ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) – Jim Schwartz stepped into perhaps the NFL’s worst job of all time, inheriting its first 0-16 team.
When the Detroit Lions gave him his first shot to be a head coach at any level in 2009, he talked about taking on and tackling challenges his entire life.
Then Schwartz helped the hapless franchise improve in each of his first three years. He led the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade in 2011.
The Lions, though, took a big step back last year by losing their last eight games to flop to a 4-12 finish. With the slide, Schwartz lost his status as a coach with stability and acknowledged getting a dose of humility.
“It was humbling for me personally,” Schwartz said Thursday, the day before leading his first training camp practice of the year. “I think it was humbling for the team.”
The coach, though, often pays the price for a team’s failures. So Schwartz needs better results and fewer life lessons if he wants to stay in Detroit.
And he’s hardly the only one in the league with his job on the line.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, Dallas’ Jason Garrett, Tennessee’s Mike Munchak , Oakland’s Dennis Allen and Carolina’s Ron Rivera also face a sense of urgency to win — or else.
When pressed to address Schwartz’s job security — or lack of it — Lions vice chairman Bill Ford hasn’t given him much of a vote of confidence.
“I think Jim would be the first to admit that there have been times where he’s learned on the job,” Ford said.
Schwartz, with a 22-42 record in Detroit, has declined to provide details about the lessons, but accepted Ford’s assessment.
“If you’re building cars on the line down the street, you’re selling insurance, you’re coaching or you’re a player, you’re going to learn,” Schwartz said earlier this summer. “And, you’re going to be better the second time you experience something or go through something.”
Ryan, hired the same year as Schwartz, may not get a second chance to bounce back from a losing season. Unlike Schwartz, Ryan is working for a general manager who didn’t hire him. Ryan’s contract runs out after 2014.
The Jets were 6-10 last year under Ryan, following a .500 season that didn’t build upon an 11-win 2010 or a winning season in his debut with the franchise.
Jets owner Woody Johnson fired GM Mike Tannenbaum a day after last season and hired John Idzik. While Johnson does seem to be fond of Ryan, he’s not sold enough on him to extend his contract a second time.
“I wasn’t surprised that I came back,” Ryan said in an interview with The Associated Press in May. “The way I look at it, Mr. Johnson knows what he has in me. He’s got a guy who’s all in and would do anything for this franchise.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insisted several times during the offseason that Garrett isn’t on the hot seat, and addressed his situation before being asked about it on the eve of training camp.
Jones said it was a “mistake” to consider this an “Armageddon year” for Garrett.
Garrett, though, has failed to make the franchise anything more than average with a pair of 8-8 records since taking over during the 2010 season. In fact, no one has lately. Dallas is 128-128 since the start of the 1997 season and 1-6 in the playoffs.
“Ever since I’ve been in this league as a player, as a coach, I think everybody each and every day is playing and coaching for their jobs,” Garrett said. “That’s the nature of this thing and that’s what makes the NFL great.”
The Titans haven’t had a great team since winning an NFL-high 13 games in 2008 when Schwartz was Jeff Fisher’s defensive coordinator.
Munchak has been their head coach for just two seasons, but he almost surely has to have a record more like his first than his second to improve his shot to stay. The Hall of Fame offensive lineman led the Titans to a 9-7 mark in 2011 and slipped to a 10-loss season last year.
Titans owner Bud Adams, who turned 90 in January, fired chief operating officer Mike Reinfeldt at the end of last season. Adams allowed GM Ruston Webster to spend nearly $110 million signing veteran free agents such as left guard Andy Levitre and safety Bernard Pollard.
“I think in our mind we’re on the right track and that’s why I hope there’s a lot of excitement,” Munchak said. “The preseason games, I hope you’ll see a spark and people will see what we’re talking about. And, hopefully in September we’ll see that change.”
Oakland didn’t make a change with its coach, giving Allen another opportunity with the perennially rebuilding franchise after winning just four games in his debut. Allen has little talent at his disposal because about 40 percent of this year’s salary cap will be spent on bonuses to players who are no longer on the team.
“I know there’s a lot of experts out there that might think differently, but I like this football team,” Allen said last month.
Raiders owner Mark Davis, whose father, Al, ran the Raiders since the 1960s and died almost two years ago, has publicly backed GM Reggie McKenzie. He hasn’t offered the same support for Allen.
A week after Carolina closed with a 7-9 record, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson decided Rivera would return for a third season. There’s promise on the Panthers with Cam Newton at quarterback and Luke Kuechley at linebacker — both won rookie of the year awards in the last two seasons — but it needs to turn into production.
And quickly. The Rivera-led Panthers have started 1-6 and 1-5, but he’s trying not to focus too much on how his possibly pivotal season begins.
“It’s all about where you finish,” Rivera said.
And if Rivera and his fellow hot-seat coaches don’t win enough, they likely will be finished leading their franchises.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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