Titans' Schwartz takes over winless Lions

Friday, January 16, 2009

DETROIT -- Jim Schwartz insisted he loves challenges.

Well, he's got one.

The Detroit Lions, the NFL's first 0-16 team, agreed Thursday on a four-year deal with Schwartz to make him their next coach.

The former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator will be introduced at a news conference today at Ford Field, where Detroit lost its home games last year by an average of 21.4 points to break another dubious league record.

The 42-year-old Schwartz just finished his eighth season as the Titans' defensive coordinator and his 10th on their staff. He interviewed for a second time with the Lions on Monday.

The chance to lead an infamous team only seemed to motivate Schwartz to get the job.

"I don't shy away from a challenge," he said during a news conference earlier this week.

Detroit had interviewed Schwartz after the regular season, and had to wait for Tennessee to be eliminated from the playoffs to speak with him again. The Titans lost to Baltimore on Saturday.

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher congratulated the Lions for hiring the "right guy" and said in a statement that Schwartz will be missed in Tennessee.

"In his eight years as our defensive coordinator, Jim has clearly put his stamp on that side of the ball," Fisher said. "He is competitive, a tremendous communicator and motivator, and in our opinion, he has been ready for this next step for several years."

The Lions also showed some interest in Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

Before being hired by Tennessee, Schwartz spent three years on the Baltimore Ravens' staff. He also was a college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns and that experience might be valuable in Detroit.

The Lions have the No. 1 pick in April, along with first- and third-round picks from the Dallas Cowboys, and need to find players to spark a turnaround.

Schwartz had an idea of what to do with the first pick.

"It's probably time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne," Schwartz said Monday, showing he knows at least a little about the history of perhaps the NFL's worst franchise.

Lewand doubled over, then composed himself enough to avoid bursting out with laughter.

What isn't a joke, though, is how bad Detroit has been and how often it has failed to draft or acquire a viable, long-term option at quarterback.

Since winning a title in 1957 with Layne under center, the Lions have the same number of playoff victories as Pro Bowl QBs: one.

Detroit will count on Schwartz to use his background to come up with ways to improve a defense that ranked last in the league and gave up 517 points -- threatening the NFL record for points allowed (533) in a season set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

"There's no better feeling than turning a situation around," he has said.

Schwartz played linebacker at Georgetown, where he earned a degree in economics. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Maryland in 1989, later had the same position at Minnesota and went on to become a secondary coach for North Carolina Central and linebackers coach at Colgate.

The Baltimore native became a candidate to be a head coach because of what he's done in Tennessee. His resume and style led to interviews in previous years with Miami, Atlanta, Washington and San Francisco.

The Titans ranked in the top seven in yards allowed each of the past two seasons and finished second in points allowed per game at 14.6 in 2008. His 2003 defense ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and led the league in third down defense at 27.7 -- the lowest since the 1998 Oakland Raiders.

The avid chess player analyzes football-related statistics, looking for tendencies, then has the ability to relay what he has learned to players.

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