Baltimore game is homecoming for Lions coach

Schwartz puts analytical mind to reviving hapless Detroit

December 11, 2009|By Mike Preston

When the Detroit Lions were looking for a head coach, they wanted someone who was highly analytical. They wanted someone who could develop a philosophy, devise strategies and bridge a gap between the players, coaches and administration.

On Jan. 16, the Lions hired Jim Schwartz, 43.

Back over at Schwartz's old high school in Baltimore, Mount St. Joseph, Schwartz's former algebra teacher, Dave Norton, thought Detroit had hired the right guy.

"No, I didn't know if he would become a head football coach back then," said Norton, an assistant principal and baseball coach at the school for 35 years. "It certainly wasn't because he wasn't smart enough. I got out my old grade book the other day, and he got an A. There were three guys I had checked off in that class.

"I don't know why, but if you look at the good coaches, they've always been analytical, and that was Jim. He was great in math, very talented and caught on to things quickly."

The words "quick study" and Schwartz have become synonymous, and the Lions are hoping Schwartz can quickly turn around one of the NFL's worst franchises of the past decade.

Schwartz will have a homecoming Sunday, when his Lions (2-10) come into Baltimore to face the Ravens (6-6) at M&T Bank Stadium. Detroit has the league's 26th-ranked offense and is No. 30 on defense, so the turnaround won't happen this season.

And it might not happen next season. Or will it?

Schwartz is taking it one day at a time.

"You know, obviously, we haven't been productive as far as wins go, but that hasn't discouraged us, and it hasn't changed our approach," Schwartz said. "I think the one thing that has happened here were a lot of changes in philosophy from year to year. One year it was 'The Greatest Show on Turf,' and the next year it was 'We're going to run the Denver Stretch,' and we're going to run that ...

"You're not going to be able to do everything that you want in the first year, but you can't panic because of that. You can't let the scoreboard or the record cause you to change course."

Schwartz has made some changes, like the appearance of the locker and weight rooms. He shifted some of the parking spots around. And of course, he added some quality assistants like offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.

The spotlight, though, is on Schwartz. He is young, sharp and confident. He has the ability to gab and could sell an old dog new tricks. He has discipline and no fear of getting in a player's face.

But what really stands out about Schwartz is the coaching pedigree. Before joining Detroit, Schwartz served as a defensive assistant for 10 years in Tennessee, eight as the Titans' defensive coordinator under coach Jeff Fisher.

He spent three years in Baltimore (1996-1999) and was the chief assistant to Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. Before Baltimore, Schwartz was on a Cleveland coaching staff that included Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, Pat Hill, Kirk Ferentz and Eric Mangini. The Browns' front office featured Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage.

Schwartz picked up a lot of things from great coaches, but he left favorable impressions with them as well, especially during the early years in Baltimore when the Ravens had little money to sign good defensive players.

"Schwartzie was always a quick study," Newsome said. "If he saw it once, he got it. He was like a sponge under Marvin. With Marvin, he learned how to communicate with players. Back when he was here, we didn't have a lot of good defensive players, but we did have some characters. Marvin taught him how to install a game plan and keep it all together."

Lewis said: "He did everything I asked him to do. I thought he would become a head coach because he was bright, meticulous, hardworking and could deal with people. He had the ability to break down offenses."

There will be a lot of Schwartz supporters at the game Sunday. Schwartz's dad, Jim, and in-laws still live in Arbutus. One sister lives in Las Vegas, but the other seven siblings live in areas that cover Carroll County to Bel Air.

A couple of years ago, Schwartz built a home on the Eastern Shore where his family goes to vacation for six to eight weeks during the summer.

He can't get Baltimore out of him. He keeps up on the news of the Orioles and University of Maryland football and basketball. Lacrosse can draw his attention as well.

"Growing up in Baltimore, I think everybody idolized Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken, but Earl Weaver had a lot of people," Schwartz said. "I was always a student of the game, and I always identified more with the manager and the coach than the player. So, I think I had a pretty good assessment of my athletic ability."

In other words, he wasn't anything special in high school, but a solid football player and strong student.

"Polite, courteous, likable student, a good kid to be around," Norton said. "He is someone you would be proud of."

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