| The Detroit News
Only in 2020 would the Detroit Lions need an interim coach for their interim coach.
With COVID-19 protocols sidelining five members of the team’s coaching staff for Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including Darrell Bevell, the Lions announced on Thursday it will turn to wide receivers coach Robert Prince to lead the team for the contest.
“One of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Lions wide receiver Danny Amendola said earlier this offseason. “Brings the juice every single day. Gets guys in the right mentality, day in and day out. Meetings, practices, games, just an amazing coach to play for. Love him to death, and just really happy to be playing for him.”
Prince, Detroit’s longest-serving position coach, has been with the franchise since 2014, and is the only member of the staff with coordinator experience, last holding that title with Boise State in 2013.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for staff adjustments the Lions will have to make on Saturday. In addition to Bevell’s absence, Detroit will also be without defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, defensive line coach Bo Davis, linebackers coach Ty McKenzie and secondary coach Steve Gregory.
That’s required the team to shuffle the deck in previously unimaginable ways.
First and foremost, Evan Rothstein will be charged with calling defensive plays.
Largely working in the background, Rothstein has been on Detroit’s staff since 2012, starting as a quality control coach under Jim Schwartz before transitioning into research and special projects for Jim Caldwell.
Rothstein’s current title is head coach assistant/research and analysis. His only experience coaching a position came in 2010, when he led the offensive line at D-III State University of New York College at Cortland.
Still, despite the underwhelming resume, he was given a vote of confidence from Bevell for the challenge ahead.
“He is our most-knowledgeable, in terms of our defense, what were doing, all the way across the board,” Bevell said. “He is very involved in game day, already. He’s been in tough situations on game day, helping with information and communication, so I felt like he has the most experience and will be able to get that done at a high level for us.”
In addition to Rothstein, the Lions will also have three interim position coaches on that side of the ball with defensive assistant Tony Carter handling the secondary, director of football research David Corrao in charge of the linebackers and coaching intern Ty Warren running the defensive line.
Carter and Warren played professionally at the positions they will coach, while Corrao coached linebackers with the Miami Dolphins from 2011-15.
Offensively, in addition to serving as the interim coach, Bevell has continued to be the team’s play-caller following the firing of Matt Patricia last month. Those duties will be handed off to quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan on Saturday.
It will be a new role for Ryan, who has not previously coordinated an offense.
“I’ve been prepping Sean for this for a little while,” Bevell said. “Sean and I work hand-in-hand, in terms of the day-to-day operations and I think the communication with the quarterback is super important in this. That’s a guy that speaks to him every day, so he already hears that voice, that kind of familiarity with that.”
A 23-year coaching veteran, Ryan has worked with Eli Manning and Deshaun Watson at his previous stops, building a solid coaching resume. Ryan was reportedly Matt Rhule’s offensive coordinator choice when the Jets made a run at hiring the now-Panthers coach ahead of the 2019 season.
The entire situation is unquestionably heartbreaking for Bevell. The longtime offensive coordinator had long dreamed of a head-coaching opportunity in the NFL and now his five-game audition has been disrupted by the pandemic.
On Monday, the Lions had one coach and one practice squad player test positive for the virus. Bevell, who was one of a handful of coaches at the team’s facility that day, was determined to be a high-risk close contact. Due to this week’s game being scheduled for Saturday, he won’t be able to clear the mandatory, five-day quarantine.
“It’s super disappointing,” he said. “I’m frustrated. Since we’ve started, I’ve tested negative, so there’s that whole part of it, you don’t quite understand all the stuff that goes along with it. Then there’s that drive that you want to be there. I feel exactly as Matthew (Stafford) does, I want to be there for my guys. I feel like I’m letting them down by not being there and all those emotions are things that you’re going through.”
The NFL has previously postponed multiple games as team’s deal with COVID-related situations. The Lions pushed to have the game against Tampa Bay moved back, as all but the one, unidentified coach who tested positive would have been clear to resume their duties on Sunday, but the league declined.
“I think that’s the most disappointing part, but we’ve got to go with what they’re telling us,” Bevell said.
He declined to speculate whether the league would have handled this differently had the Lions not already been eliminated from postseason contention.