Jim Schwartz carries Baltimore attitude into the playoffs

Lions head coach leads team to its first postseason in 11 seasons

January 05, 2012|Mike Preston

When the Detroit Lions meet the New Orleans Saints in the NFC wild-card playoff game Saturdaysome current and former Ravens staff members will be celebrating for Lions coach Jim Schwartz before the game even begins.

It's not because the Lions will be making their first playoff appearance in almost a dozen years. But because Schwartz is a Baltimore native who learned a lot about the game as the Ravens quality control coach from 1995 through 1998.

"He always had that strong work ethic," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He was always very teachable and willing to learn everything he could, but he wasn't going to give you the company line. He was an independent thinker and if he thought something should be different, then he voiced his opinion."

Schwartz, 45, is part of a new wave of head coaches in the NFL. He is young, fit, energetic and looks like a corporate executive. In three seasons, he has pumped new life into a city that has suffered from a recession and a team that had not won 10 games since 1995.

Before Schwartz arrived, Detroit was considered by many to be the worst franchise in the NFL. Schwartz, though, is leaving the celebrations to others because a playoff appearance simply isn't enough.

"I think there's something to be said for guys like [Lions center] Dominic Raiola and [Lions tackle] Jeff Backus and guys that have been their whole careers without going and how much they'll relish the opportunity to play in playoff games," said Schwartz, who is a Mount St. Joseph graduate, , recently. "And then the other thing is, some of those guys are young players that experienced 0-16. This isn't old hat to them.

"This isn't college bowl season where you're getting a watch and a new warm-up suit … . This is the tournament. This is the chance to win the championship, and that's the only thing that's important."

Schwartz always has had that intensity, which is why it wasn't unusual to see him go after San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh when Schwartz thought Harbaugh quickly dismissed him during a post-game hand shake.

The Lions have Schwartz's attitude. He can be foul-mouthed and won't hesitate getting in your face. He is cynical, yet funny and direct. He's not a big guy but won't back down from a fight.

He'll get a little emotional and out of control at times, just like the Lions. Those Baltimore roots are still strong.

"When I saw the situation with Jim Harbaugh, I just thought it was two emotional guys in a very emotional situation," Newsome said. "Schwartzie has always had that energy, work ethic and passion."

In the classroom, he is always under control and allows his coaches to coach. Most young coaches would shy away from hiring former head coaches as their assistants, but Schwartz has former St. Louis Rams head coach Scott Linehan as his offensive coordinator, and former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham as his defensive coordinator.

These moves gave Schwartz instant credibility.

"He hired two very good coordinators who had been head coaches and not many young coaches would do that," Newsome said. "Basically, you're saying, 'I'll set the structure, it's your show to run.'"

But Schwartz has input on the defensive side. He learned from some of the best. . Before going to Detroit, Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for eight years at Tennessee under Jeff Fisher, one of the better defensive minds in the game.

Schwartz broke into the league as a "gopher" for Bill Belichick in Cleveland from 1993-95, and then became the defensive quality control coach in Baltimore under coordinator Marvin Lewis from 1995- 1998.

He can draw defenses up with the best.

"In 97 and 98 I began to expand Jim's duties all the time," said Lewis, head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. "He always had a lot of good game plan ideas. He really understood football and was a tireless worker. Right from the beginning, yeah, you could tell he was going to become a good head coach."

Actually, from the beginning, Schwartz wanted to go into the front office. He started in Cleveland in the same job as Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli, Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, senior personnel assistant George Kokinis and former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage.

According to Newsome, few head coaches have a background in coaching and personnel. Evenfewer head coaches enjoy it. The experience probably helped Schwartz draft players like quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

"A key element is how you treat the people ," Lewis said. "They have added some high motor guys and you have to acknowledge that. [Lions general manager] Martin Mayhew has done a wonderful job as well. You have to work well together. They seem to be on the same page."

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