Fisher, Lions' Schwartz Have Close Ties
Fisher, Lions' Schwartz have close ties
10 hours ago • BY KATHLEEN NELSON
The knee-jerk reaction of almost every coach to just about any question remotely personal is to put on the game face.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz and the Rams' Jeff Fisher knew that they would have to respond this week to queries about facing each other for the first time since Schwartz served under Fisher in Tennessee for a decade. And both attempted to swat away the topic.
"It's Lions playing the Rams, that's what it is," Schwartz told reporters in Detroit on Monday.
Fisher's version Wednesday: "Jim and I aren't going to be waving and saying hello during the ballgame. We're competing."
But look at their history together; their actions reveal more. Schwartz has applied the lessons of perseverance and focus that he learned from Fisher, and the mutual respect has grown deep enough to span generations.
Schwartz served as defensive coordinator in Tennessee for eight of the 10 years under Fisher, a relative lifetime in the leapfrog game that most aspiring coaches play.
"He coordinated and did a great job for a number of years," Fisher said. "It was just a matter of time before he got the opportunity at the right place."
The longevity hinted that the pair shared a value system that emphasizes patience over quick fixes. The best example for Schwartz occurred in 2002, when the Titans opened the season 1-4 but ended up in the AFC championship game before falling to the Oakland Raiders.
"Jeff didn't panic and change schemes or bench starters or fire coordinators or anything else that people called for," Schwartz said on a conference call Wednesday. "What he did was he had a good plan and stuck with it. And the players recognized that confidence that he had in his plan. He's always been able to persevere and get a team through tough times. Again, that will serve St. Louis very, very well."
Schwartz finally got his chance in 2009, after Detroit had hit rock bottom at 0-16 in 2008. With rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford guiding the offense, the Lions finished 2-14 in their rookie season, then lost Stafford early in 2010 and started off 2-10. Time to apply the lesson that Schwartz learned from Fisher in 2002.
"The most difficult thing to do in professional sports is stick with a plan when you're not experiencing immediate gratification," Schwartz said. "We didn't just keep changing direction every couple of games or every year. We stuck with our plan. We drafted well. We signed players that fit our philosophy and what we were looking for. And we kept our mind on short-term things. We didn't worry about what was going to happen a year from now or two years from now. We worried about that game."
Perseverance and focus started to pay off. The Lions closed 2010 with four straight wins and built momentum through last season, when they finished 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who arrived from Tennessee this year in free agency, wasn't surprised that Schwartz followed Fisher's blueprint and achieved success.
"To see him have a great football team is not coincidence," Finnegan said. "He's a players' coach. He's definitely got the right players that he needed and the people that he wanted. Once you do that and everyone buys into the system, you tend to have a good football team."
Fisher spent time with his protege last year, after he left the Titans. Schwartz had hired Fisher's son, Brandon, to serve as assistant to the defensive coaching staff.
"Since Jeff was out, he'd come and visit Brandon and see a couple of our games," Schwartz said. "So he's familiar with our team and we always appreciate his perspective."
In the same way that Fisher bid farewell to Schwartz after the 2008 season, Schwartz realized that greener pastures lie ahead for Brandon after Jeff was named Rams coach in January. Brandon joined Dad as assistant secondary coach.
"If my dad was a coach, I'd certainly want to work with him," Schwartz said. "Brandon did a great job and was certainly welcome back, but it's a special opportunity when it comes to working with your father, and we recognized that for sure."
So just because they're not waving and smiling at each other Sunday in Detroit doesn't mean the experience won't be special.
"He's been a great coach for a long period of time," Schwartz said. "He's got longevity. I think St. Louis is really, really lucky to have him, and it will be an honor to coach against him."
Re: Fisher, Lions' Schwartz Have Close Ties
Maybe it's me but I don't think the RAMS tie looks anything like the Lions tie.