ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- “It’s probably time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne.”
That was the suggestion of Jim Schwartz, then the Titans' defensive coordinator, in early 2009. He wasn’t yet the Detroit Lions' head coach, and didn’t yet truly understand the history of the Lions franchise. He was just a young up-and-comer looking for his first head-coaching job with a franchise coming off an 0-16 season.
Detroit needed a franchise quarterback. So did Schwartz, who needed to be able to groom him, succeed with him and turn around the fortunes of a franchise with him.
Schwartz thought he found his guy in Matthew Stafford, the Georgia product from the same high school as Layne. Stafford could make every throw and was projected to be an NFL quarterback since he was a high schooler in Texas.
Schwartz got it half right. That's why he is out of a job today.
From the moment Schwartz made that declaration and backed it up by drafting Stafford, the quarterback and the head coach were forever going to be linked with the Detroit Lions. If Schwartz was right, the two would end up being legends in Detroit.
If not, well, we’re seeing that happen now.
Stafford has been too inconsistent and has made too many mistakes, keeping the Lions from reaching their full potential. He still has so much promise and has showed glimpses of it, especially during the playoff season in 2011, when it appeared he could be ready to become an elite-level quarterback.
But he hasn’t been able to take the next step.
Why? Is it Stafford or the coaching that has held him back?
He possesses all the physical tools you would want in a franchise quarterback. He has put up big numbers -- nailing part of Schwartz’s declaration as he broke Layne's records -- but those numbers have not resulted in wins. Certainly not enough wins for Schwartz to keep his job.
If anything, Stafford has regressed over the past two seasons, culminating in the Lions' collapse this season, when Stafford threw 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the last seven games -- the ones that mattered most. The Lions went 1-6 and fell from the divisional lead to out of the playoffs.
Schwartz and his staff defended Stafford publicly, saying the rest of the team had to be better around him. Except Stafford wasn’t getting better. Yes, his receivers dropped passes and his running backs fumbled the ball. But too often, Stafford made bad throws that led to turnovers.
At Georgia, Stafford did essentially what he has done with the Lions. He threw for big numbers, including a 3,209-yard season in 2008. But he never was particularly accurate, completing only 56.9 percent of his passes over his three seasons and more than 60 percent in just his final season.
With the Lions it has been more of the same. He throws for big yards, throws for a lot of touchdowns, but has accuracy issues. He’s completed more than 60 percent of his passes just once in his first five seasons (2011, the year the Lions went to the playoffs).
And it appeared he had made the leap this offseason as he started 2013 completing 62.5 percent of his passes over the first eight games with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
This was the Stafford that could have saved Schwartz. This was the Stafford the Lions hoped eventually would show up.
But just as quickly, he was gone, and with it the Lions' playoff hopes. From the minute Schwartz drafted Stafford, it would always come down to one thing: Would Stafford do enough to turn them both into winners?
He didn't. And now Stafford will either live up to his potential with the next coach or still be the guy who could never put it all together.
Either way, Jim Schwartz won't get to see whether, indeed, he did draft the next Bobby Layne.