The Detroit Lions, clinging to infinitesimal postseason hopes, trailed the Tennessee Titans 32-18 in the fourth quarter yesterday. Facing fourth-and-four from his own 31-yard line, interim coach Darrell Bevell opted to punt, essentially throwing up his hands and admitting defeat. He chose to take the ball out of Matthew Stafford's hands. Special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs decided, correctly, that the only path to victory included getting the first down right then and there.
So he dialed up a fake punt. It didn't work as C.J. Moore took the direct snap and came up inches short. Replays showed that challenging the line to gain would have been worth the small risk of losing a timeout, but one never came. Bevell's calculus of preserving his full complement of stoppages was completely undone when Tennessee scored on the subsequent possession and cruised to a 46-25 victory.
Coombs, a popular coach who has overseen the only truly competent unit on the Lions, was fired this morning for the insubordination, causing star returner Jamal Agnew to publicly wonder just what the hell is the point of all this.
The initial reaction upon hearing the news from myself and others dead inside enough to follow Lions football was to be shocked and a little peeved off. After all, this is one of the few people getting results and Coombs' decision to call the fake was far from the worst football decision the franchise has made. More maddening was the idea — which is only an idea and can't be proven — that Bevell declined to challenge the spot because it would make Coombs look good while helping Detroit potentially win a game.
MLive's Kyle Meinke, who is not compensated enough to cover the ins and outs and whathaveyous of this forsaken entity, provided a little more context in a piece explaining that, while messy, this dismissal is the correct course of action.
"But this was not a one-time mistake, according to a team source. Coombs has angered people in the organization for behavior that was described as “me-first” by a team source. And for an organization still very much reeling from the failures of the Quinntricia era on and off the field -- many of which were rooted in me-first behavior -- it’s easy to understand the decision to fire a coordinator for such rogue behavior, messy as that decision might be."
Like a 2007 Facebook relationship, this is all complicated. Special teams coordinators going rogue and making decisions that are above their pay grade is not a recipe for success. Though a single instance doesn't necessarily warrant termination. Maybe it wasn't.
What's clearer is that Bevell, as we all expected, is not this magical panacea. After overseeing a stunning comeback win over Chicago in his first foray, he's watched in two straight weeks as the Lions got worked by more talented teams, highlighting just how far the franchise has to go and how they'll need to do it sans Stafford.
He had his chance to wow and has fizzled. Worse, there's a perception that he's been Lionized, which comes with the side effects of scapegoating and bus-bowling. If the goal was to move on from the sloppy, embarrassing Quinntricia era, then the new fingers have been sticky and slow to turn the page.
As we've seen so many times before, there's nothing new in Honolulu blue and silver. The faces and numbers change, as does the org chart. They are forever the same old Lions.