Column: Line Drives — Coaching changes are now personal

[This is my column in the Oct. 29 issue of The Commercial Review.]

At all levels, coaching changes are a part of the sports realm.

It’s not very often I am affected much by the hiring and firing of coaches.

Sure, at the local level, coaching turnover has an impact on my professional life.

The sudden departure of longtime Jay County High School boys basketball coach Craig Teagle in July left me and others scrambling to get answers, even late into the evening.

From a personal standpoint, it’s tough to see coaches with whom I’ve had a great working relationship with, like Teagle, move on to other opportunities.

It leaves a sort of an uncertainty, wondering what a new coach will bring to the position and the rapport he (or she) and I will build.

Fortunately for me, it helps when someone with whom I am already familiar — Chris Krieg — fills that role. But it, in turn, left another cloud of doubt, until Kirk Comer was introduced as the new JCHS girls basketball coach.

I had heard Comer’s name often in the past, but he and I had never met.

When he was hired, we met, and have since bumped into one another on a few separate occasions.

I have a feeling our working relationship will have no hiccups.

When it comes to the coaching carousel within the college and professional ranks, it is very seldom at this point in my life and career any changes will have an impact on me.

That is especially true when it comes to my favorite sports teams.

But in the late afternoon Monday — hours before boarding a plane to head across the pond — former Indianapolis Colts head coach and current Detroit headman Jim Caldwell rid the Lions of three offensive coaches — offensive line coaches Terry Heffernan and Jeremiah Washburn, as well as offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

As a fan and as a Lions critic, there is no doubt the move was necessary.

The Lions are 1-6, played poorly in a 28-19 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings and have one of the worst offenses in the league despite having a handful of offensive weapons.

Wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Notre Dame alum Golden Tate, running backs Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah, and the mostly sporadic Matthew Stafford were supposed to produce high-powered offense.

Instead, the offense is bad.

The Lions are 20th in total offense with 346.6 yards per game. They are last in rushing (68 YPG) and lead the league in turnovers (18).

So that led to Caldwell firing some members of the coaching staff.

Normally I would have welcomed a change.

But I realized such overhaul could affect the career of a good friend.

Kendra, whom I’ve known for a number of years and was a classmate of in college, is an assistant to the coaching staff.

As soon as I heard the news of Caldwell attempting to clean house — which he did without alerting owner Martha Ford, telling Detroit media “I’m sure they’re supportive” — I had to text my friend.

“Is your job safe for now?” I asked.

“Yeah. Everyone is still here,” she responded.

I had asked her the same question in 2013 when Detroit let go of then coach Jim Schwartz.

Her job was safe.

Later in our conversation Monday I prodded Kendra as to what it might take for her to lose her job.

She said it would take an absolute implosion by the Lions, although most fans and local Detroit media seem to think that has already happened.

Wednesday, while she and the team were in London preparing for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, we continued our conversation.

She said that while the team is still working hard to move on in a new direction, Monday was a tough day.

“I mean, I know they’re coaches, but they’re my friends too,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the looks on their faces and hear their goodbyes.”

That seems to be lost in the movement of coaches — everyone else who’s affected.

The coworkers. The families. The friendships, both personal and professional.

Sure, for the most part when coaches in professional sports are let go it is for business reasons. Or when they decide to leave it could be for personal reasons. The latter is true when it comes to high school coaches as well.

When I became a Lions fan back in the 1990s, Wayne Fontes was the coach. Since then, Bobby Ross, Gary Moeller, Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Rod Marinelli and Jim Schwartz have all been the head coach in Detroit.

A number of coordinators and position coaches have come and gone since then as well without much of a thought by me as someone else came along. It wasn’t until Schwartz was canned that I started to care.

As a fan, I had concern about who was the coach simply because I would wonder who could be the one to turn around what has been a lackluster franchise.

But with a more personal interest in the team, now I’ll pay more attention to any coaching changes in Detroit.


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