I highly doubt that Joe Schmidt, still among us somewhere in metro Detroit in blissful retirement, even remembers the exchange. But since it was captured by the TV news cameras, and since the man holding the microphone was the acerbic Al Ackerman, and since I have a steel trap for this sort of stuff but have difficulty remembering where I placed my keys, I recall it for you now.
I’m recalling it because Lions head coach Rod Marinelli had some frustrated words for the media after yesterday’s 31-22 loss to the Carolina Panthers, and the words were hauntingly familiar to the mini-diatribe that Lions HC Schmidt had against Ackerman, way back in the early-1970s.
Ackerman was haranguing Schmidt — Al did that a lot to the coaches and players in his prime — about the Lions’ linebacker situation in training camp at Cranbrook. And Al had finally gotten under Schmidt’s skin (another frequent occurrence) when the exchange broke into something similar to the following.
Al: Do you feel comfortable with the linebackers you have right now? You seem to be a little thin at linebacker.
Schmidt: What are you saying, Al?
Al: I’m saying that it seems like you’re a little thin at linebacker.
Schmidt: You want to find me one, Al? You have a linebacker you’d like me to play?
Schmidt: Where am I going to find a linebacker, Al? You gonna find me a linebacker?
You gotta love it.
Marinelli came perilously close to reenacting that “discussion” after the game Sunday. He was trying to explain his team’s 17th loss in its last 18 games, which brought his record to 10-32 as Lions coach. The issue, in Marinelli’s mind, seemed to be talent, if you glean something from his choice of words, which were very Joe Schmidt-like.
“There’s nobody else out there,” Marinelli said. “There’s nobody out there. You want to go out on the street and look for me? If you bring somebody back, I’ll look at him. No, no. You go out on the street and find one. So these are the men I have.”
Now, I would never expect a football coach to admit that his team isn’t talented enough — at least not on the record. That’s expecting a little too much honesty. Besides, that’s what the media and the bottom-feeding bloggers are for, he wrote, being a member of both camps.
But these may also have been the smartest words to come out of Marinelli’s mouth in a very long time. Of course, it’s all for naught. He’s to be fired moments after the final whistle this season. Make no mistake.
Rather, the Lions better make no mistake.
There’s going to be, maybe, quite an off-season around Detroit when it comes to its pro football team. Team president Matt Millen has been fired, and he needs to be replaced. Interim GM Martin Mayhew may be one of the brightest young executives around, but it hardly matters.
Here’s the deal: the Lions have no face. They generate no excitement. They are hemorrhaging fans. They’re like the Republicans, for gosh sakes.
But they have two chances to make one, just like the old NBA free throw system. They have two vacancies to fill: permanent GM, and head coach. They need only to get one right to start shoring up their fan base.
If they stick with Mayhew (which would be a mistake, but that’s a whole other blog post) then the Lions had better snare a high-profile head coach with success sprinkled all over his resume. No more position coaches or “highly regarded” coordinators. But if the new GM is high profile and has credibility, then he might be able to pass the smell test if he were to hire a lesser-known guy as head coach. That’s because the fans would be listening to the new GM, not the old administration, tell them why the new coach is going to be just terrific.
There are columnists and colleagues of mine, who I respect, who’ll tell you that they’ve never called for a man to be fired and they never will. Fine. But what about accountability? Shouldn’t that be demanded?
Rod Marinelli, if he finishes the expected 1-15 or 0-16 this season, will be either 11-37 or 10-38 as Lions head coach. You cannot — can NOT — have such a record after three seasons and not be held accountable, i.e. fired. At least, you can’t if your bosses are serious about running a business.
Bill Ford Sr. didn’t make his money in pro football. He made it in the auto industry. Luckily for him, football isn’t his main source of income. Of course, the whole auto industry thing isn’t looking too good lately, either. Regardless, the Fords are businessmen, first and foremost. And I would hope that the businessman in them would recognize that you can’t bring back both halves of this current GM/coach partnership in 2009. It would be a disaster, from public relations to customer service.
How many season ticket holders have the Lions lost in recent years? And how many more would they lose if they try to come back in 2009 with Martin Mayhew as GM and Rod Marinelli as head coach?
No, one of them, at least, must be replaced — and for sure it must be Marinelli. To be 11-37 or 10-38 and still be on the job is heinous. I’ve written it before: everywhere else in pro sports, if you lose you get fired. Why shouldn’t it be true in Detroit with the Lions?
And to my compadres who get icky over calling for a coach’s head: there are only 32 men in the world who hold the title of head coach in the National Football League. So shouldn’t these 32 men be the best of the best? And if they’re not, shouldn’t someone else get a shot at being one of those elite 32?
Marinelli, it appears, is at his wit’s end. He doesn’t have the guys to compete for sixty minutes in the NFL. So it should be the players who go, right? Perhaps, but in Miami, where the talent isn’t all that different this year than from 2007, the Dolphins are 6-4 one year after being 1-15. They changed coaches, in case you didn’t know. Now look at them. So maybe the Lions don’t have the talent to compete for sixty minutes with this head coach. Oh, and they changed presidents too, to a guy named Bill Parcells.
The problem isn’t just talent. Marinelli is in over his head, from clock management to game planning to in-game decisions. That’s no crime; maybe he’s better suited to be a position coach. That’s not against the law, last I checked.
So don’t tell me that turnarounds are impossible, or that the fix can’t be quick. Not if you make the right hires — and dismissals.