With Darrell Bevell out Saturday, Robert Prince takes over as Detroit Lions head coach

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Darrell Bevell is out. Robert Prince is in. And the Detroit Lions are going — for one week at least — with their third head coach of the season.

Prince will assume head coaching duties for Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Bevell, who was named interim coach when Matt Patricia was fired last month, was deemed a high-risk close contact to a confirmed COVID-19 positive case.

The Lions (5-9) also will be without four defensive assistants Saturday: Defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, defensive line coach Bo Davis, linebackers coach Ty McKenzie and defensive backs coach Steve Gregory due to COVID protocols.

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Prince is a former college offensive coordinator at Boise State and the Lions’ longest-tenured assistant coach. He joined Jim Caldwell’s staff in 2014, was retained by Patricia in 2018, and is in his seventh season as Lions receivers coach and 13th season in the NFL overall.

“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” receiver Danny Amendola said earlier this season. “Brings the juice every single day, gets guys in the right mentality day in and day out. Meetings, practice, games and an amazing coach to play for. I love him to death. Really, really happy to be playing for him.”

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Prince’s winding coaching road has taken him from small colleges like Humboldt State and Fort Lewis College to the Japanese X League, where he was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 1996-97, to the NFL.

He spent three seasons as an offensive assistant with the Atlanta Falcons in 2004-06 and three more coaching wide receivers for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks before returning to college as pass game coordinator for Colorado in 2010.

While Prince will assume head coaching duties, quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan will call offensive plays in Bevell’s absence, and head coach assistant Evan Rothstein will handle defensive play calling. Earlier this week, the team fired special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs.

Neither Ryan nor Rothstein has been a play caller at any level, though Ryan is a longtime NFL assistant. Rothstein has worked primarily behind the scenes on research projects and analysis, but Bevell said he is “our most knowledgeable (person) in terms of our defense.”

“I think that’s the most important part of it is who’s going to be able to communicate clearly, who has the best handle on the information,” Bevell said. “Evan is very, very knowledgeable. He’s involved in the game day operations already. The communications are very crisp and clear with him with some of the game management things that he’s doing already. So he’s been in very high-pressure situations already helping, so it felt like a natural one for him.”

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Bevell, Undlin, Davis, McKenzie and Gregory started a minimum five-day quarantine period on Tuesday, after practice squad linebacker Anthony Pittman and one unidentified assistant coach tested positive for COVID-19.

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Detroit Lions’ Darrell Bevell: If Bucs game was Sunday, I’d be able to coach

Detroit Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell speaks to the media on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020.

Detroit Lions, Wochit

Bevell said all coaches will finish their quarantine Sunday, and would have been able to take part in a game that day had the NFL granted the team’s request to move Saturday’s kick.

The NFL has only moved games for health and safety reasons this season, leaving the Lions to work with a shell of a defensive staff against future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady and the explosive Buccaneers offense.

While Rothstein, who started his career as a student assistant at SUNY Cortland in 2006 and joined the Lions as a special teams quality control coach in 2012 before moving to special projects two years later, will handle Undlin’s primary duties as defensive coordinator, the Lions have shifted responsibilities of some of their other staff.

Assistant defensive backs coach Tony Carter will coach defensive backs on game day, William Clay Ford minority coaching assistant Ty Warren will work with the defensive line and director of football research Dave Corrao will coach linebackers.

Bevell said he and his assistants will continue to meet with players and take part in game-planning virtually. 

“As far as the day to day, all the way up to game day we’ll be doing our same rules,” he said. “Again, today, I did our normal red-area install today. We’re watching practice virtually. We’re talking, making corrections with the coaches after, still have all our meetings. Everything’s exactly the same. (Friday’s) meetings will be the same. Just will not be able to be there on game day.”

Instead, Bevell, who will become the first head coach to miss a game due to COVID-19 protocols, will watch the game in isolation Saturday from his hotel room.

“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, like you don’t quite understand all the stuff that goes along with it. And then there’s that drive that you want to be there. I feel exactly as Matthew (Stafford said last week when asked why he is playing through injury). 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.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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