Jim Schwartz was always a bit of a lightning rod in Philadelphia, a Georgetown-educated, Jeopardy!-influenced, Jim Gaffigan-lovin’, sticks-defendin’, Baltimore baseball-referencin’, self-assured son of a gun.
Schwartz has seen a thing or two over his quarter century-plus in the NFL, put on the fast track by Bill Belichick himself back in 1993. The former head coach in Detroit arrived in Philadelphia for a pre-arranged marriage with first-time head coach Doug Pederson in 2016, serving as a sounding board and, let’s be honest, a safety net in case the job was too big for Pederson.
The shotgun wedding worked, at least for a while, culminating in a Super Bowl LII championship, albeit one Schwartz wasn’t terribly proud of in the moment after Nick Foles was forced to outduel Tom Brady in an offensive slugfest in which both the defenses allowed historic yardage totals.
Understanding the way the political winds were blowing after a disappointing 4-11-1 season in 2020 and the ever-increasing scapegoating nature of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Schwartz proved ahead of the game in January, drawing up a resignation letter spun as a potential retirement.
“Although my passion for the game remains strong, it is best for me to step back from the day-to-day of coaching for the time being,” Schwartz said in a statement back on Jan. 7. “I have too much respect for the game and for everybody involved to compromise the level of commitment that I believe is necessary to do the job. I don’t know what my future holds, but I am willing to do anything I can to help this organization in any way.”
Set to turn 55 in June, few around the NFL took the R-word seriously when it came to Schwartz although plenty believed he might take a year off, much as he did before his debut with the Eagles when he spent 2015 in the NFL offices helping the officiating department bridge the gap between the legislative and coaching branches of the profession.
He also had a few health issues during his final years in Philadelphia, so another year of the day-to-day grind could have seemed daunting to Schwartz, especially during the pandemic, before recharging the batteries.
Turns out Schwartz sat out only three months before returning to Tennessee as another brand of safety net, this time for 34-year-old first-time DC Shane Bowen, with the title of senior defensive assistant.
“We are excited to add Jim to our staff,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said in a statement. “He has a deep level of football knowledge and has overseen a great deal of success on the defensive side of the ball, so it (is) always good to add a quality coach to our staff. This role will provide our defensive staff with Jim’s experience and perspective in the staff meetings and on the practice field.”
Nashville is a homecoming of sorts for Schwartz, who spent a decade there (1999-2008) with the final eight seasons spent as the Titans defensive coordinator, a stint that turned Schwartz into a viable head-coaching candidate and ultimately landed him a job in the big chair with the Lions. In theory, he will not be doing any heavy lifting in Tennessee this time with both Bowen and Vrabel (a defensive-minded head coach) in play.
Schwartz’s legacy in Philadelphia was a complicated one but he was well-respected by the organization and his peers around the league, so much so that the thought was often “Jim will make due” when it came to talent.
Early whispers of trying to undermine Pederson were not true and consisted of a sloppy connection of dots between Schwartz and Mike Lombardi, who went over the top with his criticism of Pederson after the latter’s hire in 2016. From there, Schwartz settled in as essentially the co-head coach, running his side of the football with complete autonomy.
To Schwartz only one number counted and that was the scoreboard. Over five seasons the Eagles defense allowed 21.8 points per game under his watch, good for ninth in the NFL over that span, and better than 23 other teams. By the same token, it’s hard to argue he was provided with top-10 level talent.
The detractors will point to his favorites — Jalen Mills, Nate Gerry, Zach Brown, Steven Tulloch et. al — and ask why better-pedigreed players weren’t put on the field at times. If you were Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, or Malcolm Jenkins, however, you never had to worry about politics.
If you could play, you were out there. If you made a lot of mental mistakes, you weren’t.
To those wondering where the swagger comes from, start with the Belichick rubber stamp. That’s the type of recommendation that will enable you to park your SUV in the NovaCare lot like you own the place.
Schwartz may never be romanticized the way Buddy Ryan, Jim Johnson, or even Bud Carson are by the Philadelphia faithful, but he accomplished what they never could in an era where defensive football is not exactly encouraged.
For a bottom-line guy in a bottom-line business, that’s a bottom line that’s pretty important.
John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, and the co-host of ‘Birds 365’ on PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen
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