Why Darrell Bevell is legitimate candidate to be next Detroit Lions head coach

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Lions lost four of five games with Darrell Bevell as interim head coach, but with the team looking for the right culture fit for 2021 and beyond, Bevell has emerged as a legitimate candidate for the full-time job.

Bevell became the third known candidate to interview for the head coaching job on Tuesday morning, joining ex-Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

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Before the interview, Lions president Rod Wood praised the job Bevell did after taking over for Matt Patricia, who was fired Nov. 28.

“I really want to compliment Darrell Bevell and what he did really the last five weeks,” Wood said. “It’s a very tough assignment to step into an interim head coaching assignment during the season. I think the players rallied around him. Darrell did a great job organizing things, then was thrown a curve ball in the middle of his five-game stretch with the COVID situation and the close contacts with the coaches that we lost for the Bucs game. But even with that, I think we came through it and a testament to Darrell for that.”

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The Lions rallied for a 34-30 win over the Chicago Bears in Bevell’s first game as head coach, then looked overmatched in losses to playoff teams the Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bevell fired special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs for a rogue fake punt call after the Titans loss, then he and four of his assistants were forced to miss the Tampa game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Defensive line coach Bo Davis tested positive for COVID, and Bevell and defensive assistants Cory Undlin, Steve Gregory and Ty McKenzie were deemed close contacts.

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The Bucs destroyed the Lions, 47-7, after Matthew Stafford sprained his ankle on the team’s first offensive series. Wide receivers coach Robert Prince served as de facto head coach for that game, and Sean Ryan and Evan Rothstein called offensive and defensive plays for the first time in their career.

Last week, the Lions lost their fourth straight, 37-35, to the Minnesota Vikings, when Stafford, Frank Ragnow and Danny Shelton returned to play through injuries but the defense once again looked overwhelmed.

Bevell said Monday he was proud of how his team competed in the face of adversity late in the season, and asked to be judged on the effort his players gave on the field.

“I’ve had to deal with a lot in a short period of time,” he said. “I think I’ve said it before that I learned that, one, there’s a great support system here around me, that have really helped me out and build me up. And then I have also learned that I can handle a lot. I’ve been able to learn some of the things that I needed to learn in a quick time. I’ve had to make some very difficult decisions, as well. I think those are some of the things that I’ve been able to do in this short time.”

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The Lions still have at least two more candidates to interview for head coach, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell. They could meet with a third, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, next week.

Several Lions players praised Bevell’s leadership ability in recent weeks.

“He’s done a tremendous job,” safety Duron Harmon said. “His energy each and every day, making the practices competitive, having it be a place where everybody was excited to come to work and that’s what he wanted. He’s a great leader. I mean, obviously, we now what he can do as offensive coordinator, but he’s a great leader and I wish him the best of luck in all his interviews.”

Bevell has several of the qualities Wood said he is looking for in the next Lions’ coach, leadership and good communication skills, chief among them. And despite the team’s 1-4 finish, he acquitted himself well as a coach on the field.

The Lions ran a more open offense with Bevell in charge than when he was calling plays for Patricia, and Stafford elevated his play in the final five games of the season.

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With Bevell as interim coach, Stafford completed 66.9% of his passes and averaged 297.8 yards per game (not including the one series he played against Tampa) with a 106.2 passer rating.

In the first 11 games of season, Stafford completed 63.2% of his passes for 261.5 yards per game with a 92.7 passer rating.

Bevell said Monday he would be in favor of keeping Stafford as his quarterback, something that seems to align with Wood’s thinking, though the Lions president said the next coach and GM ultimately will make that decision.

And though Stafford stopped short of publicly campaigning for Bevell to keep the job, he said he did “an outstanding job” in an interim capacity.

“He’s a heck of a person, and I think everybody got to realize that,” Stafford said. “I’m sure you guys did, getting your chances to talk to him a little bit more. He’s a great person and a great coach and I was just really happy that he got the opportunity and I think everybody in our locker room really rallied around him.”

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

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