Double Teamed: Schwartz’s fighting spirit

October 20, 2011

Last Sunday, an extremely well played game between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers concluded with an interesting post-game tussle between Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz, with both men attempting to fight in a sea of players after Harbaugh’s post-game handshake seemingly offended Schwartz.

In the aftermath, some commentators have proclaimed that Schwartz ought to be fined or reprimanded for his actions. But such a display of personality and drive by a head coach is completely justified. In fact, coach Schwartz’s attitude has been a major factor in the Lions great start this season, demonstrating that a coach’s demeanor has a direct impact on a team’s success.

Three years ago, Schwartz, a Georgetown alumnus (COL ’89), took over the Lions after the team completed the first 0-16 season in NFL history. Immediately, it was clear things would be different with Schwartz at the helm. He cut players that weren’t entirely committed to making the Lions a winning franchise, and drafted players to fit his coaching philosophy.

On the sidelines, the former Hoya linebacker is both a calm manager and fiery cheerleader of sorts, fist pumping and chest bumping with his players after great plays. His no-nonsense attitude, combined with his unbridled emotion during games, has helped return the Lions to respectability, with a 5-1 record this season after Sunday’s loss.

A loss at home to the 49ers must have been devastating by itself, but an extra hard slap on the back and some extra words from opposing coach Harbaugh sent Schwartz over the edge. He charged after Harbaugh and players crowded to separate Schwartz from the 49ers coach.

The impact of a coach’s actions and demeanor on his organization and players ought not be underestimated. A quick look at two established teams in the NFL demonstrates a coach’s ability to create the culture of an organization.

Rex Ryan has brought the New York Jets to the AFC Championship game in two straight years. Ryan’s personality is as big as his gut, and he’s not afraid to use it. In each of the past two seasons, Ryan has predicted that his team will win the Super Bowl, and he’s never afraid to proclaim that he has the best players in the league. He is also not shy about his own talents, describing how he wants to outcoach Bill Belichick whenever the Jets and Patriots play.

But while Ryan’s attitude has produced results, it has perhaps also bred a culture where players make unnecessary comments to the media, as was the case with Santonio Holmes calling out his offensive line for poor play this past week.

The Patriots are a clear foil to the Jets, as Belichick’s reserved, no nonsense demeanor is reflected by the actions of his players. Before arriving in Foxborough, Randy Moss was a loud-mouthed wide receiver seemingly past his prime. In New England, he was once again electric on the field and by all accounts was a great teammate off it. Such a culture can only be instilled through the head coach.

Consequently, Schwartz’s passionate behavior at the end of Sunday’s battles should not be condemned. He has instilled a determined, winning environment in Detroit with his competitive attitude. Such a moment might not look pretty on film, but it could do wonders for the Lions, who will look to right the ship immediately as they seek their first playoff appearance this millennium. Schwartz demonstrated to his players that the franchise has been disrespected for too long, and that it will not be tolerated. The Lions are not pushovers anymore.

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