Jim Bob Cooter out as Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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The Detroit Lions’ disappointing season has claimed another victim.

The Lions announced Tuesday they will not renew the contract of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, two days after finishing Matt Patricia’s inaugural season as head coach with a 6-10 record.

Cooter’s dismissal comes as no surprise given the Lions’ weekly struggle to score points this year and the apparent regression of Matthew Stafford as quarterback.

Cooter, who reportedly coached this season on an expiring contract, said Friday that he takes “ownership” of the Lions’ offensive problems this year, even as Patricia complimented the job he did dealing with injuries and adverse situations.

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Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter walk off the field after training camp on July 30, 2018, in Allen Park.

The Lions lost running back Kerryon Johnson and receiver Marvin Jones to injuries in the second half of the season, and traded Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles at the October deadline.

“It’s my job as offensive coordinator to do everything in my power for our offense to go out there and help our team win,” Cooter said. “Ideally, that’s scoring more points every week, getting better as we go, improving and all that. So, yeah, ownership and accountability is something I believe’s really important for our offense, in this game, in this life, so I’ll take that. It’s on me at the end of the day to put our guys in position to make plays and do a little bit better, play a little bit better.”

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Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter talks to the media on Thursday, July 26, 2018., in Allen Park.

Cooter initially took over as play caller during trying circumstances, when Joe Lombardi was fired seven games into the 2015 season, hours before the Lions left for a trip to London to face the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Lions were blown out in that game, 45-10, and general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand were fired days later, but Cooter managed to survive and at times thrive as Lions offensive coordinator over the next three years.

The Lions made the playoffs in Cooter’s first full season as play caller in 2016, after Calvin Johnson retired and when Stafford had one of the best years of his career before a finger injury impacted his play late in the season.

In 2017, the Lions improved their deep passing attack under Cooter’s command, but Jim Caldwell was fired after a 9-7 season and the Lions kept Cooter from interviewing elsewhere until Matt Patricia took over as head coach in February.

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson (96) and defensive end Everson Griffen (97) close in on Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Stafford made a public plea for the Lions to retain Cooter as coordinator immediately after last season, and Patricia, with few other available options, heeded his quarterback’s wish.

The pairing showed promise, as the Lions had a functional running game for the first time in decades, but ultimately flamed out amid injuries and inconsistent play from Stafford.

The Lions finished 24th in total offense and 25th in scoring offense this year, and scored their fewest points (324) since 2014, when the team had the league's No. 2 defense. Along with injuries to Johnson and Jones, the Lions played most of the season without right guard T.J. Lang, and Stafford battled a back injury for much of December.

The Lions failed to score more than 22 points in all but one of their nine games after the Tate trade, and averaged just 22.8 points in 57 games with Cooter as coordinator.

Given the chance, Stafford did not stump for Cooter’s return when asked last week.

"I’ve always enjoyed working with Jim Bob," Stafford said plainly. "I think he’s a smart coach. I’ve had a lot of success under him. We’ve scored a bunch of points and done a lot of really good things under him."

Cooter, for his part, seemed to acknowledge this move was coming during his weekly teleconference with reporters on Friday.

He started his call by joking, "I’m sure you guys are excited like I am for this particular media session. Let’s get into it.” And ended it by saying, “Guys, last chance, come on.”

“I do believe personally I’ve improved as a coach this year,” Cooter said. “I understand the outside perception and all that, but I’m working to get better at all sorts of different things."

Asked what perception he was referring to, Cooter said, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m sure you guys can compile all that and write it up."

While Cooter went from fan favorite in Detroit because of his unique name to pariah, he still has a strong reputation across the league – at 34, he was the youngest coordinator in the NFL this season – and could land a play-calling gig elsewhere this hiring cycle.

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The Lions, meanwhile, have a deep group of candidates to pull from for Cooter’s replacement, with potential fits ranging from Los Angeles Rams pass game coordinator Shane Waldron, to ex-Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, to Lions quarterbacks coach George Godsey.

Waldron, Weis and Godsey all previously worked with Patricia in New England.

Patricia, who also fired special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano in early November – like Cooter, Marciano was a holdover from Caldwell’s last staff – offered little insight into what he wants from his next offensive coordinator when asked about the position last week.

“There’s a lot of different situations, whether it’s the plays, the execution, all of it we can obviously, we can do a better job of just trying to get ourselves in a situation to win,” Patricia said. “Again, it’s been different with each particular game or each particular situation and for us, it’s just continuing to get better.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!

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