Since Jim Schwartz was fired on Monday afternoon, much of the focus has been centered around who will replace him, and if that person must have an offensive background considering the struggles in the development of Matthew Stafford.
While there are plenty of quality candidates with an offensive background available, the best coaches might actually be tied to the defensive side of the ball. Even though Schwartz was himself a defensive coordinator, that cannot prevent Detroit from looking into a coach simply because he was on defense.
Two such candidates are Lovie Smith and Mike Zimmer. Both are former defensive coordinators who know a thing or two about instilling toughness and creating a dominating defense. They also know about pushing discipline on a roster, and both of those elements could be exactly what the Lions are looking for in the wake of Schwartz, who was more of a laid back players coach.
Detroit shouldn't be scared off by a defensive coach simply because they might not have an offensive pedigree. More than any other criteria, the Lions need to find themselves a leader first, and Smith and Zimmer qualify huge in that category. Smith created an atmosphere of success and stability in Chicago along with promoting winning expectations. He visited a Super Bowl, won several division titles and made a few runs to the NFC Championship game.
The key for both Zimmer and Smith's candidacy revolves around convincing the Lions that they have a serious plan for bringing Stafford along and establishing offensive accountability in Detroit. Smith has already taken a step forward in that department given speculation he'd hire Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator. Though Tedford's record of quarterback development is dubious at best, he could bring a fresh perspective to Detroit's offense and infuse some reinvention there.
Considering Zimmer has worked along side Jay Gruden in Cincinnati, perhaps another Detroit candidate, chances are he's had his mind opened as well to a few new offensive ways of thinking and could be persuaded to make offensive development a key component of his tenure with the Lions. Either coach, arguably, would be treated to more or as much offensive talent than they have seen during their career.
More than anything, Smith and Zimmer would bring the element of accountability to Detroit, and coming off Schwartz, whose discipline problems were long well noted, that's the most necessary element the next Lions' head coach should possess, previous defensive background or not.
For the 2014 Lions, true leadership from the coach is the most important factor.
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