Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Legend Of Wayne Fontes


Now that the Detroit Lions have concluded their first season under Jim Schwartz with a 2-14 record, even though the rookie coach doesn't figure to be a victim of "Black Monday" when NFL Head Coaches find themselves on the unemployment line like the rest of us, I'm sure there are a number of Southeastern Michiganders who wish that the last man to win an NFL playoff game was roaming the sidelines at Ford Field.

Remember Wayne Fontes?

When Lions fans look at the past decade of futility, they probably wish December 26, 1996 didn't happen. This was the day that Fontes was a casualty of "Black Monday" and was replaced by Bobby Ross after a 5-11 record.

How would a record of 1-4 in the playoffs sound to Lions fans these days? It would pack Ford Field!

During Fontes tenure in Detroit, he compiled a 67-71 record. Both numbers are the most in team history. Fontes coached the team from 1988-1996. If the Lions were currently a mediocre team, there would be no discussion of taking away their Thanksgiving Day Game. Fontes led Detroit to the playoffs four out of eight seasons including three consecutive (1993, 1994 and 1995).

But he will be remembered for the team's 12-4 record in 1991 and the Lions ripped the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 in the opening round of the playoffs at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Star Running Back Barry Sanders had his deepest run into the playoffs only to see his Super Bowl hopes dashed as the Lions lost to the Washington Redskins 41-10 at RFK Stadium. The Quarterback of this team was Erik Kramer.

Fontes was the 1991 AP Coach of the Year and led the NFC to a 21-15 win in the Pro Bowl. His Quarterbacks included Brett Favre, Troy Aikman and Steve Young. The AFC signal callers were Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Warren Moon. Lions fans could only dream to have had any one of these Hall of Famers to hand off or throw to Sanders.

If there is one area that Fontes could be criticized in, it was re-inserting Rodney Peete as the starter after Kramer's 1-1 record in the playoffs. I understood his decision that a quarterback shouldn't lose his job due to injury but there is that philosophy that you reward success. He didn't do that and Kramer felt disrespected and eventually left for the hated Chicago Bears.

Detroit would eventually sign Scott Mitchell and that move backfired.

But Fontes did know how to hire assistant coaches. Mouse Davis and June Jones made the Run & Shoot offense fun to watch. Jones went on to become a successful collegiate coach for Hawaii and recently led the SMU Mustangs to their first bowl victory in 25 years.

Tom Moore is the mastermind behind the success of Peyton Manning's greatness with the Indianapolis Colts and the tandem won Super Bowl XLI 29-17 over the Chicago Bears. Manning was the MVP in this Super Bowl.

Even though Ross had some success after Fontes departure, there was no way Bobby could co-exist with Sanders. That was evident at Sanders Hall of Fame Induction on August 8, 2004 when Barry made reference to Fontes during his speech.

To this day, I'm convinced that Sanders would never have retired in his prime and would have become the NFL's all-time leading rusher if Fontes remained the coach.

As I look at the Lions recent quarterback shuffle the past two seasons, these numbers make the Peete to Kramer to Mitchell soap opera look like nothing.

Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Drew Stanton became the fifth different starter. Stanton is 0-1, Daunte Culpepper is 0-10, Dan Orlovsky is 0-7, Jon Kitna is 0-4 and rookie Matthew Stafford is 2-8.

Beyond this, I wonder whether Joey Harrington would have fulfilled his potential under the tutelage of Davis, Jones, Moore and Fontes. Could you imagine what Harrington and Sanders would have looked like in the same backfield?

But one thing is for certain, when you think of "Black Monday" in the NFL, just remember the old saying that "You never know how good you've had it until it's gone."

If the Buffalo Bills can't find a big name head coach, the might want to try to lure Fontes out of retirement from his home in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Maybe one day we'll see Fontes give Terrell Owens a few big hugs just like Bills Hall of Fame Owner, native Detroiter Ralph Wilson gave him a job.

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get rid of Raheem Morris, that would be another good job for you Wayne since it's the job you coveted after the retirement of John McKay in 1984. It would be a popular hire in the Tampa Bay area and a shorter drive down the Courtney Campbell Causeway on Highway 60.

As legendary Boxing Promoter Don King would say, "Only In America."

Time to go back to work Wayne.

Your buddy William Clay Ford could use you as a consultant and since he gave you your only NFL head coaching job, he needs a hug and credible football mind to rescue this franchise from more futility. All you've missed is an NFL record 0-16 season and record 24-game road losing streak that could now be broken next year as the current streak stands at 20-games and the sellouts will not return until the team becomes competitive again.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at and his blog can be seen at

1 comment:

Great Lakes Offense said...

Great post. Despite being the only coach to experience any real success in Ford's 50 year ownership, Wayne was treated very unfairly by the Detroit media and many fans throughout his tenure. His removal was orchestrated by two of the biggest villains in Lion franchise history (Bill "Edsel" Ford Jr and the gutless wonder Scott Mitchell).

Even as a young Lion fan, I loved the "Big Buck" and knew what a horrible mistake ownership was making by choosing the weakest competitor I've ever seen in sports (Mitchell) over the winningest coach in franchise history. I do wish that Wayne had stuck with Kramer as QB--everything would have turned out differently--but history has shown that besides being an underrated coach, Wayne also had an eye for talent in the draft. Bill Ford Sr (not the worthless son) should bring Coach Fontes back as a consultant and right a great wrong that continues to haunt the Lion franchise to this day.

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