The most unavoidable Lions story since draft day has been to wonder who would be under center when the regular season started. Would rookie head coach Jim Schwartz go with fellow rookie Matthew Stafford, or choose to start the veteran Daunte Culpepper? Now that the question has been answered, it tells us something not only about the two quarterbacks who fought for the starting job, but also of the coach who made the decision.
Starting the rookie was the tougher choice.
Had Schwartz decided to play Culpepper, no one could have blamed him. Culpepper has been in the league for years, he has been able to put up points in a Linehan system before, and he showed renewed dedication to himself and the team by working out tirelessly in the offseason.
Not to mention the fact that throwing rookie quarterbacks to the wolves has been a recipe for disaster for Lions draft picks in the past. Stafford could take time to master the system while holding a clipboard. Starting Culpepper would give Stafford a year to get up to NFL speed while the newly reborn veteran guides the team through what will likely be another rugged rebuilding year.
All the typical excuses and explanations were there had Schwartz taken the easy way out and given the nod to Culpepper. But he didn’t. Why?
It could be that Schwartz understands that fixing this team is a long term project, and Culpepper will likely only be around for one more year. Therefore, he wanted his quarterback of the future to get a trial by fire as soon as possible.
It could be that Schwartz sees Stafford as being as good as or better than Culpepper right now, and honestly believes that the Lions have a better chance to win with the rookie at the helm.
It could be that he sees something in Stafford’s attitude that tells him that he won’t be mentally damaged by what could very well be a tumultuous year.
Regardless of the reason, it’s a much bigger gamble than starting the veteran, which tells us something about Schwartz’s mentality. If Culpepper had been named the starter and struggled, then Stafford could have come in and no one would have blamed the coach. However, if Stafford struggles badly, Schwartz will find himself in hot water for sticking him in too soon.
The decision to start Stafford means that the Lions new head coach is willing to risk his own reputation and future for what he believes is in the best interest of the team rather than taking the easy way out. It’s a ballsy move. One that I hope pays off for all of us.