Jim Schwartz and the Tabula Rasa

Friday, July 31, 2009

Michael Lombardi, current writer for the National Football Post—and former NFL executive—has written a very interesting article on Jim Schwartz and the Lions.  He delves deeply into the challenges and opportunities of trying to build up a team that is both currently awful, and has a long history of futility.  The challenge is, of course, overcoming a culture of losing.  The upside is that he has carte blanche to do so!  There are no sacred cows on a team that just went 0-16.  Nobody’s job is safe.  No process, tradition, or parking space is safe.  Jim Schwartz has total freedom to build his football team from the ground up, and do everything the way he wants to do it.

Lombardi shares an outstanding memory with us: hiring Schwartz as an intern in Cleveland.

“Every candidate we talked to had to take a profile test, the same test that prospective college player take at the Combine. After Schwartz took the test, Bob Troutwine, who graded the test, called my office and told me not to let Schwartz out the building as he would be the best employee we would ever hire.”

I don’t think I’m the only one who finds it hard not to be genuinely excited for the future of the franchise when I hear stories like this.  It’s really hard to temper expectations when everyone who is anyone in football absolutely gushes over JIm Schwartz’ intelligence, ability, instincts, and character.  It’s even harder when he takes the new cornerstones of his franchise to a Ford plant, to show them the heart of their new city.  It’s harder yet when he spends 90 minutes proving his impeccable credentials as an 80s metalhead.  It’s even harder when you realize, as Lombardi points out, that this down-to-earth, only-two-suit-owning, Operation: Mindcrime-loving Regular Joe has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Georgetown—and finished in the top ten of his class.

On the morning of training camp, it’s extremely hard to remember that it’s almost impossible for all of this awesomeness to translate into winning football in the (surprisingly few) weeks between now and the regular season.  The Lions have a very steep hill to climb just to get back to respectability.  But, as Lombardi points out, few coaches ever get the opportunity to build an entire football team from the ground up; if Jim Schwartz is everything he appears to be, success will come sooner rather than later.  When success does come, there’s no reason why the team won’t mirror its master: smart, tough, aggressive, and grounded.

Discuss it here, in The Den!