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Why the Detroit Lions need to clean house

James Light outlines the steps his beloved Detroit Lions need to take if they are to dine at the NFL’s top table once more.

I’m a die-hard Lions fan. I wish I could be “Lions free” but that will never happen. I desperately want this franchise to succeed, but as it’s currently constructed, I feel that it is impossible for that to happen. I really wanted to be on board with the new regime when Matt Millen was shown the door, but after four years of the new era of Lions football I’m ready to say that this organization needs to be blown up yet again and is in need of another major overhaul.

We can start with Martin Mayhew. Mayhew was hired by the Lions in 2001 to work in the front office. Since 2001 Mayhew has been an integral part of the worst talent evaluation front office operation pro football has ever seen. Even if you want to put the blame solely on Millen for the errors made prior to 2008 before Mayhew was elevated to GM, from 2009 on when Mayhew had the final say in the draft room and on all personnel moves his drafts and off-season acquisitions have failed to yield a quality roster.

Mayhew has had four drafts and off-seasons to remake this franchise and yet the Lions are still going to lose double-digit games this year, the third year of Mayhew’s four year tenure that has produced ten or more losses. The team appears to be regressing. I understand that Mayhew inherited quite possibly the worst roster in NFL history from Millen, but the NFL is designed for parity and quick turnarounds. You only need to look at the Indianapolis Colts under first year GM Ryan Grigson to see that.

The Colts were the worst team in football last year, fired their head coach and lost the heart and soul of their franchise in Peyton Manning. Indianapolis and Grigson were looking for a new coach and had the number one pick, just like Mayhew’s situation when he took over the Lions. The Colts and Grigson hired Chuck Pagano, selected Andrew Luck and Grigson turned over the roster before this season with over forty new players.

The Colts and are now poised to make the playoffs and appear to have a great foundation for the future. Other than what seems to have been an aberration last year the Lions are still consistently a bottom feeder of the NFL and are nowhere close to being a championship caliber club.

More proof that Mayhew does not have a great eye for talent was when he decided to make little to no changes to the roster this off-season bringing back 21/22 starters producing what will be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season. Not only that but the Lions insistence on taking the “best player available” netted them two players in the first two rounds (Riley Reiff & Ryan Broyles) that did not start until injuries or behavioral issues forced them to.

The calculated risks for the most part have been failures as well. Taking Jahvid Best who had concussion issues in college, has had the same issues in the NFL and who’s career is likely over. Or Titus Young, who was suspended at Boise State for behavioral issues and has had the same problems with the Lions, who’s career is also probably finished here. Yet Mayhew passed on Janoris Jenkins (presumably for character issues) who has had a great year for the Rams in what was the Lions biggest position of need, the defensive secondary. If Mayhew is truly taking the best player available, then again he has no idea what he is doing if he was convinced that Riley Reiff would be a better pro than Jenkins. Reiff still can’t crack the starting lineup after fifteen weeks.

The point is the man has had enough time, in year four we should see consistent improvement and stability, not a top 5 pick in the draft come late April. It’s obvious at least to me that Mayhew is incapable of building a Super Bowl championship team.

The other half of the Lions brain trust is Tom Lewand who’s claim to fame was this.

I can’t be too surprised though, what else would you expect from the front office of the franchise that stood by and promoted “Cocaine Wayne” Fontes, or retained former assistant coach Joe Cullen after he decided to take a drunken joyride through the Wendy’s drive thru in nothing but his birthday suit.

Lastly is head coach Jim Schwartz. The team has lacked discipline throughout his four years as head coach. The last three years the Lions have been in the top 7 in the NFL in penalties per game, in 2010 & 2011 they finished third and second overall. It’s clear Schwartz has no clue how to get a grip on this team, evidenced further by the tumultuous offseason that seemed to produce a different Lions arrest on a weekly basis.

I can’t say that I’m shocked though, this is a man who can’t even control his own emotions throughout the course of a game, let alone his team and probably cost his team a win vs the Texans challenging a play that he could not challenge, costing the Lions a touchdown. It’s obvious Schwartz knows the rule, as he was more than happy to point out to Jim Harbaugh last year (“Learn the f*ckin rules Harbaugh”) after Harbaugh made the same mistake against the Lions. The undisciplined way he conducts himself has in my opinion carried over to this team as evidenced in their play.

Schwartz pedigree doesn’t look quite as well as it once did now either. He got started in the business under Bill Bellichick at Cleveland, who has made a career of making his assistants look great only to watch them go on to unsuccessful careers on their own, like Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, etc.

Most of Schwartz’s coaching resume came when he was a member of the Titans staff under Jeff Fisher. Fisher was one of the most consistent and successful coaches in the NFL for over a decade. Looking at the way he has turned around the Rams in year one, you have to wonder if Schwartz made a name for himself riding the coattails of Fisher.

Even after the disasters against Green Bay and Houston at home I still was willing to give this regime another year because the team was still playing hard for Schwartz. Three weeks later though after the collapse against the Colts and sloppy play vs the Packers in Green Bay coupled with last Sunday’s pathetic performance against the Cardinals, I think it’s fair to think that the team has tuned out Schwartz and that he has lost this team. I think it’s also fair to say Mayhew is no closer to building a contender than he was when he took over after this year’s huge step back and that the talent on this team was very overrated after last season.

In the end I hope I’m wrong. Mostly because I know that all of these guys will be back next year as Ford Sr. will not make any serious moves. Nothing would make me happier than to see my predictions blow up in my face and watch the Lions on a late season run to the playoffs at this time next year, I just don’t see it. To me the time to act is now, rather than wait another four to five years on Mayhew/Lewand/Schwartz the way the organization did with Millen when results were not then and are not now being produced.

Sport Is Everything. James Light.

You can follow James Light via @JamesALight. You can read more of James’ articles through his personal football blog, Jim Light’s Football Blog.

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