Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Emptying my Friday notebook

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's comments on the Thanksgiving day game have me wondering if the Lions (and Cowboys) are headed for another showdown with the rest of the league when the owner's meetings convene two months from now in California.

The Lions successfully fought off a measure by late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to rotate the game a few years ago, and if you remember back to November there was some public outcry that the Lions, who've lost their last five turkey-day games by an average of 23.4 points, should give up their holiday tradition altogether.

Goodell said at his pre-Super Bowl press conference that the Lions will play on Thanksgiving next year, but didn't commit beyond that.

“It's a great tradition in Detroit and in Dallas,” Goodell said according to a transcript of the session. “It's something that our owners have raised from time to time. It will not change for this season. As to whether the ownership feels the same, we will discuss it as we get later into the year. We certainly will raise it.”

Certainly will raise it? That sounds ominous.

New Lions coach Jim Schwartz said at a town-hall meeting Monday that he intended “to put a barbed-wire fence around that Thanksgiving day game.” That jives with how the Ford family feels about a tradition that's sacred locally. But I wonder how much pull ownership will have now that its trump camp, Ford Motor Company's advertising budget, has been so dramatically affected by the economy.

Beyond the Lions' atrocious holiday play, there's also a feeling that teams the Cowboys benefit by, effectively, having an extra bye week built into their season. Schwartz referenced that benefit Monday as well.

I don't know if there'll be enough support to alter the schedule for 2010, but it could happen sooner than you – or Schwartz – think.

•'s Kevin Seifert is reporting that “there have been recent indications that the Lions were focusing in on” former Jaguars executive James “Shack” Harris to be Martin Mayhew's assistant general manager (or some like title).

I left Harris a message a short while ago and he has not yet returned my phone call, but a person close to Harris said suggestions he could soon be a Lion “are not untrue.” I've written it before, but it bears repeating that I think Harris would be a wise hire. He's built the sort of teams Mayhew envisions in Jacksonville and Baltimore, and he has an eye for finding late-round talent in the draft. If it happens, Mayhew should be complimented for fortifying himself with one of the best available options for the position.

• Finally, following up on my report from earlier this week about Shawn Jefferson and Sam Gash remaining on staff next year, both men will coach the same positions under Jim Schwartz – receivers for Jefferson, running backs for Gash – that they did under Rod Marinelli.

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Answering your emails

Keep those questions coming and I'll try to get to them on slow news days.

Who starts at quarterback for the Lions next year?
A number of you have asked this in one form or another, and while this is pure speculation for now, Scott Linehan's arrival has to make Daunte Culpepper the most likely opening-day starter. The theory is – and I know at least one Lions offensive player who feels this way – Linehan and Culpepper's previous relationship (in Minnesota) overshadows any struggles Culpepper had last year (when the Lions signed him as a two-year stopgap quarterback) and allows him to continue as the bridge to the future on offense (most likely for a quarterback drafted this year).

Linehan said he intends to give every quarterback on the roster an equal opportunity to win the starting job, but fact is someone has to enter camp atop the depth chart and, if the Lions pay his $2.5-million bonus next month, it will be Culpepper. Jon Kitna, who's due his own $500,000 bonus and has $1 million in escalators in his contract, is angling to return a Lion, but I don't see it; this is the same management team that put him on injured reserve. Drew Stanton has some qualities Linehan will find attractive, but the front office has to be on board, too. Dan Orlovsky likely is headed elsewhere in free agency. My guess on Jan. 29? Culpepper opens the season as starter, leads the Lions to a 3-8 record, then Stanton or more likely a highly-drafted rookie takes over for the final month.

Did Keary Colbert sign a two-year contract?
This came up in relation to my post on Mike Furrey and, in light of the glut of No. 3-caliber receivers on the Lions roster, why his release was no big deal. No, Colbert signed a one-year contract for a prorated portion of $605,000. I guess he still could return because the Lions don't have any reliable pass catchers beyond Calvin Johnson. But Colbert isn't much of an upgrade over Chris Hannon, Adam Jennings, Travis Taylor or John Standeford. All but Taylor are signed for next season for less than Colbert was making. Eric Fowler and Reggie Ball are under contract, too, and the Lions will no doubt add to their receiver stable either in free agency or the draft. Remember how guys like Devin Thomas and Limas Sweed fell in the draft last year? The Lions might be able to find a good No. 2 receiver/return man in Round 3.

If the Lions draft a left tackle, what happens to Jeff Backus?
I need to say this first – this is not a good year to have the No. 1 pick. It never is for money reasons, but there doesn't appear to be a Peyton Manning-type NFL-ready quarterback; top tackle Andre Smith has some character questions that need to be answered; and I'm of the belief that you don't give No. 1 money to an outside linebacker like Aaron Curry who won't be a pass rusher for the Lions (Cliff Avril is the right end). That said, could Backus change positions? Sure, but I don't know that he's an ideal guard and I don't think you want to take Gosder Cherilus off the right tackle position. It may be more likely the Lions, in their quest to upgrade the offensive line, draft a guard or two and hope that leads to better play out of the tackles.

Regardless, with an uncapped 2010 looming, I think it's unlikely the Lions release Backus. If they were to cut him after the draft, it's my understanding the Lions would take an immediate cap hit in the form of the remaining unaccounted for $8-million-or-so portion of his signing bonus (rather than spreading part of it into 2010; there are no June designations in the last capped year). As far under the cap as the Lions expect to be (some $35 million or so), that's a lot of dead money when Backus is neither a cancer in the locker room nor out of tread as a player.

Though he wasn't talking about Backus in any way, team president Tom Lewand was asked at Monday's town-hall meeting what impact the potential of an uncapped year would have on this season.

“I think it does have an impact,” Lewand said. “The salary-cap rules change in 2009, which is currently the last cap year. It requires things to be accounted for differently. And it's good that we have the amount of room that we do because you have to account for more things in the first year of a deal or in the last year of a deal in 2009 then you otherwise would. Two-thousand-and-ten creates an interesting dynamic.”

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Linehan on Culpepper, Stanton

New Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Wednesday he received a welcome-to-Detroit text message from Daunte Culpepper last week and will meet with his former (and possibly future) quarterback in the coming days.

“I had a great, great experience with him that was three, four years ago now and things change,” Linehan said. “But my respect for his ability, I've seen it first hand and think the world of him.”

Culpepper had three of his most productive NFL seasons in Minnesota when Linehan was his offensive coordinator. In 2004, their last year working together, Culpepper set career-highs with 4,717 yards passing and 39 touchdowns. He has not played a full season since.

Linehan said he's just begun evaluating film of every player from last year – “I believe I've seen four (quarterbacks) at this point, I haven't seen five,” he said – and won't make a decision on who starts next year until “before we open up the regular season.”

Asked if he wanted Culpepper back next season, Linehan said,“I would love to have every player back that they want to keep back on this team. I love Daunte and I got a great relationship with him, but again it's too early to make any assessments or jump to any conclusions as to what we're doing because we haven't gone through the evaluation process.”

Linehan said he's talked with every quarterback on the roster but free-agent-to-be Dan Orlovsky, who hasn't spoken with anyone from the organization since the end of the season.

As for Stanton, who played under one of Linehan's mentors John L. Smith at Michigan State, Linehan said he remembers him as a high-upside guy coming out of college. Talking about quarterbacks in general, Linehan also described some of the off-the-field qualities that endeared Stanton to the Lions' former regime.

“I think most people don't give enough credence to the intangible qualities,” Linehan said. “Everybody wants to look at the strong arm, the height, weight, speed, all that. Those are pretty important. I think the makeup of the quarterback has to be a guy that changes the room when he walks into it, has to be a guy that immediately has this glow about him and affects the team in a positive way. You see the great quarterbacks in this game, they are the face of the franchise whether they like it or not. That's what comes with this position, so that guy has to have special intangibles.”

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The Furrey release

Mike Furrey told reporters in Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl today that he had been released. It's a little bit of a surprise considering the lack of depth at receiver the Lions had on their roster, but not totally unexpected since Furrey's season ended in such animosity last year.

Furrey, you recall, was placed on injured reserve Dec. 1 with lingering symptoms from a concussion. He said at the time he was fit to play, but after missing three consecutive games (and playing in just nine) general manager Martin Mayhew didn't agree.

As good a season as he had three years ago when he caught 98 passes, Furrey didn't fit into the Lions' long-term plans. He was little help as a return man, his toughness came into question after he signed a three-year deal following his breakout season, and the Lions are in the process of cleaning out some of the veteran excess tainted by Matt Millen's eight-year run.

With Shaun McDonald scheduled for free agency, receiver is now a definite position of need this offseason (though not to the level where Michael Crabtree or anyone else will be considered atop the draft). Chris Hannon (Dolphins) and Adam Jennings (Falcons) were claimed off waivers late in the season, Travis Taylor signed as a free agent, and John Standeford and Reggie Ball are both under contract. None of the above seems like a suitable No. 2 to pair with Calvin Johnson, though in fairness Furrey wouldn't have filled that role, either.

Cutting Furrey now is a ho-hum move in my opinion. The Lions save on his $1.85-million salary, Furrey gets a chance to latch on somewhere else immediately, and the Lions are flush with third and fourth receivers, guys capable of pulling down the 30 or 40 balls that would have come Furrey's way.

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Lions staff rounding into place

The Lions haven't announced any assistant coach hires other than coordinators Gunther Cunningham and Scott Linehan, but several other assistants are in place.

A team source told me today that receivers coach Shawn Jefferson and running backs coach Sam Gash will be retained from last year's staff, presumably at their areas of expertise. Jim Colletto, demoted from offensive coordinator to offensive-line coach, will not be back. One name I've heard as his replacement is George Yarno, who was fired as an assistant offensive line coach in Tampa Bay earlier this year. Yarno coached at Idaho, where new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan played and coached (though at different times than Yarno), and worked on Nick Saban's staff at LSU. Jim Schwartz referenced Linehan's work under “a colleague of mine Nick Saban” when he announced his offensive coordinator's hiring.

Calls and/or emails to Jefferson, Gash and Yarno have not been returned.

Previously, reports indicated that the Lions hired former Tennessee assistant Matt Burke as linebackers coach and that ex-Broncos defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was expected to coach defensive backs in Detroit.

Update at 8:17 p.m.: A source has confirmed that Yarno has been hired as the Lions' new offensive line coach.

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Schwartz: 'Take advantage of being crappy'; more town hall talk

The Lions have their second town-hall meeting with fans tonight at Ford Field. If you're going, here's another sample of what you can expect to hear (or at least what the few hundred who attended Monday's session heard):

• Lions coach Jim Schwartz said defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan began evaluating players Monday. “The first thing those guys are going to do is they're going to sit down and watch all 16 games from last year, not looking at schemes, not looking at anything other than talent level to get another objective view of where we are and how we need to improve that,” Schwartz said. “In talking to Scott and in talking to Gunther, they already have their eyes on some good young players here. And I think we just need to sort of identify those guys that we're going to build around and then make quick decisions on other guys that maybe don't fit the direction that we want to go.”

Schwartz mentioned Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith by name several times, and as it related to the roster as a whole he said, “I wouldn't say we're going to sweep everything out.”

• On the same subject, general manager Martin Mayhew said, “I think we have a good core of blue-collar, hard-working guys on our team now. What we need is some impact players, some difference makers. Those are the kind of players we need to sign and draft. But I like the players that we have, a lot of them. I like their work ethic, I like the way they prepare. But we just need difference makers, we need to get bigger defensively. I can't really give you a number but we'll get as many good ones as we can find.”

• Mayhew reiterated a promise he made two days after the season, saying the team will be “a lot more diligent about knowing players, about knowing their backgrounds.” He said the Lions have changed their process for performing background checks on potential draft picks and added, “I really think we have good scouts. The thing we haven't done is listen to those guys and made the right decisions at the right time.”

• Team president Tom Lewand seconded the notion about already having good personnel evaluators in place. “They haven't always been in a system or haven't really ever been in a system where they've gotten the kind of direction, they've gotten the kind of structure and they have the kinds of systems and plans in place that we're talking about putting in place,” he said. “So we're going to get that right. For the first time in my tenure with the Lions, that will be right. How long that takes for us to get this turned remains to be seen, but you can absolutely take it to the bank that it'll be done the right way.”

• Schwartz said the key to a turnaround is “we got to spend our money wisely and we have to be very, very strong on those first five picks. We have a tremendous opportunity. Maybe this isn't the place to say it, but I had somebody tell me, not that works for the Lions, he said take advantage of being crappy. He didn't say crappy, but take advantage of being crappy. In other words, you can say it in a lot of different ways, but basically benefit from that position. It's not often that you get at the top of the draft, it's not often that you're in a position that you have a lot of salary-cap money. Take advantage of all those picks and if we do our job right then we will.”

• Lewand on re-building the team: “It'd be really easy to sit up here and come up with another marketing slogan and come up with billboards around the city and try and the old adage of baffle you with BS. And that's not what we're about. We're about as I said a couple of times, doing this thing the right way. And that means investing in a team that's built from the inside out, with bigger guys, running the ball, stopping the run, building through the draft. And to do it the right way means that you're not out there chasing the quick fix. You're not listening to the siren song on the rocks and running the risk of crashing into the shore.”

• Mayhew said anyone who's given the franchise tag in the future must be “indispensable.” “A couple years ago we made Cory Redding our franchise player,” he said. “He had an outstanding 12 games or so. We moved him inside to tackle. He played really well. We felt like he was going to be a bell cow for us. The last couple years he hasn't played at that same level due to injury and other factors. But generally speaking it's going to be a guy who you can't win without that particular player. ... For now, I think Jason Hanson is probably the closest thing we have to that on our roster right now who's going to be free. Obviously Calvin is that type of player, but we need to get in a situation where we have two or three of those caliber of player.”

• Mayhew mentioned Cliff Avril, Ernie Sims, Daniel Bullocks and Redding as potential building blocks on defense. He also promised a renewed emphasis in the return game and said, in the draft and free agency, “that's an area where we have some low-hanging fruit. We can get better in that area.”

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Town hall talk

I spent my evening at the town-hall meeting the Lions hosted for about 400 fans in the atrium of Ford Field. Reviews were mixed. I talked to a couple fans who thought the gesture was a great idea, and others – one in particular (read tomorrow's paper) – who saw Monday's hour-long session as a desperate sales pitch.

Me? I can't say it was a bad idea for the Lions to do what they did. They're coming off an 0-16 season, they had to extend an olive branch to fans somehow. But if you follow the team on a regular basis there wasn't a ton new said. No revelations of who'll be the No. 1 pick, no Super Bowl-or-bust declarations, and no real timetable for a turnaround.

New coach Jim Schwartz drew a few laughs, including when a fan asked, through moderator Dan Miller, the Lions play-by-play voice, about the possibility of cheerleaders at Ford Field. “My wife already said no to that,” Schwartz joked.

Schwartz also drew a big round of applause at the end when he ended the hour-long session with a promise to keep the Thanksgiving day game in Detroit.

“It's going to be one of the first things I talk to the players when they come back in March,” Schwartz said. “We're going to put a barbed-wire fence around that Thanksgiving day game. I'm not going to have people around the country talking about taking that game away from us. We're going to put a barbed-wire fence around that. The players are going to understand the importance of it, and here's the reason: Cause it is a tremendous advantage to have that game at home here on a yearly basis. I know we played it last year and you pick up a bye week after it.”

A few other topics of note that came up Monday:

• Team president Tom Lewand seemed to take a shot at the failed Rod Marinelli-Matt Millen regime when he talked about “building it for the long haul so that when you get it right it stays right. Jim talked about consistency, that's what you're going to see week in and week out. Not 38-point blowout one week, hanging in there 'til the end in another week, trying to come back from a 21-point first-quarter deficit another week. That can't happen. If you build it the right way, then week in, week out you give yourself a chance. ... We have to build it that way so that we have the kinds of confidence from top to bottom, throughout the organization and throughout that locker room, so that if we're at a position again like we were a few years ago where we're 6-2 it's not, 'Oh my God, how did we get here?' It's, 'OK, we expected that. We're going to take this a week at a time, a day at a time, and we're going to do this the right way.'”

• General manager Martin Mayhew on who the Lions will target with the No. 1 pick in April's draft: “For us right now, we don't have a whole lot of areas where we have a great degree of talent so for us this season it probably will be a situation where we'll be looking at best player available.”

• Lewand said later that Tom Condon, the agent for Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford, the potential No. 1 overall choice, called him Monday and “was very eager to let me know that Matt Stafford had selected him as his agent and did I need any information he'd be happy to provide it. If I wanted to go down to Georgia to meet the family we could do that, too.”

• Schwartz reiterated his belief that quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. Asked about different schools of thought on whether you draft a quarterback or go with a veteran, he said, “I think you don't want to be stopgap at that position. You want to be long term.”

• Lewand said the Lions are in “good shape” when it comes to the salary cap. “Depending on some of the moves that we make with players that are currently on our roster we expect somewhere in the neighborhood of roughly $35 million of salary-cap room. I think that enables us to do the kinds of things we're going to want to do from a personnel standpoint both in free agency and importantly in the draft.” The Lions are believed to be $26-$28 million under the cap right now. Lewand didn't mention any candidates to be cut, but Leigh Bodden (due an $8.6-million bonus), Dwight Smith (signed next year at $2.25 million) and Daunte Culpepper (due a $2.5-million bonus) come to mind. He did indicate a two players who might be priorities to re-sign and nearing or at the end of their deals in kicker Jason Hanson and center Dominic Raiola.

• Lastly for tonight, Lewand hinted that changes to the uniform and leaping Lion logo will be coming, though maybe not until the 2010 season. Uniform changes for this year had to be submitted last November. “Stay tuned,” Lewand said. He also intimated the Lions could one day return to hosting training camp at a remote location like Saginaw Valley State.

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Parsing words on Stafford

The NFL draft is still three months away, plenty of time to parse every word spoken or written about the Lions and the No. 1 pick.

One tidbit I found interesting came from Peter King's always thorough Monday Morning Quarterback column on King asked former Browns general manager Phil Savage to provide some insight on all things Senior Bowl. From Savage:

“First pick in the draft? If it's Detroit, and Jim Schwartz is talking about Bobby Layne, and the offensive coordinator is Scott Linehan, who wants a big, strong-thrower, I'd say the big strong QB with a strong arm would be the pick. Matthew Stafford is big and throws the ball so well. It's a pretty easy guess.”

Don't go betting the house on Stafford in Honolulu blue just yet, but this is the same Savage who the Lions wanted for their front-office opening (and the same Savage who “has resisted overtures” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer). Savage knows Schwartz well from their days in Cleveland, and he's dead on about Linehan's taste in quarterback.

Now the contrarian viewpoint, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has final say on all things draft. He was asked a week and a half ago about Schwartz's “Layne” comment and the commonly-held NFL belief (shared by the new Lions coach) that quarterback is the trump-card position in football.

“I think it's an extremely important position but I don't think you have to have Bobby Layne or Peyton Manning,” Mayhew said. “You have to have a guy who's playing very efficiently and a guy who's being very productive to have a chance to win. You have guys like Brad Johnson who go to a Super Bowl and win it. You have guys like Rex Grossman a couple years ago in a Super Bowl. You have guys who are not known as perennial Pro Bowlers or Hall of Famers, but they perform at a high level. It's how that guy's performing.”

When pointed out he's championing a temporary solution not guaranteed success for the long term – Johnson missed the playoffs a year after leading Tampa Bay to its championship, and Grossman has made eight starts in the two years since his Super Bowl XLI appearance – Mayhew said, “That's the counter argument to it. To me, you have to have a guy that's performing at a high level.”

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Are Cunningham, Linehan right for revival?

Admittedly, it seems illogical on its face: To help the Lions rebound from the worst season in NFL history, new coach Jim Schwartz hired two coordinators from teams that in any other year would be considered the worst in the league.

New defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham comes from Kansas City, where the Chiefs went 2-14 last year and have lost 23 of their last 25 overall (same as the Lions). New offensive coordinator Scott Linehan coached the last two-plus seasons in St. Louis. The Rams went 2-14 last year (Linehan was around only for the 0-4 start) and 11-25 in Linehan's tenure.

No other team finished last season with fewer than four wins.

So what makes Cunningham and Linehan right for the Lions (and time will tell if they are)? While cynics would say losing, fact is, just as Rod Marinelli didn't deserve blame for everything that went wrong in Detroit last year, Cunningham and Linehan were only part of the problem with their respective teams.

Cunningham, as defensive coordinator, surely deserves some blame for the Chiefs having only 10 sacks last year, a record low over a 16-game season. But contrast that and K.C.'s 31st-ranked defense with the Chiefs' overall lack of talent (sound familiar?) and Cunningham's close relationship with his new head coach (again, familiar?) and you understand why Schwartz turned his way.

On offense, Linehan doesn't have much history with his new head coach, but like Cunningham he has a previous track record of success (in Minnesota, Miami and in college) and he was saddled with aging or unreliable talent in St. Louis. Steven Jackson is a fine running back, but he missed four games each of the last two years. Orlando Pace is on his last legs as an offensive lineman. And erratic quarterback play and a brutal defense were more to blame for the Rams' dramatic drop from their Super Bowl years.

Some coaches are cut out more to be coordinators than head men, and that may be Linehan's lot in life. Ditto Cunningham, who spent two years as Kansas City's head coach a decade ago.

But at the risk of sounding redundant, whether Cunningham and Linehan succeed with the Lions will come down to the talent that's by their side. When Cunningham was at the top of his game, he had Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Dale Carter. When Linehan's offense was at its best, Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss were a big reason why.

Both men are good coaches, like most everyone else in the NFL. They were available because of their previous team's failures. (You don't normally hire coordinators from winning teams unless, as was the case with Schwartz, it's to be head coach.) And they'll be successful again only if Martin Mayhew gets them some talent to work with.

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More on Linehan

No official word yet, but it appears that new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will coach quarterbacks, too. Linehan, who interviewed with new Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Thursday, played the position in college when he led Idaho to consecutive I-AA playoff appearances.

I mentioned Linehan's relationship with former Michigan State coach John L. Smith in an earlier post. I should also point out he and former MSU quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, now the QBs coach at Washington, have a history together. I don't know what this means for Drew Stanton, who played for Smith and Nussmeier at MSU and has wallowed on the bench (and injured reserve) in his two years with the Lions, but I'm hesitant to write him out of Detroit's long-term plans just yet. I imagine Schwartz and Linehan will make their own evaluation after seeing Stanton on the field, but at the very least two people Linehan trusts will have good things to say about the 2007 second-round pick.

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Linehan confirmed

The Lions just released a statement confirming that former St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan has been hired as offensive coordinator. Linehan spent three years as the offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, when Daunte Culpepper was his quarterback. Culpepper had his best season as a pro under Linehan in 2004, when he threw for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns.

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Report: Linehan as OC

ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that the Lions have agreed to terms with former Rams coach Scott Linehan as their new offensive coordinator. Linehan has not returned my calls in recent days and the voicemail on his cell phone is currently full, but it's believed he emerged as the leading candidate once it became apparent Brian Schottenheimer would stay with the Jets.

Linehan, a good friend of former Michigan State coach John L. Smith, was fired four games into last season, his third with the Rams. He was offered the offensive-coordinator position with the 49ers last week, but turned down the job because it would take him too far from his family in St. Louis.

The question now is whether the Lions will keep quarterback Daunte Culpepper on their roster. Culpepper, who had his best seasons in Minnesota when Linehan was his offensive coordinator, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He is due a $2.5-million roster bonus in February and a $2.5-million salary next year. The Lions could decline the bonus and make him a free agent.

Though he did little of note in five starts last year, it's my belief that the Lions will bring Culpepper back for another season. I don't see them turning the franchise over to a rookie quarterback in Week 1, I don't see Jon Kitna or Dan Orlovsky having much of a future in Detroit, and I was told last year new general manager Martin Mayhew signed Culpepper with the intention of letting him run the team in 2009. That may have changed with Culpepper's struggles on the field – he was thrust into a starting position five days after he signed – but with Linehan in the fold there's a chance the Lions have convinced themselves better days for Culpepper are ahead.

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Are Stafford, Sanchez NFL ready?

Didn't have a chance to expand on my post with draft comments from NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock yesterday because I was pulling double duty at the Michigan State basketball game. But I want to be clear that Mayock does not sound down on either Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez as a future NFL quarterback, he simply questions whether either would provide the immediate impact teams are looking for with top-10 picks.

“I look again at (Matt) Ryan and I look again at (Joe) Flacco, and what I keep trying to tell people is that they're amazing talents physically but they also had an emotional maturity about them,” Mayock said. “And I think for Sanchez and for Stafford they're a little bit of a project because they need more time.”

Ryan, the No. 3 overall pick by the Falcons last year, was a fifth-year senior who started 2 1/2 seasons at Boston College. Flacco, taken 18th by the Ravens, started two years at Delaware after transferring his sophomore season at Pittsburgh. By comparison, Sanchez made only 16 college starts. Stafford is more experienced having started eight games as a true freshman and 34 for his career (two more than Ryan), but he left with one year of eligibility remaining.

“If you're going to draft a quarterback high, that's going to be your guy, they all want him to play immediately, and so I don't think Stafford or Sanchez is ready to step in immediately,” Mayock said. “That's the first question I ask if I'm a GM.

“On the other hand, if I had an opportunity to develop a quarterback, I'm not sure I'm going to want to take him in the top 10 if he's going to sit for a year or two. So to me, it's still early in the process, I got a lot more tape to watch of these kids, a lot more evaluation to do. But right now I think they're both wonderful talents, but I don't think they're top-10 picks because I don't think either is ready to come in and play Day 1.”

Depending which veteran quarterback the Lions bring back – Daunte Culpepper, Jon Kitna or Dan Orlovsky – they may be in position to develop a quarterback a la Carson Palmer in Cincinnati. Palmer did not play his rookie season but started the first 13 games ahead of Kitna his second year.

Could Sanchez, a Trojan like Palmer, follow the same path?

“He can make every throw,” Mayock said. “I've stood on USC's practice field probably three or four times this year and watched him throw the football. Totally impressed with his arm strength, his athletic ability, his toughness. So do I think there's an NFL quarterback there that's a starting NFL quarterback? Absolutely.

“My problem with both he and Stafford is I don't think they're ready in the immediate future. And with Mark, I think 13 or 14 more starts at the collegiate level would have really helped him become a better quarterback. His pocket awareness and presence, I would question both he and Stafford as to whether or not they're ready to stand in an NFL pocket, keep their eyes downfield, make NFL throws and get rid of the football on time.”

Slowik on board as DBs coach?

According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, former Broncos defensive coordinator Bob Slowik "is expected" to join new Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham's staff as defensive backs coach.

Slowik, who just finished his 17th NFL season, was fired along with most of the rest of Mike Shanahan's staff earlier this month after the Broncos finished with the league's 30th-ranked scoring defense. Previously, he was defensive coordinator of the Packers (2004), Browns (1999) and Bears (1993-98).


More on Cunningham

One more Gunther Cunningham tidbit for the day, this one courtesy of former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, now a CBS analyst.

Gannon spent four seasons in Kansas City when Cunningham was defensive coordinator from 1995-98. He told me today that Cunningham and then coach Marty Schottenheimer ran some of the most physical, intense and competitive practices he's ever seen in the NFL.

“I think he's toned it down a little bit but I can remember not physical confrontations but verbal confrontations on the practice field were very common between the offensive line and Gunther,” Gannon said. “Guys like (Dave) Szott and (Tim) Grunhard, he knew how to get under their skin. But Gunther loved it. He challenged them.

“Anything more than five or six yards and they were over there yelling 'Gunther, where's your defense? Where's your run defense?' But that's how he wanted it. He wanted to create an attitude, he wanted to be physical and he did that.”

Gannon, who played against Cunningham-led defenses as a Raider, said Cunningham was always a bear to prepare for as an opponent but someone you knew was one your side as an assistant. He said he and Cunningham even butted heads when he was running the scout team in Kansas City.

“The great thing about him was he's a very observant guy,” Gannon said. “If he felt he could help you, even if you weren't one of his guys, a defensive player, he got it. He realized that. He saw the big picture. He'd say things to me all the time about footwork or 'Why'd you throw it there?' He'd ask and then he'd go back and try to figure out why I'd try to jam one into two-deep coverage.

“He's very creative and I think the players up there will respond to him.”

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The Gun (Cunningham) show

New Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham spoke by teleconference with the Detroit media today. A few of the highlights:

• On reuniting with Jim Schwartz, who he spent three seasons with in Tennessee: “I worked for a guy named Marty Schottenheimer and working for Marty was probably the greatest thing I've ever done in the NFL. He and I got along tremendously. Jim Schwartz is like a reincarnation for me.”

• More on Schwartz: “The relationship we developed at Tennessee is one of those things that comes to you about once in a lifetime in coaching. I was fired (in Kansas City) as the head coach and went to Tennessee and I had other opportunities, but at that point in my life I felt like I needed to go back and prove to myself who I was and what I was good at. And to go to Tennessee and to meet Jim Schwartz and to see what he was all about, and for him to accept me the way that he did and have him allow me to help and send him on his way, when I left there he called me on the phone in the car and we had this good-bye session and he said, 'Gun, I love you.' And when he said that, basically broke a guy that had been in the league for a long time.”

• On what went wrong in Kansas City this year, when his defense ranked 31st in the league: “Some of the guys that we were playing just hadn't been there long enough and it made it really difficult to do that. When I look back in my history over the last couple of weeks of coaching, this year probably put more pressure on me to do as good a job of teaching and all those things combined as I've ever done. And going into the Lions, at least I've had that background. I've had a background coaching six or seven Pro-Bowl players on a team, and then coaching three, four, five rookies and seven first-year starters, it kind of teaches you what this game's all about.”

• On the personnel he's inheriting in Detroit: “I know one thing that I liked (Cliff) Avril when he came out. I thought he was a special athlete and the ability to rush the passer. He's undersized, but you have to put him in the right position. I don't think it's any different than what the Pittsburgh Steelers did with (James) Harrison. He kind of bounced around there, got a couple sacks a year and Dick LeBeau did a great job of putting him in a place where you can use that. When you look at (Ernie) Sims, when he came out, I thought he was a human dynamo at the time. Well, you have to make sure you protect guys like that so they can make plays. And to me, with Jimmy and my's background of working together and him being a defensive coach, I'm sure we can go through and try to fit the players in the right position.”

• His defensive philosophies: “I've gone through three years of playing zone defenses because I was loyal to Herm Edwards, that's what he wanted. People here in town knew that I was different than that. My idea is to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, always has been, always will be. I think Jimmy knows that and I think he's a lot like that, although he was more zone conscious this year than he's ever been. But like I said at the beginning of this conversation I think the two of us will sit down and we'll decide what is the best thing that we can do and that's going to involve the organization's part of whatever Tom (Lewand) and Martin (Mayhew) decide on who we draft on defense and who else we get and how we do it. But my idea of coaching defense, it's explosive, it's aggressive, it's to go after people and make the players do things that they don't think they can do.”

• Whether he was initially denied permission to speak with the Lions: "This has been going on for a few days, you guys know that. It came out on Friday so there were discussions. There were a lot of them. We got it done, and I think (Chiefs chairman) Clark Hunt was involved in all of it. And after speaking to him and what he said to me made me feel really good and I think he knows what I put into all of this and I think he wanted what's best for me and my family, and I think that's how it all came down at the end. But it took time.”

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Mayock: 'Not sure' there's a top-10 quarterback

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, one of the best in the business, had a teleconference this afternoon from the Senior Bowl to talk draft prospects. With the first question he took, he addressed what the Lions might do with the No. 1 overall pick.

“The first thing the Lions have to address in my opinion is whether or not there's a franchise quarterback in this draft," Mayock said. "From the film work that I have done on the underclassmen, and it still needs to be more exhaustive, I think Matthew Stafford is an exciting talent that can make every throw in the book. I've seen him in person, I've seen him on tape. My two concerns are occasional accuracy issues and pocket awareness and presence.

"And please keep in mind that (Joe) Flacco and Matt Ryan were fifth-year players and stepped in with tremendous ability and mental toughness, but five years in college. And now you're looking at Matthew Stafford with three years, (Mark) Sanchez a one-year starter, (Josh) Freeman, wonderfully talented kid. That's a long way of saying I'm not sure we got a top-10 quarterback in this class."

Asked what defensive players might be worth taking 1-1, Mayock mentioned Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

"Aaron Curry is the quintessential safe pick," Mayock said. "Smart, tough, aggressive. He's a guy that's played at a high level in the ACC and is not going to cause you any problem. Worst-case scenario will be a very, very solid player, but with the No. 1 pick I wouldn't be surprised if they try to move down a little bit. Again it's way too early to be projecting this stuff, but if I'm the Lions I'd like to get as many picks as I can because I've got a lot of issues."

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Cunningham hired as DC

New Lions coach Jim Schwartz made the first important addition to his coaching staff Wednesday, hiring Kansas City's Gunther Cunningham as defensive coordinator.

Schwartz and Cunningham worked together for three seasons in Tennessee, when Schwartz was defensive coordinator and Cunningham was assistant head coach/linebackers coach. Last year in Kansas City, Cunningham's defense finished 31st in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed; the Lions were last in both categories.

Still, the 62-year-old is considered an aggressive coach whose blitz packages will give the Lions a distinctly different look from last year's Tampa 2 scheme.

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Answering your emails

I'll try to do this every week or two in what should be a busy offseason, but figured I had a stack of emails piling up both in my inbox and unanswered responses on the blog so here goes a few:

What do you think of the hiring of Jim Schwartz as head coach?
People around the league have good things to say about Schwartz. He's bright, energetic, young, and obviously comes from some good bloodlines (Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher). But the reality is that would have been the case with anyone the Lions hired. Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier, Steve Spagnuolo and everyone else they interviewed were cut from the same mold.

I can't bag on the hire. It's not like the choice came down to Schwartz and Bill Cowher, or a proven commodity like that. And I will say Schwartz handled himself well and said all the right things both for public consumption in his press conference and in a more relaxed setting with beat writers later last Friday. Still, at the end of the day it comes down to surrounding Schwartz with the right talent, something the Lions have been woeful at in recent years. If Martin Mayhew has a good or draft or two, Schwartz will look like a great hire. If not, we'll be back at this process in three years.

What would it take to get Julius Peppers in a Lions jersey next year?
A lot of money is the answer (and probably a draft pick or two Carolina's way), but I don't see it happening. Peppers, a free agent next month, has said he won't sign a long-term contract with the Panthers, who will likely franchise the 29-year-old defensive end. He's a phenomenal talent coming off a career-high 14 1/2-sack season at a position of dire need, but he's also on the back end of his career and wouldn't seem to fit the Lions' long-term plans.

The Lions aren't going to be big spenders in free agency this offseason. They'll sign a few guys, maybe add a starter or two, but we're talking someone like Vincent Fuller (Tennessee's nickel back last year), not Peppers. The Lions want to get younger and more physical on defense, and the way to do that is through the draft. Ideally, they could trade down a few spots from No. 1, but that's unlikely to happen. Under no circumstance can I see them trading that pick for a player like Peppers.

Does Gunther Cunningham as defensive coordinator mean the Lions will run the Tampa 2 defense next year?
If he hasn't already, Cunningham, Kansas City's defensive coordinator, is expected to meet with Schwartz in Mobile, Ala., in the next day or two. Chances are he'll be a Lion by the end of the week. Though Kansas City ran a version of the Tampa 2 defense last year, that's more a reflection of coach Herm Edwards' style than Cunningham's. Cunningham, 62, is known for his pressure packages and likely will adhere Schwartz's philosophies as defensive coordinator. That means you'll see some Cover 2 next year, as with any team, but that won't be the dominant scheme.

Who would you take with the No. 1 draft pick?
The most common of all questions this time of year .. This, of course, is subject to change over the next few months as I canvass people much more knowledgeable in personnel evaluation than me, but right now if I was running the Lions I'd have Alabama left tackle Andre Smith atop my draft board. Smith comes with a few character issues after being suspended for the Sugar Bowl, but the two times I saw him play this year he was flat out dominant. Beyond that, he'd cost slightly less than taking a quarterback No. 1, and I'm not sold on Georgia's Matt Stafford and don't have enough info on USC's Mark Sanchez to trumpet either as the top pick. Defensively, I don't think there's a player worthy of 1-1, though I'm a big Rey Maualuga fan (despite reports of his stock dropping from Day 1 at the Senior Bowl). If Sam Bradford had declared, he'd be my No. 1 choice. As it stands, I think the Lions can land a quarterback like Rhett Bomar in the later rounds.

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Lions think they're close?

Admittedly I'm reading between the lines here, but I wonder what Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer's comments Monday from the Senior Bowl mean for the future of the Lions.

In case you missed it, Frazier told the Free Press and News that he and Lions management “had a difference of opinion in how we saw the current Lions and going forward.” He didn't specify what the difference was, but presumably it had something to do with how close the Lions are to contention after going 0-16. Just a guess here, but Frazier, who played the Lions twice last year, thinks the team is further away than general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand, who helped Matt Millen assemble the talent at hand.

If Mayhew and Co. think the Lions are just a few pieces away, maybe that means Daunte Culpepper will be back next year. Surely being that close they wouldn't want to start anew with a rookie quarterback, who, unless he's Matt Ryan, will need a year or two to develop, thus keeping the Lions in their state of perpetual rebuild. (Remember, Mayhew signed Culpepper with at least one eye towards 2009: Get him in the system, knock the rust off and let him rip next year.)

Maybe that means they think they can add starters with picks 1, 20 and 33, and with a year of seasoning that'll be enough to challenge for the NFC North in 2010. No other team in the division is in great shape for the future, though the Packers at least have their presumed franchise quarterback aboard in Aaron Rodgers.

Without question it means the front office is comfortable going forward with the scouts and processes already in place to evaluate talent. An assistant general manager still needs to be added, but only one scout was let go since the end of the season.

Mayhew reiterated last week that the Lions need to “upgrade this roster.” How much and in what areas remains to be seen.

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Bates to USC; who's the next OC?

New Lions coach Jim Schwartz might need a Plan C.

According to The National Football Post, Broncos quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will be the next offensive coordinator at USC. Bates, who called plays for the Broncos last year, was believed to be the leading candidate to join Schwartz's staff as offensive coordinator.

There also are conflicting reports on whether Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, another reported candidate to be Detroit's OC, will remain in New York now that he's been passed over the head-coaching job there. Schottenheimer has one year left on his contract.

If Schottenheimer stays - or if he goes elsewhere as coordinator - Schwartz will have to explore other options during his time at the Senior Bowl this week. One name that hasn't been linked to the Lions but would make sense, especially if they decide to keep Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, is former Rams coach Scott Linehan.

It might be tough to lure Linehan to Detroit - he turned down an opportunity to join his favorite team growing up the 49ers last week, telling the San Jose Mercury News "the timing is just not right" - but he spent three seasons as offensive coordinator in Minnesota, including Culpepper's most successful season of 2004 (when he threw for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns). He might be persuaded to re-establish his reputation with a quarterback he's familiar with.

The Lions have to decide before free agency whether to keep Culpepper and pay him a $2.5 million roster bonus.

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What might have been: Rodgers-Cromartie

Now that a new coach and new GM are in place, it's almost time to close the book on the Matt Millen era in Detroit. But not without one more example of how even Millen's best luck backfired.

Last winter when the Lions were shopping Shaun Rogers, Millen agreed to trade the discontented defensive tackle to Cincinnati for third- and fifth-round picks. It was a fair deal considering some of the offseason's other moves: Kris Jenkins to the Jets for a three and a five, Corey Williams to the Browns for a second-rounder.

When that deal fell through at the last minute, Millen rekindled talks with Cleveland and shipped Rogers across Lake Erie for cornerback Leigh Bodden and a third-rounder. It seemed like a fortunate turn at the time for the Lions, at least in the context of having to move Rogers. They got a starter at their biggest position of need, a cornerback coming off a career-high six-interception season, and an extra draft choice to beef up the roster.

A year later, the Lions might be kicking themselves that first deal didn't go through. Bodden is coming off a mediocre season and due an $8.6-million roster bonus next month that, if declined, will make him a free agent. Andre Fluellen, drafted with Cleveland's pick, looks like an NFL contributor, though it remains to be seen how he'll fit in new coach Jim Schwartz's system. And the nuts and bolts of that trade may have caused the Lions to pass up Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, a future star at cornerback who you can see in the Super Bowl next week.

Remember last February, when draft speculation centered around the Lions taking a cornerback with their first-round pick? Had Bodden not been acquired, that still would have been a possibility (unless you believe the Lions were comfortable with Brian Kelly, Travis Fisher, Keith Smith and Stanley Wilson as their corners). Instead, they didn't take a defensive back until the seventh round and went with right tackle Gosder Cherilus, after trading down two spots, at the top of the draft.

This isn't to bash Cherilus, who had some up-and-down moments as a rookie but should start for some time at right tackle. But Rodgers-Cromartie had four interceptions in 11 starts as a rookie and two more (plus seven break-ups) in three postseason games, when he's been one of the best defenders on the field each time he's played. (A kick returner in college, Rodgers-Cromartie would have been extra enticing on draft day for his position flexibility.)

With no Cherilus, George Foster would have started at right tackle last year and the Lions still would have finished 0-16. Then, with the No. 1 overall pick this April, there'd be little doubt what they should do – draft left tackle Andre Smith of Alabama, move Jeff Backus to right tackle and spend the rest of your picks putting a supporting cast around Rodgers-Cromartie, Ernie Sims and the one or two other keepers on defense.

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Conference championship picks

If the Arizona Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles today, the Lions, Saints and Browns will stand as the only pre-expansion teams never to have played in a Super Bowl. Not good company.

I don't think it's going to happen, though. The Cardinals lucked into six turnovers last week, and the hot Eagles won't be as generous today. Plus, Philadelphia's secondary is built to stop Arizona's passing game. This is why they paid big bucks for Asante Samuel last offseason.

In fact, I've got an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl headed our way as I'm taking Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. That defense is too good. Not that Baltimore's isn't, but the Ravens are about to run out of gas.

Here's my picks against the spread. One last chance for me to embarrass myself in two weeks.

NFC championship game
Philadelphia minus-3 1/2 over ARIZONA

AFC championship game
PITTSBURGH minus-6 over Baltimore

Record: 2-2 last week, 125-124-6 overall


4-3 defense likely to return

New Lions coach Jim Schwartz didn't commit to running a particular defensive scheme at his introductory press conference Friday. As defensive coordinator in Tennessee the past eight years, he said he used multiple looks depending on his personnel.

“We never really pigeon-holed ourselves that way,” Schwartz said. “We said we're going to do what the players do best, we're going to try to custom-build this every year and every year it's going to be a little bit different.

“In the division we played in we had Indianapolis, which was a great passing team, (and) Jacksonville, which was a giant, power-running team. We had to have the ability to be able to change during the season. I think the same principles apply here. I've been very fortunate, like I said, to have seen the way that a Bill Belichick has done things, Jeff Fisher, Marvin Lewis when I was in Baltimore, and what it's done is, I've developed my own style so-to-speak and am not married to a blueprint.”

General manager Martin Mayhew said when the Lions set out to hire a coach they initially wanted someone with background in a 4-3 defense. Then they interviewed candidates like Dolphins assistant head coach Todd Bowles and Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and became believers the 3-4 could work, too.

“If you look at it really from a scheme, X-and-O standpoint, it's not that big a difference,” Mayhew said. “It makes a difference in terms of personnel, who's on your team, how many D-linemen you have, how many linebackers, but it can be very similar.”

I wrote earlier this week that most every player worth keeping on the defensive side of the ball could fit into either scheme. That's true still (though I think Ernie Sims is much better suited for the 4-3 because of his size and some of his struggles in pass coverage), but the Lions were built with the 4-3 in mind and that seems to be the quickest road back to respectability. Recent draft picks like Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen wouldn't go to waste, and Cliff Avril could stay at defensive end where he showed promise and wouldn't be as big a liability in coverage.

Mayhew said he'd like a final decision in place by February's combine, when teams start delving deeper into the background of potential draft picks. My guess is the decision's already been made, that Schwartz will stick to his base 4-3 but continue to shape and mold it as he sees fit.

“They (did) a lot of different things in Tennessee,” Mayhew said. “They play zone, they play man, they zone blitz, they play (cover) 2, they do it all. That's what I like about him.”

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Next up: A personnel man

Now that the Lions have hired a head coach, they can concentrate on filling the vacancy in their front office.

New general manager Martin Mayhew said Friday he wants an experienced talent evaluator as his right-hand man and hopes to have that person in place in the coming weeks. That likely would exclude anyone currently under contract as most teams won't let their scouts/front-office executives go until after the draft.

“We're going to build the position around the person's strengths, whoever that person is,” Mayhew said. “It'll happen over the next few weeks and we've been talking to a lot of qualified candidates. So we'll add some experienced people, some seasoned people to our team, but we feel good about our group right now.”

Among the names reported to be under consideration are former Browns general manager Phil Savage, former Jaguars vice-president of player personnel Shack Harris and ex-Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist.

“Experience is good,” Mayhew said. “I respect that, and we want experienced people who've been through a lot, seen a lot, done a lot of trades, been through a lot of drafts, seen a lot of players. I think that's important.”

Mayhew said April's draft, where the Lions have five of the first 82 picks, is “probably the most important draft that we've ever had as an organization.”

“So I think it would be important for that person to have some background in college scouting, to have done some college scouting and to be very competent in that area,” he said. “But again, it could be somebody with a primarily pro-scouting background. But it will be somebody who is a solid evaluator and who has a history and a good track record.”

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Schwartz not set on drafting a QB

The most memorable line from Jim Schwartz's meet-the-media session Monday came when I asked him what his plans would be with the No. 1 pick.

"I think the important thing is finding the right person," Schwartz said. "I don't think you tie yourself into positions. Obviously there's a lot of needs. I think obviously the most important position on the team is quarterback. It's probably time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne."

Schwartz's Layne comment got lots of play, but the meat of what he said actually came a couple lines earlier about finding the right person. Look, he's a realist, a numbers guy. He knows that the best teams in this league usually have the best quarterback. But that doesn't mean he's dead set on taking a signal caller No. 1.

If Georgia's Matt Stafford or USC's Mark Sanchez fits the profile of a franchise quarterback, Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew will have a hard time passing him up. If not, if they like Ball State's Nate Davis or Sam Houston State's Rhett Bomar better, you can bet they'll draft a quarterback in the later rounds.

Schwartz has a background in scouting (three years with Bill Belichick in Cleveland) and his voice will be heard in draft preparation (though Mayhew, as he should, will make the ultimate decision). But he also has roots as a defensive coordinator (the last eight years) and he saw up close in Tennessee how a team can win with a veteran quarterback and a strong defense.

If neither Stafford nor Sanchez is worth the money at No. 1 - and expect the Lions to float plenty of test balloons that they are as they try to deal that first overall pick - then the Lions will go with experience under center and use the top of the draft to build the best defense they can.

Jim Schwartz it is

The Lions have come to an agreement with Jim Schwartz to be their next head coach, the team announced minutes ago. Schwartz is expected to be introduced at a press conference tomorrow.

Defensive coordinator the past eight seasons for the Tennessee Titans, Schwartz replaces Rod Marinelli, who was fired a day after the Lions finished the NFL's first ever 0-16 season.

In a press conference during his second interview with team personnel Monday, Schwartz said he was intrigued by rebuilding the Lions.

"I don't shy away from a challenge and I think that it's important in the NFL to have that attitude on a yearly basis," he said. "Where we were in Tennessee last year is not where we were a few years ago, and one of the best feelings in sports is turning something around. Obviously, the system in the NFL affords us the capability of turning something around."

Dolphins assistant head coach Todd Bowles was the other finalist for the job, and Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray were among those also interviewed.

"After an extensive search that included several highly-qualified coaches, we are thrilled that Jim Schwartz will become our team’s head coach," team president Tom Lewand said in a release. "Martin (Mayhew) and I believe that Jim’s qualifications and vision will lead this organization on the field toward our goal of becoming a championship football team."

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Going 3-4 not an issue for Lions

If the Lions hire Todd Bowles as their next head coach, they'll become the first team in the NFC North to run the 3-4 defense. And it could happen sooner than you think.

While conventional wisdom suggests it takes two offseasons to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme (in order to acquire the right personnel), the Lions are so deficient on that side of the ball they might be able to make the change this year.

“I would be working towards (a 3-4 defense) as long as I have the personnel,” Bowles said at his press conference Tuesday. “Mike Tomlin's a perfect example. Going to Pittsburgh from a Tampa 2 scheme, they have a 3-4 scheme in place but obviously he was smart enough to know that was working for them and he didn't mess with it. Without having a defense in place here, you have to see what the personnel looks like on that side of the ball and you have to draft and do free agency accordingly.”

True enough, the Lions are transforming a crack house in the slums, not a mansion on Lakeshore Drive. They have only a handful of keepers on defense no matter what scheme they run, and most would be able to play in any system.

Cory Redding played undertackle last year in the Tampa 2, but he'd be a sturdy end in a 3-4 defense. Ditto Andre Fluellen. Cliff Avril showed promise as an end, but if he has any coverage ability he'd likely switch to outside linebacker in the 34. In the secondary, safeties Daniel Bullocks and Gerald Alexander would play in both systems (though the Lions would like an upgrade there). And at cornerback, the Lions don't have much in the way of talent no matter what they play.

The way I see it, the biggest issues in going to a 3-4 are nosetackle, where the undersized Lions don't have a space-eater in the middle, and linebacker, where Ernie Sims (the only must-keep) is a perfect fit on the weak-side in a 4-3 but might have trouble adjusting to the 3-4. Sims is a good player who had a bad year, but he's a top-10 pick with the talent the Lions can't afford to give up on. That's a hard evaluation general manager Martin Mayhew has to make if Bowles and his defense come aboard.

Regardless what scheme they run, expect the Lions to restock their defense in April's draft. If they use four of their first five choices on defensive players (all within the first 82 picks), they should come away with no fewer than three starters. Add a second-tier (but hole-filling) free agent or two to the mix and the Lions will be a better team no matter what system they run.

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Bowles meets with the media

The Lions trotted out Dolphins assistant head coach Todd Bowles, the second finalist for their head-coaching job, to meet the media Tuesday. Bowles said he's scheduled to interview in St. Louis later this week, but quipped of the Lions, “This is the only job I want.” Other highlights of his 14-minute press conference:

• On what he learned working with Bill Parcells: “We go back from the Redskins and the Giants playing days so we always had a rivalry. We're both from New Jersey. I was with him with the Jets and again for a few years in Dallas. From the time I got to the Jets he told me I'd be a head coach in this league and he taught me accordingly. He kept me by his side, he taught me step by step the structure of how to put a team in place and keep a team in place and not be a one-hit wonder.”

• On the dramatic turnarounds he's been a part of in Cleveland and Miami: “I know the blueprint of turning a team around. I've taken the long road. I've been on good teams in Dallas, bad teams in Cleveland and a bad team in Miami last year that turned it around. I think I bring insight and a blueprint to turn it around.”

• On the blueprint the Dolphins followed this year, when they won the AFC East title a year after going 1-15: “The first thing you have to do is you have to condition the players mentally to buy into the system. They buy into the system and they believe in the system then you have a blueprint to work on that. The second part is emotionally. You have to make them forget about 1-15 or 0-16. When we were in Miami last year we were 1-15, what we brought to the players was we're trying to win the AFC East. When you're 1-15, mentally you're down. I don't care how you slice it, between the media, you losing every week, your neighbors calling you losers and everything, you're damaged mentally. You have to get past that mental part and you have to just get down to work and you have to give them a goal to shoot for and that's winning the NFC North.”

• On how big a challenge it is taking over an 0-16 team: “It's not that bad. ... You can't gut 53 players on the roster and draft 53 new ones. You have solid, foundation-type football players here. You have to weed out the bad ones, you have to make the other ones buy into the organization. You as a coach have to understand between the personnel part and the team part, you have to bring those two together as far as finding the right player.”

• Describing his offensive philosophy: “You have to run the ball because that keeps the defense off the field, that gets time of possession correct, that makes us wear the other team down and that wins ballgames. Passing game looks nice. Calvin's a great receiver, you have to get him the ball. You have a great complimentary passing game, but at the same time you must be able to run the ball in this league to get by.”

• On if he'd play a 3-4 or 4-3 defense: “Defensively I've come from a 3-4 scheme, I've been in a 4-3 scheme. You want to have the personnel to kind of fit what you do. If you don't, you can have a hybrid version of a 4-3 until you can get a 3-4 scheme in place. But I've coached in a 4-3, too, so if the personnel like Ernie (Sims) or (Cliff) Avril or those guys don't fit in a 3-4 we'll play a 4-3.”

• What he'd do with the first pick in the draft: “We sit down and we try to make a collaborative effort of what's best for our team. There's going to be a great player there obviously being the first pick in the draft, but he has to be great for our team. We have to fill a lot of voids, we have to find out which void we have to fill first, so I'll sit down with Mr. (Tom) Lewand and Mr. (Martin) Mayhew if I'm the coach and we'll discuss what we need to do.”

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Mays staying at USC

You'll see plenty of players declaring for the draft in the next couple of days, but one name that won't be on that list is USC safety Taylor Mays.

USC coach Pete Carroll told The Daily Breeze Monday that Mays will return for his senior season. I don't think the Lions would have seriously considered him with the No. 1 overall pick – no defensive back has gone No. 1 since Gary Glick in 1956 – but he was a possibility had Detroit been able to trade down.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy also said Monday he was going back to school. That's two potential top-10 choices off the board.

Plenty could change over the next 3 1/2 months, but as much help as the Lions need defensively I still think Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or Alabama left tackle Andre Smith ends up being the choice.

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Schwartz speak II

More from Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's press conference today. Schwartz was in town for his second interview with the Lions. He's been reported as the leading candidate to replace Rod Marinelli and is the first person to get a second interview. Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is expected in town on Tuesday, according to an report, and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier also could get second interviews.

• On his defensive philosophy: “The best way I can describe our defensive philosophy is multi-dimensional, do what it takes to win that week. ... This came from (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick my first years in the NFL, he always talked about making an opponent play left-handed. If a racquetball player has a good forehand, well make him hit his backhand. Our philosophy is sort of the same way. If it's a good run team, force him to throw the ball to win. If it's a good pass team, force him to run the ball to win. In order to do that you have to have multidimensional players. We'll do what our players do the best.”

• Disputing the reputation that he doesn't like to blitz: “We blitzed quite a bit back in 2002-03. Our team was a little bit different. I think one of the most important things in coaching is putting your players in the right positions for a chance for them to be successful. Quite honestly, our front four could get pressure without blitzing (this year) which allowed us to do a lot more in the back end. If our front four wasn't as good, we would have probably blitzed more. I think the only person that wanted to see Albert Haynesworth dropping back on a zone dog or Kyle Vanden Bosch dropping back on a zone dog was the opposing quarterback. And we tried not to let that happen very often.”

• On whether he has a staff picked out if he gets the Lions job: “I haven't been presumptuous enough to have a pocket staff, so to speak. There's some people I highly respect in the NFL, some people that time would be of the essence, but I'd rather not get into any more of that.”

• On how much his background as a scout – he worked three years in the Browns' personnel department – has helped him as a coach: “Probably the most. I think any coach should probably start in scouting because a coach's focus is so short term. We're worried about winning the game on Sunday and experience in scouting, you learn the long-term picture, you learn how the team's built.”

• Describing his relationship with Patriots VP of player personnel Scott Pioli, who's a candidate to take over as GM in Kansas City and likely would have Schwartz on his short list of head-coaching candidates: “Scott and I cut our teeth together in Cleveland. At the time we didn't realize it, but that was an all-star cast, guys working 100 hours a week, living in crappy apartments, making no money. But that made us all who we are in the NFL and back in '93 or '94, and we all have Bill Belichick to thank for that.”

• More on the importance of having a good quarterback: “Quarterback is the trump card of all positions in the NFL. If you have a good quarterback you can cover up a lot of other areas on your team. If you don't have a great quarterback you have to be really good in a lot of other areas. If you ask anybody in the NFL, most important position, it's going to be quarterback.”

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Schwartz speak

Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz spoke with reporters for about 20 minutes while in town for his second interview with the Lions. A few highlights of his media session:

• His impressions of the Lions talent level: “Obviously some holes in the roster, no different though than probably half the teams in the NFL at this time of the year that are evaluating the roster saying we have these top five needs on offense, these top five needs on defense. I think the thing that's important are things that Martin (Mayhew) and Tom (Lewand) and I have talked about as far as having a plan and sticking with that plan and building the team from the inside out. I think continuity would be very important.”

• On his background as a defensive coordinator: “I'm a defensive guy, but I think if you ask around the NFL, most defensive coaches, particularly that have been around it for a while have a good feeling for offense because we know what's hard to defend, we know how it affects the defense. It's a total team game. I think defensive coaches, I think if you're good on defense you'll be consistent from week to week.”

• What he likes about the Lions job: “You're not going to find a more passionate fan base in the NFL than Detroit. You talk about ownership and a commitment to winning, I think that's important. Without those two things, I don't think it's an attractive opportunity. I think Detroit offers both of those.”

• On what his preference would be with the No. 1 pick: “I think the important thing is finding the right person. I don't think you tie yourself into positions. Obviously there's a lot of needs. I think obviously the most important position on the team is quarterback. It's probably time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne.”

• On if he'd run the defense or hire a coordinator: “I think a head coach's role is to manage the game. I think the head coach's role is to make sure everybody's on the same page and to coach the coaches from Monday to Saturday night or Sunday morning, and then to manage the game. I know from my perspective I work about 100 hours a week and my focus is totally the opponents offense, where (Titans coach Jeff) Fisher works the same number of hours but his focus is offense, defense, special teams, media relations, different things. He's always deferred to the defensive staff because of our expertise. I think I'd follow the same model.”

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Shack a candidate in Detroit?

An report over the weekend said former Jaguars vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris had been contacted about joining Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand in the Lions front office.

I spoke with Harris this morning and he said he talked with Mayhew shortly after his appointment as new Lions general manager, congratulating him on the promotion, but that no other discussions have taken place.

“The conversation we had is he is basically focusing in on interviewing coaches and mentioned some of the things he had in mind, but we haven't had any detailed conversations,” Harris said.

The Lions are expected to hire some sort of assistant general manager to help make over one of the least talented rosters in the NFL. Asked what he was looking for in his next stop, Harris said, “What I'm doing right now is trying to decide what's the next direction for me.”

“I certainly enjoy what I was doing and if an opportunity like (the one I had in Jacksonville) came along I certainly would be interested,” he said. “But right now I just have to keep all of my options open.”

And his timetable for getting back into football?

“It kind of depends on my options,” he said.

I've written it before, but I think Harris is a strong candidate to join the Lions. He's had experience – and more importantly success  – building the type of physical, defensive-minded team Mayhew wants at two different stops. As director of pro personnel for the Ravens, his handprints were on the signings of veterans like Rod Woodson and Trent Dilfer who helped Baltimore win its Super Bowl, and as VP with Jaguars he helped unearth draft gems like Maurice Jones-Drew (second round, 2006) and Bobby McCray (seventh, 2004).

As an added bonus, Harris worked with Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Baltimore. Schwartz, who's reported to have his second interview with the Lions today, coached outside linebackers with the Ravens before moving on to Tennessee 10 years ago.

Harris declined to comment about any of the Lions' potential coaching hires.

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Lions would be wise to act fast

The vacancies are starting to fill. Could the Lions be next?

Josh McDaniels is apparently headed to Denver to be the next Broncos coach, and according to ESPN the Lions have a second-round interview scheduled Monday with Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Schwartz hasn't interviewed anywhere else, but he might also be a candidate in St. Louis. Two other names on the Lions' short list - Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier - also are in high demand. Spagnuolo, who Fox Sports reported earlier is a finalist for the Lions job, could have a second interview with the Jets this week. Frazier has a second-round interview with the Rams set for Tuesday in California, a league source said.

I would never suggest rushing into a hire, especially one of this magnitude, but the Lions could find themselves in a precarious position if their top targets start coming off the board. If Schwartz is their guy, there's no sense parading in other candidates to meet with owner William Clay Ford. Make him an offer tomorrow.

If they have eyes for Spagnuolo or Frazier - or any of the other men they've interviewed - that person better be on a plane soon. If not, they might just lose out on the top choice.

Lions mum with candidates

If the Lions are down to a final two of Jim Schwartz and Steve Spagnuolo, they haven't told their other coaching candidates as much. Of course, that doesn't mean they're not, either.

If the Rams hire Schwartz and the Jets hire Spagnuolo, the Lions wouldn't want their third choice – or fans, for that matter – knowing he's No. 3 on the list. Still, at some point you'd expect the franchise to pass on word to its candidates it's going in another direction. That way they can pursue/focus on other job opportunities.

As of now, a league source tells me that isn't the case.

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Spags available, too

The Lions coaching search should move into high gear now that every candidate they've interviewed is capable of being hired.

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo became the latest available assistant when his team lost to the Eagles moments ago in the NFC playoffs. The Lions interviewed Spagnuolo in the New Jersey area last week, and he's eligible to visit Detroit now to check out the facilities and meet with team brass. In fact, Fox's Jay Glazer reported today that Spagnuolo and Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who lost Saturday, should both be expecting second interviews this week.

The Lions will have some competition if they want to hire Spagnuolo. He's also interviewed with the Jets and Broncos, and according to reports he'd prefer to stay out east. Regardless, there's no reason the Lions can't wrap their search up soon. They still might want to speak with Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, whose game is ongoing right now, but with a number of qualified names already in the hopper they'd be better off making a move soon.

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Glazer: Schwartz or Spagnuolo

Fox's Jay Glazer reported earlier today that Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is on a plane right now heading to Detroit for his second interview. Makes sense that the Lions want to talk to him again, and the fact that they would bring him in so soon after Tennessee's playoff loss to Baltimore would seem to suggest they're interested in making a hire quickly (and that it could very well be him).

Glazer said if the Giants beat the Eagles today, “I think the Lions make a strong move towards Jim Schwartz as early as this week.” If the Giants lose, Glazer said the Lions will bring Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo “back for a second interview as well and then it could go down to those two guys.”

I can't confirm or refute those reports, but I'm chasing them and will share what I know when I know it.

Schwartz available; Shack, too

The Lions won't have to wait to hire Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz if they want him as their next head coach.

Schwartz, who interviewed last week during Tennessee's first-round playoff bye, is eligible to be hired for any head-coaching vacancy now that the Titans have been eliminated from the playoffs. Had Tennessee beat Baltimore yesterday, teams would have had to wait until the Titans' postseason was over to offer Schwartz a job.

So far, it's my understanding that Schwartz has only interviewed with the Lions. The Browns were granted permission to speak with the 42-year-old assistant, but canceled due to scheduling problems. The Rams also might be interested in Schwartz, but have not moved to interview him yet. Last year, Schwartz was a candidate for jobs in Miami, Washington and Atlanta, where new Rams general manager Billy Devaney was on the search committee.

As I pointed out in a blog posting a couple days ago, anecdotal evidence suggests the earlier a team makes a hire in the offseason the more chance that coach has of success. (In 2006, the five coaches hired before Rod Marinelli all made the playoffs. Marinelli plus two of the four coaches hired after him already have been fired.)

If the Lions are comfortable with their pool of candidates – Schwartz, Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Dolphins assistant head coach Todd Bowles, etc. – there's no sense waiting to interview a candidate like Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, a hot name who might prefer another job (Jets, Rams) but who might not be able to accept any position until February.

Also, reported that veteran executives Phil Savage (ex-Browns GM) and Shack Harris (former VP of player personnel with the Jaguars) have been contacted about joining the Lions' front office. I mentioned Harris as a possibility before when I thought Brian Billick was a candidate to be head coach. I still think he (and Savage, for that matter) would make a great addition for their experience dealing with personnel matters. Harris was a part of building winners in Baltimore and Jacksonville. He helped uncover late-round gems in both places and helped build two pretty good defenses. If he's interested, the Lions should snap him up.

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On Marinelli, Barry and Gray

Didn't get a chance to weigh in on the new homes that Rod Marinelli and Joe Barry found earlier today because I was working on a story we're running in tomorrow's paper about a civil suit filed against coaching-candidate Jerry Gray, covering the Michigan State-Kansas basketball game and making what turned out to be a 2 1/2-hour drive home from East Lansing on snow-covered roads.

More on Marinelli and Barry in a minute, but first about Gray: Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrence McGee sued Gray, financial adviser Craig Curry and agent Terry Bolar two years ago, alleging that Curry bilked him out of more than $1 million and covered up the theft by forging phony documents. Gray, the Bills defensive coordinator at the time, is accused as a conspirator.

A league source said Saturday the Lions were familiar with the pending litigation before interviewing Gray Jan. 2 and it did nothing to eliminate him as a candidate. Lions spokesperson Bill Keenist declined comment.

“We're not commenting on any reports regarding coaching candidates,” Keenist said. “That wouldn't change anything about our willingness to comment or not comment.”

Gray, who played with new Lions general manager Martin Mayhew for one season in Tampa Bay, was a college teammate of Curry's at Texas. According to filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Texas, they were also best men in each other's weddings.

Now the secondary coach of the Washington Redskins, Gray did not return a phone call seeking comment Saturday but his attorney, Jared LeBlanc, called McGee's claims “completely without merit.”

“There's thousands of documents in this case and there is not a shred of evidence and absolutely no support for these allegations,” LeBlanc said.

Specifically, McGee claims that Gray “had something to gain financially by interceding” in his “business and financial affairs” with Curry and Bolar. In one instance, he alleges that Gray called him out of a position meeting in Buffalo to discuss why he fired Bolar, then directed him to go see former Bills general manager Tom Donohoe, where a contract extension that Bolar negotiated was ready to be signed.

A trial is set for May.

Now, about Marinelli and Barry, it's good to see both of them land jobs this early in the offseason, proof that they're not as bad of coaches as some around here think. Marinelli was hired as assistant head coach/defensive line coach with the Bears, where I have no doubt he'll have that talented but underachieving line humming next year. Barry, according to a report on, is set to join the Seahawks as linebackers coach, the role he filled in Tampa Bay before becoming defensive coordinator with the Lions.

Interestingly enough, the Lions play both Chicago (twice) and Seattle next year.

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Playoff picks

If the Lions still want to interview defensive coordinators Rex Ryan (Baltimore) and Ron Rivera (San Diego), they'll have a chance after this weekend's playoffs are over.

Ryan's Ravens are a trendy pick to make the Super Bowl the way they've been playing, but I don't see rookie quarterback Joe Flacco winning a road playoff game for the second time this year. Tennessee will miss center Kevin Mawae dearly, but Jim Schwartz – another Lions coaching candidate – and that Titans defense are both good enough and healthy enough to win a close game.

In the other AFC playoff game, Darren Sproles had his day in the sun last week. This game's about Pittsburgh, still my pick to win it all. The Steelers, like the Titans, will beat their playoff opponent for the second time this year.

The rest of my playoff picks, as always against the spread and with home team in all caps:

Saturday's games
Baltimore plus-3 over TENNESSEE
CAROLINA minus-9 1/2 over Arizona

Sunday's games 
NY GIANTS minus-4 over Philadelphia
PITTSBURGH minus-6 over San Diego

Record: 2-2 last week; 123-122-6 overall


The sooner the better for next Lions coach

One thing to consider with the Lions coaching search about to extend into its third week – the longer it takes, the more trouble the new coach will have putting together his staff.

Rod Marinelli, fired last week after an 0-16 season, said in his dismissal press conference that he initially underestimated that process when he was hired in 2006. There's no doubt that contributed to the Lions' dismal 10-38 record during his tenure.

“I thought it would be a little bit easier for me,” Marinelli said. “The first year there was 10 jobs open, and it was a little bit more difficult than I thought and I might have moved too quick at times on some picks.”

One example: Marinelli hoped to hire Mike Tomlin to coordinate his defense. Problem was, Tomlin joined new Vikings coach Brad Childress' staff nine days before Marinelli took over the Lions. Marinelli ended up with Donnie Henderson, then dismissed him after one season and replaced him with Joe Barry. The Lions ranked last in the league in defense the last two years, and Tomlin is now the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Marinelli also changed offensive coordinators after the 2007 season, firing Mike Martz and promoting Jim Colletto. He said last week he had no regrets about bringing Martz on board, though in retrospect that curious hire seemed to fly in the face of what he wanted to be on offense.

“I felt at that time it was no doubt about it the right choice,” Marinelli said. “It was just I moved quick on some of it. I looked back, if I had maybe taken more time I might not have made some of the changes my first and second year. I could have done a better job.”

Rewind to 2006, Marinelli was the sixth head coach introduced that offseason, on Jan. 19. Of the four coaches hired after him, two have been fired (St. Louis' Scott Linehan and Oakland's Art Shell) and a third (Buffalo's Dick Jauron) might have been this year if not for newly-signed contract extension. Only Houston's Gary Kubiak, introduced on Jan. 26, seems relatively stable in his job.

All five of the coaches hired before Marinelli have made the playoffs and only one, the Jets' Eric Mangini, has been fired. Mangini was re-hired as Browns head coach earlier this week.

“It's harder to hire and put together a staff than it ever has been so that magnifies the fact that the sooner you get it done the better off you are,” said former Giants coach Jim Fassel, who the Lions have not contacted about their vacancy. “You got to weigh it with the fact that we don't need to be in so much of a rush, but a guy can't just come in and say I got this guy, this guy, this guy.

“There's a lot of (potential assistants) out there. They can all disappear.”

New team president Tom Lewand said last week the Lions wanted to hire a new coach “as expeditiously as possible.” Already, they've interviewed at least six candidates – Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is at the practice facility right now – and could begin second interviews next week.

Of those candidates, only Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are still coaching in the playoffs and can't be hired until their seasons are over.

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More on Garrett, Bradford

I've been told a report that characterized Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett as “the No. 1 candidate” to be the next Lions head coach is “not true” by a person familiar with the search.

That's not to say Garrett couldn't eventually emerge as Rod Marinelli's replacement, but it's premature speculation for now. First, Martin Mayhew was serious when he said he was going to conduct a thorough and open-minded search. Second, any leaks about front-runners for the position are surely not coming from the Lions.

Beyond that, if Wednesday's report about Garrett's candidacy is true, that he initially rebuffed overtures to interview with the Lions only to change his mind because of a) his falling star in Dallas and b) the likelihood Detroit drafts Sam Bradford No. 1 overall, I think that would be cause for concern in Lions camp. It's January. The Lions aren't wed to taking a quarterback atop the draft (though it's a definite possibility). And more important, Mayhew and Co. want someone who will carry out  their philosophies and fit within the structure of the organization. I'm not sure an assistant who has to be convinced to interview, if that did indeed happen, is that type of guy.

When all is said and done, I still think the Lions end up with a defensive-minded coach, someone like Leslie Frazier or Jim Schwartz. To be fair, that falls in the speculation category, too.

BCS thoughts
Sitting here watching the Oklahoma-Florida game and the four most impressive NFL prospects to me have been Bradford, his Oklahoma teammates defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and tight end Jermaine Gresham, and Florida receiver Percy Harvin. All are underclassmen who've yet to declare their intentions, and the first two the Lions have to consider with their first-round picks.

Bradford may not have Matt Stafford's arm strength and some will mark him down for his interception right before half, but he's so accurate I believe he'll be special. Every throw he makes – no matter how easy or hard – gives his receiver a chance to make a play. Hidden yards are so big in the NFL, and Bradford always seems to lead his receiver just enough on that underneath crossing route or drop the fade to the spot where his guy can get it.

McCoy's a third-year sophomore and frankly I don't know how he stacks up with the rest of the draft-eligible tackles – he may be a top-five guy – but bottom line is he can play. To my untrained eye, he appears to have a great first step, enough so that he'll be a pass-rushing threat in the league, and his interception, as simple as it was, was a thing of beauty. Furthermore, tackle is a position of need even though the Lions spent two picks (Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen) on the position last year.

One other draft note, this doesn't totally rule out the Lions taking Stafford No. 1 overall, but I've been told they only scouted one Georgia home game this year – the Sept. 6 game against Central Michigan. That was before Mayhew took over as general manager. Now, a lot of scouting is done by watching film on campus mid-week (and I'm told the Lions were spotted once in that capacity, too), but for comparison's sake Lions representatives made it two USC home games to watch the Trojans' star-studded defense (and presumably quarterback Matt Sanchez) in person. Again, that may not mean anything, but it could, too.

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Garrett the frontrunner?

Here's the transcript from blogger and former NFL executive Michael Lombardi's appearance on Showtime's "Inside The NFL" yesterday. Lombardi said Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who interviewed Monday, has "emerged as the No. 1 candidate" to replace Rod Marinelli.

Lombardi reported that Garrett initially declined an interview request with the Lions but changed his mind in part because of the Cowboy's waning interest in their $3-million-a-year man.

Garrett also interviewed this week in Denver. He spoke with local television crews after his sit-down there, but hasn't returned any of my phone calls since the search process began.

"I think he's now emerged as the No. 1 candidate, as the guy that they think can turn their franchise around," Lombardi said.

Lombardi also said Garrett, an ex-quarterback and the Dolphins' former quarterbacks coach, is interested in the Lions' job because of the potential to draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick.

"The Lions need a quarterback desperately," Lombardi said. Bradford is "going to declare and come out, and I think that now makes Detroit a very attractive job. And I think with Sam Bradford -- and both you guys have young children. He's made a decision, 'How much better can I be going back to college or coming out in the draft?' I mean, what would you do?"