The Detroit Lions have been around for a very long time. All the way back to 1931 (actually 1930 when they were known as the Portsmouth Spartans). Over all those years, they've had a total of 26 head coaches, up to and including the current one -- Jim Caldwell.
But all the previous ones have/had something in common. Once their time in Detroit was over for whatever reason, none of them ever went on to become an NFL head coach elsewhere. This was understandable back in the early days when both coaches and players were all but anchored to one team -- nobody else wanted another's retreads -- but not so much in the last few decades where free agency has abounded.
True, for good reason (see win/loss records) the Lions haven't exactly been known as an elite franchise, but it seems odd that not a one -- zero -- former head coaches have landed elsewhere in the same position further on in their careers, given the good old boys coaching carousel we've seen of late. It's as if Detroit is the coaching graveyard. The last stop.
Let's go back 50 years ago, when Super Bowls first started, and examine the head coaching list of the Lions from then until the present, including their years and win/loss records.
Joe Schmidt. 1967-1972. 43 wins, 34 losses, 7 ties. He would be the last head coach (save one -- barely) to put up a career winning record, because then the clown parade began.
Don McCafferty. 1973. 6-7-1
Rick Forzano. 74-76. 15-17
Tommy Hudspeth. 76-77. 11-13
Monte Clark. 78-84. 43-61-1
Darryl Rogers. 85-88, 18-40
Wayne Fontes. 88-96. 66-67, though he gets credit for being the coach when the Lions won their only playoff game to date -- and dang it -- he almost made it to .500.
Bobby Ross. 97-00. 27-30
Gary Moeller. 2000 4-3. Mysteriously, though he had the first winning record for the Lions in almost 30 years, evidently the club couldn't have that -- so he got fired. Go figure.
Then back to their usual ways, only worse.
Marty Mornhinweg. 01-02 5-27
Steve Mariucci. 03-05 15-28
Dick Jauron. 05 1-4
Rod Marinelli. 06-08 10-38
Jim Schwartz. 09-13 29-51
None of the above ever went on to lead an NFL team again. And it hasn't been just the coaches. The Lions appear to sound the death knell for front office personnel as well.
Matt Millen presided over the club as chief honcho for 8 -- count em -- EIGHT disastrous years, before they finally figured out he wasn't and never would be the answer. He went on into the world of broadcasting and analyzing, but with good reason, no other club would touch him.
Not long ago, the tag team of Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, bean counter and general manager respectively, were given the boot. Ever hear about them resurfacing somewhere else in a similar capacity? Me neither.
It should be noted that a few former Lions' head coaches have indeed landed jobs elsewhere in the NFL as coordinators and the like, but were never put back in charge again.
While author of yesteryear Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne had her scarlet letter "A" for adulteress forever attached to her as a stigma of shame, it very much appears that once one has cycled through the not-so-hallowed halls of the Detroit Lions in a managerial position, they are branded with an "L", which is self-explaining and perhaps equally shameful.
In a somewhat surprising turn, the Lions were able to lure one Bob Quinn, former scouting guru of the highly successful New England Patriots into their general manager position to oversee the team and somehow turn it around. Why would he leave an elite organization to come to the land of losing? Many millions of dollars likely had something to do with it. Maybe not so surprising. Win or lose, that's a helluva raise and he's financially set for life. Who WOULDN'T take such an offer?
Quinn's tenure having just begun, the jury remains very much still out on how successful he will be over the long haul. He's fighting a whole lot of history and culture, and not exactly of the positive variety. Quinn's only 39, the same age as Tom Brady. That would seem quite young for a general manager position. If he crashes and burns like all the rest before him, will he too wind up in the graveyard long before he's even 50? It is said the good die young, but it hardly seems fair. Such a nice young man, and now he's stumbled into the NFL's version of the twilight zone or a Stephen King novel -- take your pick.
Since 2014, Jim Caldwell has patrolled the sidelines as the Lions head coach. He's yet to win a playoff game with them either, and finished up last season with the team getting blown out in their final four games. Ouch.
A lot of other NFL teams would start looking elsewhere for a head coach. This sort of stuff wouldn't fly in towns that are used to winning. The fans would demand his head.
But JC has posted a 25-18 record over his three seasons. True, .581 is a respectable, but not great winning percentage. Yet in Detroit, a coach with a -- gasp!! -- winning record, even if it's .501, is viewed as somewhat of a messiah. The bar has indeed sunk that low. OF COURSE they gave him a contract extension. This guy's the greatest thing since wireless remotes, DVRs, and smart phones in the eyes of the Motor City. It wouldn't be surprising to learn they already has plans in the works to have a statue of him made out of solid gold. Hmm. I wonder how long THAT would last in Detroit before it came up missing?
Nonetheless, Caldwell has done what so few others have done with the Lions before him. Win more than lose. Maybe a city-wide holiday named after him?
Still, his time isn't done yet. At 25-18, just a couple bad years, or one horrendous one, could put him right back in the career loser's column with all those listed above.
One thing is a good bet. When he's done in Detroit, however many more years it takes, chances are he'll never get another head coaching job either.
Because that's just the way it's always been.
The unforgiving graveyard awaits them all.