Chuck Knox’s wife. And Joe Falls.
Who and what are you talking about, Kent? You might ask.
I’m taking about Chuck Knox, the former coach of the Seahawks, Bills and Rams (when they were in Los Angeles and Anaheim). Before becoming a head coach in the National Football League, he was an assistant under Joe Schmidt with the semi-pro local football team here in Detroit who happen to sometimes resemble a professional team.
Back in both 1977 and 85, the Lions offered Chuck Knox their head coaching job. He accepted both times, but his wife nixed the deal both times because she didn’t like Detroit. (Yes, there’s that old stereotype about Detroit popping up again) Instead, the Lions ended up with Monte Clark and the woebegone, out-of-his-element, totally disinterested Darryl Rogers who once asked “What does one have to do to get fired around here?” Oh, just go 18-40 in just under three years will do the trick. My personal favorite Rogers story is one where we were outside at the Silverdome and an obviously bored and disinterested Rogers looked up at the top of the dome and asked “How many (birds) could you shoot from here?” We just stood around and laughed. He was serious. Weird guy.
Today, the Lions introduce Jim Caldwell as the franchise’s 15th head coach since Joe Schmidt quit in 1973. No coach since Schmidt has has a winning record and none, save Dick Jauron (who was the interim coach for five games following Steve Mariucci) has ever been hired by a NFL team. The hiring of Caldwell is reminiscent of those of Clark and Rogers in that they were both not who the Lions wanted. In the case of Caldwell, the Lions wanted Ken Whisenhunt, the former coach of the Arizona Cardinals and the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.
Now Lions sufferers, (we’re not fans anymore, after 56 years, we’re suffering) are admittedly skeptical about this latest hire. Caldwell’s credentials are passable, as are Whisenhunt’s, but it’s a case of “if we have all this talent, where’s the elite coach that’s going to get us there?”
I’ll tell you where those elite coaches are. At Black Rock and 30 Rock and you ain’t getting Bill Cowher or Tony Dungy out of those high payin’ cushy gigs unless you’re the Cowboys or Bears or some other elite team. If Bill Belichick quit tomorrow, Dungy would be in Foxborough faster than you could say “Where do I sign?” There’s a reason why the Lions and Cardinals and Jacksonville don’t get these coaches…It’s called prestige and Detroit and Cleveland (and 25 other teams) don’t have it. The Lions even tried getting Dungy after Whisenhunt accepted the Titans job. He said thanks, but no thanks.
Caldwell is a mixed bag, as far as I’m concerned. Had Peyton Manning not missed the 2011 season, he’s probably still the Colts head coach and Manning has the Colts playing this Sunday for the AFC title instead of the Broncos. But, as we all know, the NFL stands for “Not For Long” and a 2-14 season will get you fired faster than throwing up on Dean Wormer will get you kicked out of Faber. And some have never forgiven him for throwing away (possibly) a undefeated season his first year in Indy.
Caldwell becomes the Lions’ first African-American Head Coach, nearly a decade after the NFL instituted a rule about minority coaching candidates after a previous General Manager (who’s name shall never be spoken in my presence) hired Mariucci without interviewing anyone else, including minority candidates. Hey, I’m a minority, why don’t I get an interview?
I really did think that the Lions were going to give the departed Schwartz one more year. But, by the end of the year, after losing six of their last 7, including the last three to Baltimore (on a 61-yard Field Goal no less) the going nowhere New York Football Giants and the last place Minnesota Vikings, it was a foregone conclusion he would be fired. But in the aftermath of the 15-day odyssey (“odd” being the operative word) one local columnist is saying the Lions should of kept Schwartz.
A known unknown is what I think Caldwell is at this point. Do his 24 wins in his first two seasons in Indianapolis represent his coaching ability or the fact that he had arguably one of the best quarterback’s in the league’s history throwing the ball? Or do his two wins in a season without Manning and his mediocre record at Wake Forrest foretell his real ability? All questions we will find out starting today.
The one constant in all this is the owner of the Lions. William Clay Ford, Sr. has owned this team for 50 years now. He has hired 17 coaches, all but three have been fired. In 1964, in his nascent days as sole owner, he sought out to hire a young assistant coach who would replace George Wilson, the last coach to win a NFL Championship with Detroit in 1957, a year before I was born. An offer was made, contract signed, and Ford was set to name his first head coach. Except for one thing. The Free Press’ Joe Falls got a scoop and published the story. Ford went into a rage and tore up the contract, called Falls and told him, “I’m not letting the media name my coach before me!!!!” The young assistant was crushed, but was quickly hired by the Baltimore Colts, who had just lost Weeb Eubank to the rival AFL’s New York Jets. The name of that assistant you ask?