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Daily mailbag: Gunther Cunningham's job

Accepting our invitation to respectfully treat the Detroit Lions as NFL big boys now, Scott of Missoula, Mont., asks about potential repercussions for the team's late-season defensive problems:

Is it unreasonable to ask if Gunther Cunningham's job should be in jeopardy? No. 23 in total defense, 22nd against the pass, and 23rd against the run (but realistically second to last, if we're talking about average per carry). Given the money spent on linebackers in the offseason, and especially given the quality of personnel on the defensive line, the Lions' ineptitude against the run is downright inexcusable. Do you see the Lions considering a move at D-Coordinator?

In the Lions' rebuilding mode, the question would be moot. When he was hired in 2009, coach Jim Schwartz made a point to emphasize the importance of continuity -- both with scheme and in coaching. The only significant change he made on his staff in his first two offseasons was swapping out special teams coordinators.

But after winning 10 games and making the playoffs, it's at least a reasonable discussion point. Cunningham presided over a defense that, as we discussed last week, was one of the NFL's worst over the final seven weeks of the season. I've republished the applicable chart in this post.

The slide roughly coincided with injuries to cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas. Linebacker Justin Durant was also limited by a hamstring injury. But injuries or not, it was eye-popping and a warning sign to see the Lions allow a combined 90 points and 1,176 yards in losses to the Green Bay Packers (Week 17) and the New Orleans Saints (wild-card playoffs).

In most situations, the defensive coordinator would at least come under review after that kind of performance. In Detroit, it's complicated by the fact that Schwartz has a defensive background himself and that Cunningham is a longtime friend and colleague.

So to answer Scott's question, yes, it's reasonable to ask about Cunningham's future. But Schwartz gave no indication it could be tenuous while speaking to reporters Monday. Asked if he expected his coordinators to return in 2012, Schwartz answered in the context only of losing assistants to promotions elsewhere.

"I would expect [coordinators to be back]," Schwartz said. "But when you, particularly the offense, perform the way that we did last year, coaches are going to get recognition. People are always going to try to get a piece of the success that you've had, whether it's been developing a young quarterback, dealing with injuries or anything else. We certainly have guys that are deserving. We have guys that will end up being coordinators on our staff that are position coaches right now. We have guys that are quality control coaches that will get position-type jobs. That's part of the NFL and it’s part of success and it's something we're going to have to deal with at some point over our time here."

Obviously, Schwartz wouldn't have announced his intentions at that moment. But all has been quiet from Detroit since then, even as other NFL teams scramble to shuffle their staffs. If something changes, we'll let you know.