Have at It: Cut Schwartz some slack

This week, you produced one of the most measured and intelligent discussions we've had in the long and winding history of "Have at It." Without fail, I thought your responses provided a clear and fair consensus on the culpability of Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz in his 2-18 career record.

Every recent Lions coach, even the disastrous Marty Mornhinweg, has won more than two of his first 20 games. But none of you blamed that mark on Schwartz -- "complete lunacy," veihl789 suggested -- and even those of you who aren't yet convinced of his long-term viability think continuity is paramount.

"I think 2 years is reasonable under normal circumstances," wrote William J Lepetomane. "But these are far from normal." Added koozno23: "Everyone says that it will be year 3 that tells the tale. Three drafts for [general manager Martin] Mayhew and 3 years of continuity with the coach, OC, DC and players should tell the tale. If they aren't vying for a playoff spot in December of 2011, that's when Schwartz's seat will be hot."

Richmetz was concerned that the 2-2 St. Louis Rams might have jumped ahead in the rebuilding process. But appropriately, I think, that was as far as anyone was willing to go. Kungfuchris99 has this particularly reasonable take:

For me there's no question that we hold off on ripping Schwartz. We're talking about the only 0-and-16 franchise here -- the depth of that hole the team is climbing out of cannot be overstated. Every realistic quick fix, quick-fire/quick-hire solution has been tried, and they've only made the hole deeper. Doing things smart is going to mean progress-by-inches, and I for one see it happening. If you're a dedicated Lions follower, I think you can see that the demeanor of the team is different than it has been under the last few head coaches.

If Schwartz makes specific game management or coaching mistakes, criticizing those is completely fair. And there's certainly a risk that if wins don't start coming at some point, his team may tune him out before the talent level has improved as much as it needs to, and then you have to start wondering what the Lions should do. But I don't see this latter point as an issue for this season, and I don't think the standard "they're losing a lot -- the coach should be on the hot seat" sports meme should apply here. If he keeps the team engaged and fighting hard, then I'm more than willing to be patient this season and see what kind of talent the Lions can bring in to improve the roster going into next season.

Although they are 0-4 this season, the Lions have lost three of their games by less than five points. "They are actually competitive now," wrote joshmacy. "That's a win in my book. He's changed the mindset. Give him a chance."

We'll give douglasralston the final word: "At some point [former general manager Matt] Millen's ineptitude will no longer be a reasonable explanation for the Lions' woeful performances. But that time has not yet come."

My take? As I initially wrote this week, no coach can hide from his record. Schwartz has lost 18 of 20 games, and there is no getting around how bad that is. But I think it's reasonable and rational to suggest that Schwartz's record is terrible even though his performance has not been.

Through 20 games, an obvious team personality has emerged -- an important benchmark for any coach. It's clear what Schwartz wants this team to be: Playing through the whistle on defense and emphasizing explosive playmakers on offense. It's easy to see an energy that has been lacking in recent years.

The game-management decisions we've discussed have been debatable and perhaps disappointing, but not necessarily wrong. And I'm on board with the continuity argument because we've seen nothing to suggest Schwartz is in over his head or otherwise unsuited for the job. To me, that's the only reason to start discussing a coach's future before the end of three years.

You can't take 2-18 off Schwartz's résumé. But I think we can all agree there is a bigger picture involved in judging him.