Edson: Belichick, Shula Were Both Lions Assistants

With all the talk about the status of Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell’s status this week, it’s easy to forget that the Ford family – owners of the team since 1962 – have whiffed on some great coaches that were already on their staff.

The two that stand out are Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Shula was the Lions defensive coordinator from 1960 through 1962. The Lions had the best defense in the NFL in 1962, but when it came time to name a new head coach, owner William Clay Ford famously said that Shula was “too young.”

So the Baltimore Colts swooped in and grabbed Shula, who became the youngest head coach in NFL history at the time at age 33.

Oh, and he also went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history with 357. That included two Super Bowl victories and the only 17-0 season in league history with the Miami Dolphins.

Fast forward 15 years and young Bill Belichick spent 1976 as assistant special teams coach and 1977 as the receivers coach. The Lions passed on a young assistant again. So Belichick went on to win three Super Bowls as a head coach with the New England Patriots.

There have been several promising assistants that the Ford family passed on.

Others include:

* Chuck Knox. He was offensive line coach for the Lions from 1967-72. After he was bypassed by the Lions, he went on to win five NFC West championships with the Los Angeles Rams. He was also the first coach to win division titles in three different divisions.

* Marty Shottenheimer. He was the Lions linebacker coach in 1978 and 1979. He went on to a solid career with Cleveland and Kansas City, compiling a 205-139 record.

* Tom Moore. Moore was Detroit’s offensive coordinator in 1995 when Scott Mitchell posted a then-franchise record of 4,338 yards passing.  And young Herman Moore caught 123 passes for 1,686 yards, still a team record. But the Lions let Moore seek greener pastures and he wound up spending 11 years as quarterback coach for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

* Jerry Glanville. He was the Lions special teams coach and defensive assistant from 1974-76. He didn’t get the head coaching job, so he went on to become a highly successful coach with the Houston Oilers. The Oilers made the playoffs three out of four years under his tenure.

So there is a theme to all of these great coaches not getting a chance with the Lions.

No. 1 is the Ford family is consistent with NFL failure.

No. 2 is the Lions can’t identify coaching greatness even when they are on the staff.

If and when a new coach is brought on board, let’s hope that the Lions finally learn from their dismal hiring history.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.