The Detroit Lions' ugly start to the season has inspired major changes to the coaching staff.
The team fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi on Monday, the team announced. The Lions also fired offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan. Coach Jim Caldwell confirmed that Jim Bob Cooter will take over as offensive coordinator.
The grandson of Vince Lombardi, Joe arrived in Detroit without experience as an NFL coordinator. He spent seven seasons with the New Orleans, including five years as Drew Brees' quarterback coach. Lombardi's place in Detroit always felt like an awkward fit. He struggled to adapt a Saints-like offense in Detroit based on timing and precision. Matthew Stafford has never mastered the finer points of the position like Brees, and he regressed in an offense built around short passing.
Under Cooter, the Lions coach hinted that Stafford would improve and return to form.
"The offense is kind of built around the guy you usually have handling the ball most often," Caldwell explained. "Those two guys have a good relationship, a good synergy. Sometimes it makes it a little bit more easier. It's tough anyway, but it makes it a little easier in terms of the communication."
The last straw for Lombardi came on Sunday when the Lions lost to the Minnesota Vikings to drop their record to 1-6. Stafford and the team's offensive line has struggled to recognize where pressure is coming from all season.
"I think Joe was receptive to the things I had to say. If anything, I got to do a better job of communicating too," Stafford told the media. "It's on everybody when bad stuff happens. I can always be better, too. ... It's not one person. When it gets to this point, it's a lot of people involved."
Caldwell, who has an offensive background, has been under fire for not delivering on his promise to improve Stafford. Caldwell, who is a proven offensive coach from his days in Indianapolis and Baltimore, figures to take on a larger role constructing the offense. If he's going to get heat, he may as well do it with his style of offense.
When asked why he finally made the decision to let go of Lombardi, Caldwell replied, "Because we just were not productive, that's the key. ... The big thing is to be productive on a continuous basis. Every game requires something just a little bit different and the thing you have to understand is you can't change an offense in its entirety in two weeks' time, four weeks' time. So it's going to take obviously some adjustments along the way."
Caldwell was instrumental in Peyton Manning's career and getting the Colts to the Super Bowl in the 2009 season as their head coach. He was hired late in the 2013 season in Baltimore, turning the Ravens' offense around and helping Joe Flacco win a Super Bowl. With Lombardi as his offensive coordinator, he was unable to replicate that success in Detroit.
While the Lions won 11 games last season, Stafford was more erratic than ever. The offensive efficiency was No. 19 in the league last year according to FootballOutsiders, which was the team's exact same rank as 2013. They had fallen to No. 26 this year under Lombardi.