Not to bring up the dead during this holiday season, but when Joey Harrington was in Detroit, struggling to become an NFL quarterback, the Lions organization didn’t do a lick to help him.
By his second season, the Lions tried to plug Joey into Steve Mariucci’s pattycake, West Coast offense, with garish results. Square peg, meet round hole.
But the most egregious thing the Lions did during Harrington’s formative years was something they didn’t do.
They never provided him with an honest-to-goodness, veteran NFL QB to help him along.
It wasn’t about the competition. Joey was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 draft. There should have been no illusions about whether he was the quarterback of the future—back then.
But all the Lions gave Harrington was a kid from Rutgers, Mike McMahon, and called it a day. They brought in Ty Detmer for a time, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. They brought in Jeff Garcia in 2005, but Garcia was a Mariucci guy and still fancied himself a starter in the NFL. Plus, by 2005 Harrington was in his fourth season and he himself was halfway out the door in Detroit.
It may not have made one bit of difference, but we’ll never know whether his progression as an NFL quarterback would have been helped by the presence of a veteran backup who could have functioned as a mentor and sounding board.
What the Lions did was draft a blind mouse and gave him Mr. Magoo to work with.
Well, the Lions have a rare second opportunity to right a wrong. They can give Matthew Stafford someone to help him—and not Daunte Culpepper.
Not a guy who’s trying to audition for another job elsewhere. Not someone who’s done like dinner.
The Lions need to bring in a veteran who understands that his role is that of caddy and adjunct coach—not someone who thinks he can steal the starter’s job from Stafford.
I look around the league and I see someone like Mark Brunell, with the Redskins. Now that’s more like it.
In 1994, the Lions made a ferocious run toward the playoffs—but only after starter Scott Mitchell went down with an injury and veteran Dave Krieg took over. Krieg had one of the best stretches of his long career, and the Lions charged to the postseason.
So far, the Lions have provided Stafford—who’s only the franchise—with a self-serving Culpepper and a kid, Drew Stanton, whose confidence has been shot full of holes since being drafted by his hometown team.
Scott Linehan needs help, too. The offensive coordinator would be better served if he had a veteran guy who could take Stafford aside after practice and fill in any gaps created by the coaches.
There’s also the matter of just being in the NFL, period. Not only how to read defenses, but how to read life as a pro football player. How to carry yourself. How to handle not only the bull rush of a blitzing linebacker, but that of the media. Stuff like that.
Stafford’s the No. 1 guy in Detroit. There’s no debate about that. If things go according to plan, he’ll be a Lion for 10 years, at least. But those early years in the NFL are so key. It’s when habits—good and bad—are learned. It’s when confidence is built or destroyed forever.
Just ask Joey Harrington, if you can find him.