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Why Would You Wish The Lions Job On Anyone?

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

COVID-19’s legacies are legion, but one of the things that hasn’t been sufficiently noticed is the way it has democratized the competition for nuttiest state in the nation. This has been Florida’s crown for years, and entire industries have been built around that central tenet. In fact, I think The Onion was invented as a direct response to the existence of Florida as the nation’s pre-eminent loon farm, and every time I see the phrase “Area Man,” I tend to assume the area is Tallahassee.

But between idiotic responses and non-responses to the virus, and the entire election cycle, we now have a number of states that are making Florida work for its title as our version of Mad King George. Hell, Oklahoma used Florida’s reputation in the making of Tiger King, still the undisputed king of depraved weirdo entertainment.

Author’s note: As an interactive exercise, you may include the state you hate the most as the catalyst for the above paragraph, because every state has walked on its own throat in one way or another this year. As a nation, we’ve been wearing New Zealand’s spit, and deservedly so.

Today’s contribution to Name The Maddest State comes from a place that has offered prior evidence for its claim: Michigan. A number of its state legislators have put aside the heavy burden of mismanaging the virus (and don’t get defensive: every state has) to ask the Detroit Lions to hire San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as its next head coach. Better yet, they put in a letter and shared it with the world.

To clarify: People in charge of running Michigan are devoting part of their political life spans trying to fix the bloody Detroit Lions. This is the answer to the oft-asked question, “What fresh hell is this?”

The letter, written by idealistic 30-year-old Democratic representative Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn and his clearly overworked staff, was tied to a gigantic pie and hurled in the direction of new Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp. The letter reads in part, 

“As passionate and loyal Lions fans, we are asking you to hire Robert Saleh as the head coach of our team. He is the best candidate for the job and measures as such across every metric. A head coach like Robert can bring tremendous energy and heart to the franchise and would help us reach peaks that have seemed unobtainable for so long. We have an exceptional opportunity here and we trust you to make the best decision . . . We hope that you will consider Robert Saleh as the head coach, not only for us, but for everyone across the loyal fanbase of our beloved Detroit Lions.”

It pandered further to Hamp by thanking her for firing general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, as though they were some toxic dumpsite that previous ownership had simply refused to tidy.

So where to start? First, there is little evidence that Lions fans should be proud of having been passionate or loyal toward this team. The Lions are the NFL’s Sacramento Kings, the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, MLB’s Baltimore Orioles, college football’s Kansas Jayhawks, and college basketball’s Citadel Bulldogs. They exist. They fill out a schedule. They rarely bother anyone. Michiganders are used to what they are, and have many more pressing problems than trying to fix the neck valve on this unsightly inflatable doll.

Second, Hammoud is not asking Hamp to consider Saleh because he has created a dynamic and enduring defense in San Francisco. He’s asking because Saleh is from Dearborn and went to Michigan State, and that Hammoud says he knows Saleh’s family. Indeed, as swiftly as Saleh’s reputation has risen, two years ago most 49ers fans wanted him fired, and only in the last year and change and with dramatically better players has he achieved his best work. He may very well be everything Hammoud says he is (and most NFL analysts agree that Saleh will be on any number of coaching short lists given how close he came to getting the Cleveland job a year ago), but mostly this is a politician asking for one of his constituents to jump the line to a job that has eaten other qualified people in the past.

Third, there will be a healthy number of NFL vacancies this off-season, and the Lions will not be the highest priority for first-time coaches. The franchise has had 10 coaches since its last playoff win, and 18 since its last championship, so to call it a coaches’ graveyard is not as accurate as calling it a coaches’ morgue. Saleh could and almost surely will do better than the Lions job, even with Hammoud running point for him. Saleh is almost surely getting a head coaching job next year (Chargers? Eagles? Bears? Jaguars?), and it doesn’t necessarily have to be this one. Put another way: Would you wish the Lions job on someone you like, and want to see successful and happy?

Fourth, “peaks that have seemed unobtainable for so long” is just nonsensical word salad. The Lions’ peaks haven’t seemed unobtainable. They haven’t even reached base camp, and that’s not just dashed dreams but years of diligent, devoted and persistent design-driven failure. They don’t just stink as a condition of employment; teams that stink look down at the Lions with looks of contempt and bags of used cat litter. 

Fifth, Hammoud, who claims bipartisan support for his campaign to jump-start the ruination of Saleh’s coaching career, says that one of Saleh’s best attributes is that “he is a Michigan man.” That’s what they said about Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, and that’s turned out to be a cauldron of bubbling gray paint. Whatever powers “a Michigan man” is believed to possess in coaching acumen, it should be noted that none of the three most successful pro coaches in the state’s history, Sparky Anderson, Chuck Daly and Scotty Bowman, were Michigan men. In fact, Bowman is Quebecois, which definitely isn’t Michigan at all except in late January.

Sixth, and perhaps most telling of all, here’s what Sheila Hamp has said about the coaching search: “We’re going to be looking at everything.” This sounds like she is willing to consider owls, rhinoceri, shape-shifters, aliens, and robots as well as humans, which is the properly desperate tone she should be taking in trying to fix this waxwork of debris.

But there may be some true benefit to Hammoud’s campaign, and we shall end on this most charitable of reads of the young’un’s actions. Maybe he’s trying to get the Lions to hire Saleh to prevent Saleh from having to coach the New York Jets. If that is the master plan, then Hammoud is a grand fellow of the first order, trying out of the kindness of his heart to help a constituent in dire need.