Continuity after 0-16?!

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
We're already getting a pretty good glimpse at Detroit's plans for 2009 and beyond on Day 1 of the offseason. If you're a Lions fan hoping for a complete overhaul following an 0-16 season, you're going to be deeply disappointed.

Although they fired coach Rod Marinelli, the Lions announced the departures of only four assistant coaches. By my count, that means 14 of Marinelli's assistants at least temporarily have jobs. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, who was re-assigned to offensive line coach, and special teams coordinator Stan Kwan. Two of the fired assistant coaches are directly related to Marinelli: Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who is Marinelli's son-in-law, and assistant offensive line coach Mike Barry, who is Joe Barry's father.

Owner William Clay Ford also followed through with plans to retain chief operating officer Tom Lewand and interim general manager Martin Mayhew. Lewand was promoted to team president, while Mayhew was given the permanent general manager title. So while Ford said last week that he will add a front-office executive, you have to assume that person's role will be subordinate to Mayhew and thus only marginally impactful. (The firing of Dave Boller, assistant director of pro personnel, provides a clue as to the type of hire the Lions are looking to make.)

A few points can be safely extrapolated from these moves in advance of a late-morning news conference in Detroit:

  • It's customary for teams to retain the rights to some assistant coaches immediately following the departure of a head coach. Sometimes the assistants are asked to perform final personnel evaluations for the front office. Occasionally they are interviewed for the head coaching position, and often teams try to protect valued assistants in the event that the new head coach wants to retain them. But to fire only four of 18 assistants, and to re-assign Colletto, makes you wonder whether the Lions will ask the new head coach to take on at least some of them. If that's the case, good luck hiring a dynamic head coach.

  • Although Lewand deals mostly with the salary cap and contract issues, it's well known that he has the ear of owners William Clay Ford and Bill Ford Jr. As team president, you can expect Lewand to be intricately involved in every aspect of the Lions' operation. But Lewand faces an inherent paradox: Either he'll have to repudiate everything the Lions have done this decade, of which he played a significant role, or the Lions won't be adopting a new way of doing business.

  • Mayhew is a complete unknown as it relates to running football operations. What type of team does he value? How does he evaluate talent? How will he change the way the Lions scout and rank players to avoid their annual draft problems? And what role did Mayhew himself play in those mistakes as the assistant to former general manager Matt Millen? Why would the Lions want any continuity from that era?

  • From the outside, I continue to wonder what role cash flow is playing in these moves. The Fords' personal stake in the struggling automobile industry is well-known, as are the Lions' problems in selling out Ford Field this season. Are these moves the best for the organization? Or are they simply the most affordable? Promoting two long-standing members of the front office after the worst eight-year run in NFL history, along with retaining 14 assistant coaches, suggests the latter.