NOVAK: Changes had to be made in Detroit, now in Ann Arbor
Christmas came early for Detroit Lions fans as just two days after another disappointing loss, the owners of the team fired both Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn.
It probably comes a year too late to save the career of Matthew Stafford. If Detroit was going to make a move toward being a playoff contender, it had to be this year. Now, with those dreams crushed, it is time for the Lions to move on not only from its head coach and general manager, but its star quarterback.
It is time to move Stafford to a team that could be a contender. They owe that much to their quarterback, who has to be one of the toughest individuals I have ever watched play professional football.
But we need to be honest with each other. Stafford’s best days are behind him. He is coming off back-to-back injuries to his back. When a new coach is hired, I doubt he is going to want to run an offense with an aging quarterback.
I would think that anyone the Lions hire will want someone more like a Patrick Mahomes, if there is such a thing, or a Lamar Jackson. You know, someone who can beat you with both his arm and his legs.
If the Ford family is serious about putting a contender on the field and giving their fans a chance to see the Lions play for division championships and a Super Bowl down the road, they need to take a big swing for the fences with both their coaching hire and a franchise player to build the team around.
Which brings me to another team that needs to make a change — the Michigan Wolverines.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think Jim Harbaugh would fail in Ann Arbor. I thought the hire was perfect because he would blend the old-style toughness of a Bo Schembechler with a style of offense that was more modern.
But what we got was a series of failures against Top 5 teams, against Top 10 teams and against its two biggest rivals — Michigan State and Ohio State. Despite having one of the biggest coaching payrolls in college football, the Wolverines have been a bust by any analytic you want to use.
Harbaugh has proven he can win in the National Football League. The Lions’ owner and its front office would be crazy now to make the short trip over to Ann Arbor and see if they could get Harbaugh to coach the Lions. Heck, Jim would not even have to uproot the family.
Now is where I want the Lions to really get crazy. I want them to keep playing the way they have been and lose their remaining games. If that does not get them near the top of the draft to pick this spring, then they need to bundle up whatever they can to get that No. 1 pick and draft Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson.
If possible, I would like them to keep some, if not all, of their current running backs because I think they have some great talent and depth there.
Maybe you could package Stafford with one of the wide receivers, or some defensive player that would peak the interest of whomever has that top choice.
Heck, trade away all your No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks for the next two seasons similar to what Kevin Costner did in the movie “Draft Day.” I do not even mind if Detroit cannot work out additional deals like Costner did. Just get Trevor Lawrence.
As a Lions fan, I can understand who people might think this is like reading the back of a shampoo bottle. You know, “wash, rinsed and repeat.” We have been doing this for so long that it just seems like the law of averages would catch up with the Lions.
We have seen other bad teams turn things around in a short period of time and become not only contenders, but champions. So it can be done. But if we are all honest with ourselves, it will not get done if the Ford family does not spend a lot of money to get a good head coach and a franchise quarterback.
Even though college is a different animal, the administration at the University of Michigan needs to adopt a similar policy. The Wolverine Athletic Department has spent a lot of money trying to find a coach that can lead the team back to prominence. So far, it has not worked.
But, like the NFL, other teams have done it. Notre Dame got Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish have been in the national spotlight ever since. Although not everyone is sold on Kelly, his teams are competitive and have at least been a part of the College Football Playoff.
Once a program begins to lose its shine, it does not take long for it to go down a dark road, from which some teams never return. Michigan State was fortunate to find Mark Dantonio, but his program also lost its shine eventually. If Mel Tucker does not product consistent winners in East Lansing, the Spartan brass will not wait long to pull the trigger.
There is just too much money to be made in college football to be mediocre. Teams need to win and play on the biggest stages against the top talent in the country to pull in the money they need to help fund most of the sports programs on campus.
I wish it was not that way. There are days I would not mind going back to the years when you only had a couple of games to chose from on Saturday for college and the closest professional football team to choose from on Sunday.
But as they say, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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