Were Lions’ firings just the first domino to fall?

by | Oct 27, 2015 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Well, somebody had to go down. Besides the quarterback.

When you’re 1-6 and you can’t run and you can’t block and you can’t score and you can’t protect your assets, no one is safe. Joe Lombardi, the Lions’ offensive coordinator, found that out Monday, when he was fired by the Detroit Lions along with offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan.

They can’t be surprised. Or else they didn’t watch the game film from Sunday. Not that we’d wish that on anyone.

The small ax falls. Despite Jim Caldwell saying “no changes” when asked about the most recent loss about shaking up the staff, shake it up he did. Maybe he had planned to. Maybe he got a call from someone above saying, “If you don’t make changes, we will.”

Caldwell said that didn’t happen. Said it was purely his decision. It doesn’t really matter. The season is done. The Lions aren’t making the playoffs. They almost certainly won’t be a .500 team. Who coaches the line the rest of the season isn’t going to put people in the seats.

But it might keep Matthew Stafford standing. The Lions are very fortunate their franchise quarterback is still in one piece. Other NFL passers have been knocked out by far less than the avalanche of rushers Stafford suffered through Sunday against Minnesota.

Seven sacks? Thirteen hits? I’d say he was a piñata, but a piñata doesn’t get pounded that much. The fact that Stafford left with only a bruised hand — and not on a stretcher — is a small miracle.

“It’s the nature of this business,” Stafford said Monday when asked about possible changes on the staff. “We had a great thing going last year. And we have great pieces this year …”

An awful offense

And there’s the problem. The “great pieces” in Detroit have been here for a while. But too often Calvin Johnson is like a museum piece that you admire but can’t engage, and Ameer Abdullah is all promise but no grip, and Golden Tate is becoming silvered and bronzed, and Eric Ebron is a first-round pick with third-round hands.

And Stafford? You can see his arm. You can see his skill. But he is so often under siege it is impossible to tell whether he deserves criticism or praise.

One thing you can’t blame him for is the play-calling. That was Lombardi’s job. And he did it woefully. There was no imagination to the Lions’ offense, poor design, awful execution. Too many times, the Lions needed eight or nine yards on third down — after two dud plays on first and second — and too often they had throws designed for five or six, falling short even when the pass was completed.

That’s bad scheming.

The blocking was horrendous. Beyond horrendous. Runners had no holes. Quarterbacks had no pocket. Nobody seemed to have an assignment, other than “find somebody to hit.” You can’t know whether the players were being coached badly, or the coaches were doing all they could with bad players, but the fact is you can’t fire your players as easily as you can your coaches.

And when your offensive line has a first-round pick (Riley Reiff) lining up beside another first-round pick (Laken Tomlinson) and defenders go past them as if they were green traffic lights, something has to change.

This time it’s the coordinator and two line coaches.

Next time, it’ll be someone else.

The small ax falls.

A waste of time

“Not a good day, a tough day,” Caldwell told the media late Monday afternoon. “There are families attached to these moves. … I’ve been in this position myself three times. It’s happened to me and it’s certainly not fun.”

No, it isn’t. And kudos to Caldwell for his humanity. But when assistant coaches get axed, they take with them a layer of protection for the head guy. After all, Caldwell chose Lombardi to lead his offense. What does that say about his football judgment? In fairness, the Lions won 11 games last season. In fairness, they did a lot of that with defense, not offense.

Taking over those reins will be Jim Bob Cooter, who was previously the Lions’ quarterbacks coach. That may be a comfort for Stafford, but at, 31, Cooter is hardly a proven commodity — and, like Lombardi before him, he has never called plays in the NFL. This is more a stopgap move than a blueprint. The Lions need to halt the bleeding. They do it smartly, headed off to London where, even if it’s raining, they will feel like they’ve escaped a thunderstorm as they prepare to play Kansas City. Maybe bonding with the new authorities with give them a fresh attitude.

“We’re running out of time,” Caldwell said in his news conference.

For this season, they already have. For the future, who knows? Johnson, believe it or not, is already 30. That’s usually downside time for receivers, especially long, lanky ones who depend on jumping and speed. Stafford is 27 with a lot of miles on him. Tate is 27. These should be their prime years, their winning years, their championships years.

Instead, the Lions have the worst record in football, they rank low in points and high in turnovers, and they find ways to lose, even when they start well, as they did on Sunday.

“The big thing is to be productive on a continuous basis,” Caldwell said. “Every game requires something just a little bit different. … You can’t change an offense in its entirety in two days’ time or a week’s time.”

Too bad. These changes will make people feel better, but the Lions need to break some nasty habits about blocking and assignments and execution if they expect to beat anyone the rest of the way. Remember, the other team is always trying as well.

The small ax falls. Critics will see this as a day that had to come. Cynics will see it as too little, too late. And Lions fans — well, Lions fans have seen it all before. Sadly, too many times, we call this “football season.”

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.

Tickets are on sale for the Nov. 8 charity launch at the Fox Theatre of his latest novel, “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.” Tickets are $50, include an autographed book and are available at ticketmaster.com, olympiaentertainment.com, Fox Theatre, Joe Louis Arena, Hockeytown Authentics and 800-745-3000.



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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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