornhinweg -- he will still walk away as a multimillionaire.
In his first six seasons in the NFL, Schwartz estimated he made about $50,000 combined.
The Baltimore native and Georgetown graduate said he's a blue-collar guy who will fit in the Motor City.
"This is what I am," he said.
Schwartz owns only two suits that fit, finding out recently a third is too small because of the weight he gained during the season.
"He's a football guy -- I love that," Mayhew said.
Schwartz's coming-out party was the culmination of years of hard work in the NFL.
He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Maryland in 1989, later had the same position at Minnesota and went on to become a secondary coach for North Carolina Central and linebackers coach at Colgate.
Schwartz became a head coaching candidate in recent years because of his work in Tennessee, leading to interviews in previous years with Miami, Atlanta, Washington and San Francisco.
But he got his start as an unpaid intern for Belichick in Cleveland, later was paid as a scout and moved on to be an assistant for the Ravens and Marvin Lewis, before becoming one of the league's best defensive coordinators for the Titans.
Detroit will count on Schwartz to use his background to come up with ways to fix a defense that ranked last in the league and gave up 517 points -- threatening the NFL record for points allowed (533) in a season set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.
His defense in 2003 ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and led the league in third-down defense at 27.7 percent -- the lowest since the 1998 Oakland Raiders. The Titans ranked in the top seven in yards allowed each of the past two seasons and finished second in points allowed per game at 14.6 in 2008.
Schwartz said he has coordinators he'd like to hire, but neither is in place, and planned to talk to the remaining assistants from Marinelli's staff.
"I'll talk to a lot of people next week at the Senior Bowl," he said.
Schwartz also planned to call Detroit's entire roster.
"I want to make personal contact with every player," he said. "Finding my way from the hotel to the facility will be a good start, also."
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