Bacon on football: Lions and Wolverines face many difficult questions
The Detroit Lions ended the Matt Patricia era over the weekend. The team fired the head coach after an ugly loss on Thanksgiving. Also, on Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines suffered their fourth loss in six games this season. Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon broke down the break downs.
Times change – and don't change – in Detroit
Here's a quick summary of the personnel changes for the Lions. Owner Sheila Ford Hamp, who took over the team in June, fired General Manager Bob Quinn. Quinn had hired Patricia as the head coach. He'd also fired Patricia's predecessor, Jim Caldwell, whose four-year tenure ended with two consecutive winning seasons.
To Bacon, the move creates a familiar result for the Lions.
"It leaves them where they've been eight times this century, and that is looking for a new coach," Bacon said.
The team will wait to conduct a search for long-term replacements. There's also another looming personnel question for the organization: Should Matthew Stafford continue to be the Lions' quarterback beyond this season?
Stafford makes an average of $27 million per season under his current contract which expires after the 2022 season. Stafford will be 33 years old next season. He is very talented, but has also proven to be inconsistent over the years.
"He is good to very good. But he's paid to be great and to win playoff games. And this team's not even coming close to the playoffs," Bacon said. "The question boils down to this: Is the team close enough that Stafford can get them there? Or do you have to rebuild enough that...trading him for promising draft picks makes sense? Right now, I'd probably bet on the latter."
Struggles in Ann Arbor
Michigan played Penn State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions lost their first five games. Then they beat the Wolverines 27-17. Michigan is off to one of its worst starts in decades. Bacon sees widespread problems.
Michigan started playing football in 1879. Saturday's game against Penn State was the first time the Wolverines had ever lost to a team with an 0-5 record.
"Offense, defense, you name it, special teams. Nothing is working very well," he said. "Losing to Penn State, that is the first time in Michigan's 141 years of college football they lost to a team that was 0-5. So there is no joy in Mudville right now."
Bacon has predicted that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh won't get fired, but there might be a "divorce" at some point.
"Only two guys know this answer. It's Jim Harbaugh and [Michigan Athletic Director] Warde Manuel, his boss. And, of course, neither one says about anything about this," Bacon said. "I'm again going to predict he's not going to get fired, but there might be an amicable separation at the end. NFL teams are still interested in Jim Harbaugh, three or four that I know of. So, that could be how this ends."
If Harbaugh stays, his job will be tough.
"To turn it around is a substantial task at this point. You're looking at a very long haul and Jim's got one year left in his contract. You have to re-up him for four or five more years and other [assistant] coaches, as well, or you've got to say it's time to change."
Building blocks in East Lansing
In a season preview on Michigan Radio, Bacon said Michigan State's new coach, Mel Tucker, would get a pass this year because of the pandemic and because he inherited a roster light on star players from former coach Mark Dantonio.
Tucker's Spartans have had some ugly losses, but they won their rivalry game against Michigan. Then over the weekend, MSU knocked off Northwestern, the 13th-ranked team in the country.
"Tucker is doing far better than expected," Bacon said. "Dantonio's last two or three years were not very good, and he did not recruit very well.
"The cupboard is basically empty at Michigan State. No one expected two things: beating Michigan and beating a 5-0 Northwestern Wildcats team."