| The Detroit News
With team owner Sheila Ford Hamp’s decision Saturday to move on from coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, the Lions ended another chapter of coaching futility that has marked the past 30-plus years.
Spanning the last 10 tenures of head coaches, the Lions notably have had just one playoff victory — a 38-6 rout over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 5, 1992 — and have had just one head coach who has had much measure of success.
After finishing this season at 4-7, Patricia’s career record with the Lions, his first time as a head coach, was 13-29-1, a miserable .314 win percentage, which included no postseason trips. There were no seasons that matched the mantra that 9-7 “wasn’t good enough,” as was the measuring stick for his predecessor, Jim Caldwell.
Of the Lions’ last 10 head coaches, Caldwell had the best results, with a 36-28 record (.563) and two playoff appearances. Caldwell notched the high-water mark of 11-5 in his first season, which portended more success, though it never materialized.
In the 32 years since Wayne Fontes started, the Lions have had their ups and downs, but mostly downs, a point that Hamp referenced in her press conference Saturday.
“We can’t hide our past — that’s for sure — but I think I’m very dedicated to turning this ship around and really making a difference, and hopefully we won’t have to look back very much,” Hamp said. “We’ll just look forward.”
Here’s a look at the Lions’ last 10 head coaches, with years served, record (win percentage) and postseason record:
►Matt Patricia: 2018-20, 13-29-1 (.314), no playoff appearances
All eyes were on Patricia, who was deemed a top coaching candidate after serving as defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. His resume included a number of Super Bowl wins and reuniting with Quinn in bringing the “Patriot Way” to Detroit seemed to be a sure fit.
In a short time, Patricia’s coaching style caused friction with some of the veterans who had thrived under Caldwell. The Lions struggled to a 6-10 record in Patricia’s first season and although the defense had been one of the strengths prior to his arrival,
Patricia never found an improvement and they finished near the bottom of the league in scoring and total defense.
Patricia’s tenure was marked with adding former Patriots players to help in implementing his defensive philosophy, including defensive lineman Trey Flowers, linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Duron Harmon this season.
It will be remembered for not living up to the initial expectations set by Quinn and team ownership after firing Caldwell.
►Jim Caldwell: 2014-17, 36-28 (.563), 0-2 in playoffs
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?”
Joni Mitchell sang it best in “Big Yellow Taxi” in 1970 and Janet Jackson doubled down in “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” in 1997.
The Lions parted ways with Caldwell — who was their first Black head coach — although he had the best winning percentage among coaches with more than 10 games since Buddy Parker in the 1950s. Caldwell had his faults, including questionable in-game management, but his teams notably played well for him.
Caldwell was one of the few Lions coaches who had previous NFL head-coaching experience before taking the mantle. He had been to the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 and the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.
In his first season with the Lions, Caldwell set a high standard, with an 11-5 finish and a tough loss in the wild-card game to the Cowboys. In 2015, Caldwell and the Lions lost seven of their first eight games, which spelled the end for general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand but brought Quinn in as GM.
Caldwell remained and posted a 9-7 mark and the final game of the regular season, which could have given them the division title. Instead, they were trounced by the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round.
In his final season, Caldwell posted another 9-7 record, but they missed the playoffs and his fate was sealed, with Quinn looking to bring more consistent winning to the franchise.
Caldwell has interviewed for several head-coaching jobs and worked as an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins, but has since taken a leave of absence because of health issues.
►Jim Schwartz: 2009-13, 29-51 (.363), 0-1
Following Marinelli’s tenure, the Lions were looking for another defensive mind and brought in Schwartz, who had been the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. After a rocky start, things didn’t get much better in his five seasons, with his one winning season.
The first season was a dismal 2-14 mark in 2009 that improved to 6-10 the following season. Schwartz seemed to get some traction with a 10-6 record in 2011, the Lions’ first trip to the playoffs in 12 years, but the quick exit in the wild-card game, a 45-28 trampling to the New Orleans Saints, meant more of the same.
His final two seasons were 4-12 and 7-9, which gave way to another change. Schwartz’s teams had a knack for strong starts to the season, but they couldn’t finish with the same gusto.
Schwartz is currently the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles.
►Rod Marinelli: 2006-09, 10-38 (.208), no playoff appearances
Two numbers mark Marinelli’s tenure with the Lions: 0 and 16.
The Lions set a new standard for NFL futility in 2008, becoming the first team to go winless since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule. His three-year term as coach was an abject failure, with only 10 wins in three seasons and the perfectly imperfect season as the badge of dishonor.
The following season, the Lions drafted quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick, which seemed to set the course for a more optimistic future.
Marinelli currently is the defensive line coach for the Las Vegas Raiders.
►Dick Jauron (interim): 2005, 1-4 (.200), no playoff appearances
Jauron had some success with the division-rival Chicago Bears in the five years before he joined the Lions as a defensive coordinator under Steve Mariucci. When Mariucci resigned after the first 11 games, Jauron finished the season with a 1-4 mark and a 5-11 record to end the year, their fifth straight losing season.
►Steve Mariucci: 2003-05, 15-28 (.349), no playoff appearances
After signing a five-year contract for $25 million to leave the broadcast booth and take the helm, Mariucci never lived up to the success he previously had with the San Francisco 49ers, where he had reached the Super Bowl.
A native of Iron Mountain, Mich., Mariucci was the high-profile signing by then-team president Matt Millen but never lived up to the hype. After posting a 57-39 record in his time with the 49ers, Mariucci went just 15-28 with the Lions, and was fired after a deflating loss on Thanksgiving Day in 2005.
After leaving the Lions, Mariucci returned to his broadcasting career.
►Marty Mornhinweg: 2001-02, 5-27 (.156), no playoff appearances
During a turbulent time in the franchise, with the team going through coaches on short timespans, Mornhinweg struggled as the rest of them had. He finished with the worst win percentage of any Lions coach who lasted more than a season.
Most notably during Mornhinweg’s tenure, the Lions botched the decision after winning the coin toss in an overtime game against the Chicago Bears. Instead of receiving the ball, Mornhinweg opted to take the wind and to kick off. The Lions never got to the chance to use their perceived advantage and lost the game.
In his two seasons, the Lions went 2-14 and 3-13 and he was dismissed.
►Gary Moeller: 2000, 4-3 (.571), no playoff appearances
Following a successful career as head coach at Michigan, with a 44-13-3 record from 1990-94, Moeller later landed with the Lions as an assistant coach and took over after Bobby Ross resigned in the middle of the season in 2000.
Moeller led the Lions to four wins in their last seven games, for a respectable 9-7 record. Moeller got a two-year contract but was fired after Millen took over as team president.
►Bobby Ross: 1997-2000, 27-30 (.474), 0-2
Ross had considerable success with the San Diego Chargers before coming to the Lions, with a 47-33 record in five seasons — including a pair of 11-win seasons — and three playoff appearances, including a trip to the AFC Championship Game in 1994.
That success didn’t follow him to Detroit.
He had a 9-7 mark in his first season but didn’t have a winning record in a full season in the next three seasons, choosing to resign in 2000 after nine games. His Lions teams made the playoffs twice but failed to notch a victory in either appearance.
Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, likely frustrated by the same losing culture that led to Ross’ exit, retired during training camp in 1999.
►Wayne Fontes: 1988-96, 66-67 (.496), 1-4
During his up-and-down tenure, Fontes was known for his vibrant personality and good working relationships with his players. His tenure was the Lions’ heyday of this era, with their only playoff win coming against the Cowboys.
They made four playoff appearances under Fontes, including double-digit wins three times in a five-year span, marked by the 12-4 record and trip to the NFC Championship in 1991. They had two division titles and with Barry Sanders, they became an exciting team to watch.