So that did it. Losing to Tampa Bay at home in the final seconds was enough to send Darryl Rogers packing. Fine. Just as well. The Lions were a pantomime team by this point, just going through the motions. He had to go. Everybody knew it. And so did he.

Oh, he’ll deny it. In private, Rogers will blame the players or the front office or the owner, and, to be honest, all those characters are also at fault for the lowly state of the Lions. But you can’t fire the team and you can’t fire the owner.

You fire the coach.

Good.

Not that a man is out of work. Not that Darryl Rogers must face the humility of being axed, of being told “you can’t do the job.” I don’t care if he continues to be paid during his months of unemployment. Only the cruel cheer for failure.

No. What’s good about this is that the Lions made a move, they did it midseason, because the fans were fed up, the players were fed up, because it had to be done. Believe me, there are more smiles this morning among Lions fans simply because something has changed, and change is the ground floor of hope.

And we haven’t had much hope around here.

Not lately. The respect wasn’t there

“Oh my god,” said quarterback Chuck Long, when he learned about the firing, after midnight, “you’re kidding. . . . Well, it’s obvious we were going nowhere. I guess they had to do something.”

“Is it good news?” he was asked.

“I’d rather not comment,” he said.

It’s good news. And it was the right move. No question. In private, players have been telling reporters Rogers is a joke, nobody respects him. They laugh at his suggestions and mimic his squeaky voice. He had lost their loyalty, and football is too tough a game to be played without 100 percent dedication to the general. You lose your players’ respect, you surely lose football games.

Even to Tampa Bay.

Did you watch that debacle on Sunday? Dropped passes? Missed tackles? An offense that came from the quagmire? Hey. The Lions may not be great, but they’re better than that. What you saw Sunday was an uninspired team. They had as much interest in battling Tampa Bay as you have in washing dishes.

“We got to try and look good in case they bring somebody new in here,” offensive tackle Lomas Brown said after Sunday’s 23-20 defeat. “The new coach will be looking at the film and evaluating everybody . . .”

So there it is.

They were already playing for the next guy.

And who will that next guy be? For now, the Lions are going with defensive co-ordinator Wayne Fontes. A popular choice — at least to the Lions players
(especially the defense). But the right choice? Not necessarily. I’m not sure how he’ll handle the offense, and he has no experience with the role. He does have NFL experience, and that is important for earning the players’ respect.
(“Darryl never played the game,” one player told me two weeks ago, “that’s his biggest problem.”)

Still, if William Clay Ford waited this long to make this move, he should make sure the next one is the right one. That means checking out all available experienced head coaches come the off-season. And being willing to pay them what they want if they are willing to come.

Make no mistake. If the Lions’ front office doesn’t handle this smartly, doesn’t come up with money and incentives and a forward-thinking choice, then the cancer that has been eating the Lions will not end.

It will only be delayed. Scream, but show you care

What went wrong with Darryl Rogers? I remember when he first showed up here, and I remember being struck by the gentleness of his manner. I asked him then whether being so easygoing and even-keeled was the right temperament for a struggling team like this.

“I don’t see Bill Walsh being loud,” he said, “I don’t see Tom Landry being loud. There are a lot of low-key coaches out there doing well.”

Yeah. But those guys were coaching winning teams. It’s easy to be chief executive officer of a successful company. Pat a few guys on the back, give the proper raises and keep things humming. No need to raise your voice.

What the Lions needed was a foreman, a guy for the trenches. Make them motivated and make them proud. Scare them if you have to, scream, blow your top, but show them you care, you know what’s going on, you’re sure they can be winners.

As the seasons went on, Rogers did less and less of these things. And by the end, he was a sitting duck. In Sunday’s game it almost looked like the Lions were playing in hopes that he would not be back.

They got their wish.

And Lions fans got theirs, at least for now. But remember the sins of this organization, from a football standpoint, go all the way to the top — the front office and the owner — and those guys are still there. Mr. Thomas. Mr Ford. Please. Don’t go halfway on this. The right personnel, the right money, the right coach. It all goes hand in hand.

For now, the wrong coach is gone. Darryl Rogers leaves us, no doubt with a shrug. Good. Let’s move on. Perhaps we can get back to being a football town one day.

Being a joke hasn’t been much fun.

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