Much like Mike Shanahan in Washington, Jim Schwartz appeared to have cemented his status as the Lions' coaching savior by guiding his team to a playoff spot. Detroit bowed out rather meekly in the 2011 postseason, however, then collapsed en route to a 4-12 finish in 2012.
That meant the pressure was on to deliver results in 2013. It looked for all the world like Schwartz would come through as of Week 10, when the Lions completed a season sweep of Chicago to move to 6-3, good for sole possession of first in the NFC North. Everything unraveled afterward, leaving questions about the decision to build around QB Matthew Stafford, among other things.
Along the way, a report surfaced that the Lions' front office actually wanted to can Schwartz following the '12 season, only to be rebuffed by ownership on account of Schwartz's contract. Week 15 and 16 losses to the Ravens and Giants, respectively, made this conclusion an inevitable one.
• Tale of the Tape: 7-9 in 2013; 29-51 overall in five seasons with the Lions; 0-1 in the playoffs.
• What Went Wrong: How much time do you have?
Injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler giftwrapped the NFC North and left it sitting on Detroit's doorstep. The Lions rejected the offer with ferocity, losing three of their last four at home and six of their last seven overall to drop all the way to third place. The offense never really took off as most envisioned it would, with Stafford's development leveling off -- and then dipping. Likewise, the defense failed to ever find consistent footing in Schwartz's tenure, a disappointing development given Schwartz's background on that side of the football.
All that said, lingering discipline and effort issues may have been Schwartz's ultimate undoing. The Lions had myriad off-field troubles under Schwartz's watch and some high-profile miscues on the field, like Ndamukong Suh's infamous stomp. Even down to their final few games in 2013, they were plagued by preventable penalties likes offsides and delays of game.
There's almost no question that Schwartz would have returned in 2014 had the Lions found some way to win two more games and take the division title -- their first since 1993. But despite holding fourth-quarter leads in each of their last nine games, the Lions could not get that done. So they're starting over again.
• Roster Outlook: Money is going to be a huge issue this offseason, as the Lions already have upwards of $124 million on the books for 2014 with the cap projected to settle around $126 million. Even worse, there are not many obvious spots for them to create room. Releasing safety Louis Delmas and WR Nate Burleson would save about $11.5 million, but that's about it in terms of substantial savings.
The Lions have danced around the cap in recent years by renegotiating contracts with guys like Suh and Stafford. The result: Suh's cap hit for 2014 is set to top $22 million; Stafford is up over $15 million (and carries a whopping $43 million dead-money hit, in case you're pondering a trade or something equally far-fetched).
Fortunately for the next coach, the cupboard's not exactly bare here. The offense starts with Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, plus an offensive line that is much better than most people realize. Defensively, Suh and Nick Fairley will be back to anchor the line, flanked by 2013 first-round pick Ziggy Ansah.
The linebacking corps and secondary remain problem spots, as does the No. 2 receiver position. Losing TE Brandon Pettigrew to free agency would leave Detroit down a key starter there, too. • Possible replacements: Bill O'Brien, Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt, Jon Gruden.