It was not necessarily by design, but the decade Jim Schwartz spent as an assistant with the Tennessee Titans provided him with a broad range of experiences that prepared him about as well as possible to be a head coach.
“In 10 years at Tennessee, we saw about everything you could imagine from making a Cinderella Super Bowl run to being the best record in the NFL and losing in the first round to having a salary cap purge, and young quarterback, veteran quarterback,” he said. “There were so many things — starting 1-4 and ending up in the AFC Championship game, starting 0-5, very bleak outlook and still having a chance for the playoffs in the last game of the season.
“I was very fortunate to have some good teachers, some good role models, and they prepared me very well for the fact that you can’t anticipate everything that goes on.”
The one thing he knew for sure when he became the Lions head coach in 2009 was that things could not get worse. He was hired after eight straight losing seasons capped by a 0-16 in 2008.
His team won two games in his first season, six games the next and in 2011 snapped an 11-year playoff drought when it went 10-6 and earned an NFC wild card spot.
“We never had a one-year plan or a two-year plan or a three-year plan, five-year plan, all that other stuff,” he said. “I think you can get off track when you start putting artificial time limits on things. We’ve tried to improve every step along the way. We tried to learn from our mistakes. We’re still a work in progress. We haven’t arrived.”
When he and the Lions arrive in town for Sunday’s game against Tennessee at LP Field (noon, Fox), he will be the second former Titans’ assistant to come back as a head coach.
Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams came as coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2003. Tennessee won that day 28-26.
Schwartz joined the Tennessee staff in 1999 as the defensive quality control coach. He was promoted to linebackers coach after one year and became defensive coordinator in 2001 when Williams took the job with Buffalo.
“His goal right [away] was to be a head coach someday, and I think you knew it,” Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said. “Very professional, always prepared, very smart, very confident. Then watching him grow from that position to linebacker position and then to coordinator.
“For me, being on the other side of the ball all those years, I was always confident that he had a great idea, a great plan for the game and that he had things well under control on the defensive side of the ball.”
Now he is in charge of everything with the Lions.
While this will be the first time he has been back to town in that capacity, it certainly won’t be the first time he has returned.
“We always have a reason to go back to Tennessee,” he said. “We were there for 10 years. All three of my kids were born in Tennessee. My whole family has lifelong friends that will continue to visit and stay in touch with. We try to get back there as often as we can. We have a lot of visitors that come from Nashville that come to see us.
“It was a great place to live. It was a great 10 years of our lives.”
Not to mention the fact that it was a pretty good learning experience.