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Linehan has what it takes to cure the Lions' offensive ills

Ten head coaches were fired last season, an expansive list that included big personalities, big names and big winners. Near the end of the trail was Super Bowl-winning coaches Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan.

So, it is excusable if few remember the coach first axed in this deluge.

That would be Scott Linehan. The St. Louis Rams were so resolute for change that they fired two head coaches in fewer than four months, first Linehan just four winless games into the season and then Jim Haslett, his replacement, in mid-January after his 2-10 finish.

Linehan had plenty of time to reflect, refocus and ponder his next coaching move. Colleges called. The seven-win San Francisco 49ers were interested in him taking command as offensive coordinator. The nine-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers wooed him for the same role.

You see rocks. He sees gems.

"I was happy to be in a situation like this and appreciative that it was out there," said Linehan, 17 days into his role as Detroit's offensive coordinator under new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. "It is important who you are working for. I came to Detroit and listened to Jim and his vision, and it was calculated, realistic, logical and sane. Be physical in all phases. Establish the run and stop it. Create big plays and prevent them. Take care of the ball. Discipline and patience. That made sense to me."

And Linehan made sense to Schwartz, even though they did not have a prior, close working relationship. Because though Linehan went 8-8, 3-13 and 0-4 as the Rams' head coach, his resume as an offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings (2002 through 2004) and the Miami Dolphins (2005) was concrete and stirring. Minnesota finished in the top five league-wide in offense in each of his three seasons. Miami leaped from 29th to 14th.

Sometimes a football coach has a knack for a job, a want-to and a know-how, a handle and feel for a task that separates him from others. Scott Linehan has all of that as an offensive coordinator. He will be a star again in this role. Believe it.

But Scott Linehan, 0-8 in his last Rams games, chose the 0-16 Detroit Lions.

What went wrong with him with the Rams has little do to with what will go right with him for the Lions.

"We almost won the division in my first go-round, and then injuries (26 Rams players missed a combined 155 games due to injury in 2007) were not an excuse the next year, but they were a reason," Linehan said. "And when you come off a 3-13 year, you can't start off slow. You can't lose your first four games. In my case, we did, and that was it.

"I had the time to wonder what I could have done differently. I took a look at it and did a lot of soul searching. One thing I realized is in this league is you have to shake things off. You have to find ways to get things done the next week and the next. Sometimes you need that one play to change things. You have to have a roster where in key positions that if a guy goes down, a replacement can play winning football for you."

That would be, in Linehan's view, left tackle, quarterback, running back and defensive end.

Linehan said the Lions' staff is discerning the players who have the ability but have yet to show it -- and the players who never had the ability.

You see rocks. He sees gems.

"I see some real dynamic young players on the offensive side," Linehan said. "Some players to start to build some things around. Ascending players. Calvin Johnson is young and is like Randy Moss was when I coached him in Minnesota. He is one of those guys on the perimeter who can make people change how they play defense. Kevin Smith really impressed me at running back as a rookie, because from Week 1 to Week 16, he got better and played his best football late in the season. We've got some linemen to build with."

The Lions could retain quarterback Daunte Culpepper, be active at the position in free agency or draft and insert Matthew Stafford from Georgia with the first overall draft pick. There are options. There are choices. Schwartz and the Lions have a philosophy, a plan, a system, he said.

A system-specific way to acquire players and build the Lions.

Another huge step takes place next week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"It is football in shorts," Linehan said. "You are looking for people that jump out. You are looking for something to catch your eye. You get 60 players you can request to interview, and there you get an important feel for the player. It's personality and profile. But it can be that five minutes in the lobby where you just get that look in a player's eye. And you know he can be an important piece for you.

"We are building a profile here of what each player at each position should be. A big mistake is taking a player and trying to make him fit it. If he doesn't fit, he doesn't fit. If he's an issue, you're drafting an issue. Jim says it well -- he asks does a player have a 'terminal' weakness? Well, most of the time, if so, that is always going to be there."

Linehan likes to pay attention to the combine's three-cone agility drills, which indicate players' shiftiness and change of direction. Speed is critical, and strength is paramount, but Linehan knows what the Lions need are sometimes intangibles in a player that are not obviously measured.

That is a core way you rise from 0-16.

"That's the million-dollar ask," he said about changing the Lions' habits. "We have to be very, very productive there, the whole organization. Jim worked his way up the ladder in a methodical way. People find good people in this business. And that is how you find difference-making players. "We cannot erase 0-16. Whether we like it or not, it is always a part of us. We can focus on the basics and be powerful in our thoughts. Get better every day and not wait for OTAs or minicamps or training camp to start that. As John Wooden once said, 'Don't worry about what people say, but give them something they will admire.' In this league, I think we all know it is not what you say but what you do."

So, Scott Linehan says he did not travel from worse to worst. No, he is back in his wheel-house, back orchestrating an offense, tinkering and building it. Molding it.

A part of the Detroit Lions' solution.

"We want an offense that people fear," Linehan said. "One people know that attacks. One where they know they can never be comfortable for one play. Put something on the field that says those guys on every play give you intensity and fire. And when you do that, a group of individuals becomes a team. And that comes with players who like to give their all."

It also comes in a resilient coach like Linehan, who will do the same.

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