Jim Schwartz is back to doing what he does best -- coaching defense. (Rick Osentoski/AP)
To replace Mike Pettine, who accepted the position of head coach of the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, the Buffalo Bills have hired former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz to be their defensive coordinator.
“We are excited to add a talented and accomplished coordinator in Jim Schwartz to our staff,” Bills head coach Doug Marrone said in a statement. “Schwartz has led aggressive and productive defensive units throughout his time in the NFL and we feel our defense will continue to improve under his leadership.”
The 47-year-old Schwartz had been the head man in Detroit since his hire on Jan. 15, 2009. He took over a team that had gone 0-16 in 2008 and managed a 29-51 record over five seasons before he was fired on Dec. 30-2013. 2011 was the team's only winning season under Schwartz, and while he was given credit for turning that franchise around early on, the team's 4-12 and 7-9 seasons in 2012 and 2013 sealed his fate. Reports indicated that some in the Lions' front office wanted to let Schwartz go after the 2012 campaign.
“I think if you go back to 2009, we really were starting from the very bottom going 0-16 and hiring a new coach," general manager Martin Mayhew said in the statement announcing Schwartz's termination. "We’re not at that point right now. We think we’re further advanced than that. We think we’ve come a long way and Coach Schwartz brought us a long way, but we think it’s time for somebody to take over to put us over the hump and take us to the next step.”
Schwartz's tenure in the Motor City was defined in part by underachievement and a lack of player discipline, but he's always known how to coach defense. He was the linebackers coach for the Cleveland Browns from 1993-1995 under Bill Belichick and the Baltimore Ravens' outside linebackers coach from 1996-1998 under Ted Marchibroda, but he really gained fame as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator from 2001-2008 under Jeff Fisher.
During Schwartz's eight-year span as defensive coordinator in Tennessee, the Titans finished fifth in rushing yards allowed per game (103.5) and sixth in third down conversion rate (36.1%), allowing just nine rushers over 100 yards in 64 home games. But as a head coach, and despite a great deal of talent on the defensive line and in the linebacker corps, Schwartz could never get his Detroit defense over the top. They ranked 32nd in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics in Schwartz's first year, moved up to 22nd in 2010 and ninth in 2011, but fell back to 24th in 2012 and finished 14th in 2013.
“Especially from a defensive lineman standpoint, we don’t usually pay attention to formations and down and distance," former Titans and Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said of Schwartz in 2008. "He has that broken down for us. We know what to expect out of certain formations, and what plays they can run. It’s unusual for a defensive line. But we have a quiz in front of the whole defense on Friday, and he expects everybody to know that.”
"I know the way this business is; we all do," Schwartz said about the many rumors regarding his job status following the Lions' 14-13 season-ending loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 29. The Lions finished their season 1-6 after starting 6-3. "We can’t worry about decisions that we don’t make. We have to try our very best week in and week out and if we do, then we can accept any decision that’s made. I’d certainly like to be back, I think we have unfinished business here. We’ve come a long way in these years but we still have some ground that we can make and I’m anxious to have a chance to be able to do that."
Schwartz has a degree in economics from Georgetown University and is one of the first coaches to embrace advanced metrics. He takes over a Bills defense that finished fourth in those same FO defensive metrics in 2013.
“Sometimes, that’s an easy thing for people in the media to use against you,” Schwartz once told the New York Times of his statistical approach. “ ‘Oh, yeah, he can’t adjust; he’s just a stats guy. They don’t really understand the game.’ That’s why sometimes, the whole stats thing is a dirty word.
“If you ask me, 'Would you rather have a great fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants guy on Sunday, a guy who can dial up plays and he’d be the best in league, or a guy who is best in the league from Monday to Saturday preparing,' I respect the guy who prepares. You’re not always going to be rolling 7, 7, 7 and be hot every week. But if you prepare well during the week, you’ll be consistent from week to week.”