Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Awaiting transformation of Jim Schwartz
By Kevin Seifert
I was working in the Lambeau Field press box late Sunday night when I stole a glance at a bank of televisions I thought were broadcasting the Pittsburgh-Denver debut of "Sunday Night Football." At that moment, on five screens hanging side-by-side, there was Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz sprinting down the Ford Field sideline after San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh, left, and Jim Schwartz insist they have moved on from their postgame incident from last October.
The Steelers and Broncos were still playing, but already the hype machine had moved to the following Sunday night matchup between the Lions and 49ers. Both coaches have already taken steps to push past the narrative -- Harbaugh called it "irrelevant" Monday and Schwartz said it was "long in the past" -- and I'm inclined to comply. We had our fun with their confrontation last year, and it's hard to conceive of a way it will directly impact Sunday night's game.
(What? Will Schwartz really, really, really want to win instead of just really, really? Here's what would be funny: If Harbaugh walked onto the field with his left arm tied behind his back. Ah, well. ...)
If anything, this week provides Schwartz a perfect opportunity to follow through on a pledge he made after his first season as the Lions' coach: To lower his sideline blood pressure once the Lions were consistently competitive. Here is what he said in March 2010:
"When we get this team the way we need to be, you'll see a lot different me. Because if you look at me for all my years [as a defensive assistant/coordinator] in Tennessee, I wasn't that guy with veins popping out of my head. But you can only do that when you have good players and you have confidence in them and they know you really well. We're not at that point."
It stands to reason that a good team will give its coach fewer reasons to lose his mind. The Lions have compiled a 15-6 regular-season record since December 2010. Does that meet the standard Schwartz was referencing? I'm not sure, but I do know this: keeping his cool Sunday night would be a perfect response to a nation discussing his temper.
A better question is if there is any competitive advantage to a calm sideline demeanor. Some teams feed off the energy of the head coach, especially when their key players are young, and so I can understand how in some cases it might help to let your fiery side loose.
For what it's worth, my personal preference has always been for coaches who maintain composure amid the insanity of an NFL game. It seems to me a metaphor for the entire game: Poise is preferable to the alternative, especially when "fiery" becomes a euphemism for "poor decision making." I'm not sure that an outburst has ever led Schwartz to a bad sideline decision, but his players' outbursts have without a doubt led to bad choices between the white lines.
Even Schwartz admitted in 2010 that he respected the approach of Tony Dungy and Tom Landry, two of the most successful and stoic sideline coaches in NFL history. No one can change their personality, but this will be a good week to search for glimpses of Schwartz's presumed migration.