The news hit on Monday that the Cleveland Browns had hired Jim Schwartz as their new defensive coordinator. The franchise interviewed several football men for this position with speculation that the position might go to a much younger man.
Schwartz is 56 years old. Not that this is an issue. Dan Quinn is the DC with Dallas and has been called their team’s MVP this season at age 52. Perhaps men in their late middle years are better coaches, or at least more experienced.
And experience is exactly what the Browns are getting in Schwartz.
Maybe the biggest reason to bring in a leader such as Schwartz is Myles Garrett. The talented defensive end of the Browns has been the recipient of countless accolades, achievements, and awards. Yet, the only things that actually matter to his career are: one winning season and 1-1 in playoff games.
Through the annals of professional football, there are tons of elite defenders who played like champions each and every week yet never sniffed a Super Bowl victory such as Dick Butkus, Alan Page, Karl Mecklenberg, Bruce Smith, J.J. Watt, and Derrick Thomas. The last thing anyone wanted was for Garrett to be completely frustrated and demand a trade. He is 27 years old, so his championship season window is now short-lived.
Which is why this hire was crucial to finally get it right.
From the last few years until now
From 2021-2022 Schwartz was on the staff of the Tennessee Titans as a senior defensive assistant. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is a defensive mind and the club has a DC in Shane Bowen along with all the other defensive position coaches. So, what were Schwartz’s job duties in Tennessee? Others had questioned his participation because the defense had improved quite a bit since he arrived.
His main contribution was to become the experienced voice in defensive meeting rooms and offer changes. With the Titans, Schwartz did not call defensive plays during games. But he was in charge of breaking down the opponent’s tendencies and how the other team has been responding to certain blitzes, coverage packages, and pressures. Then all of that info was relayed to the DC.
A Jim Schwartz-led defense does not blitz a whole lot. While at Tennessee, the biggest alteration to the defense’s game plan was how the Titans were able to place pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
For example, in 2020 Tennessee blitzed on 28.7% of defensive snaps (ranked 16th) but the front four was able to hurry the QB on 7.2% of their plays (29th). This past season, the Titans blitzed just 19.9% of the time (28th) but this group still succeeded to hurry the quarterback 11.2% of the time (up to 11th).
What this did was made the pass rush so effective that other players were now able to be utilized in other areas as the defense as a whole looked tremendously better.
During actual live games, it was widely known that Schwartz’s tip sheets became valuable information as the contest unfolded. The reality in this whole scenario is why Tennessee did not keep him in-house for an eternity.
Schwartz’s defensive views
As a DC who saves the blitz for certain situations, his defense features the 4-3 with a competitive, relentless front four. Throughout his coaching career as a longtime DC and then head coach of the Detroit Lions, his defenses annually were ranked near the bottom of the how times a defense will blitz, but his teams were always ranked very high in sacks, hurries, QB hits, and knockdowns.
Schwartz usually has featured a pair of defensive linemen as his set pieces and then filled in with more than competent players for this group. Currently, Cleveland has Garrett, so it will be interesting to see how the current group is evaluated or if the other main player is taken in this year’s NFL draft or brought in via free agency to bookend Garrett.
The first position of change for Schwartz has got to be the defensive tackle group.
With Schwartz’s system, players are taught a barrage of moves, twists, alignments, and techniques in order to accomplish using just four players up front to create all the chaos. Washington currently uses the exact same system, but the difference between the Commanders and Cleveland is that Washington has the players already in place upfront whereas the Browns do not.
It does seem that the defensive backfield is in very good shape even if the front office doesn’t retain CB Greedy Williams or S Ronnie Harrison. S Grant Delpit led the team in tackles and the corner position is strong with Denzel Ward, rookie M.J. Emerson, nickel A.J. Green, and Greg Newsome.
Speed is the recipe for Schwartz’s linebacker corps and before agreeing to the hire, he must have been well-pleased with the current roster. JOK and Anthony Walker are both quick and notable tacklers. Sione Takitaki and Deion Jones are reliable, Jacob Phillips must find his role, Jordan Kunaszyk and Tony Fields provide great depth as well as are special teams demons, and we will see what happens with Tae Davis, Reggie Ragland, and Jermaine Carter.
Keeping the linebackers in play without having to help on the pass rush will enable them to cover the tight ends better, which has been an issue with this defense.
Schwartz grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and played linebacker for Mount St. Joseph High School where he made the National Honor Society. He was one of 11 children. He was highly recruited and chose Georgetown University where he started all four years and graduated with honors. He was named a team captain and earned Division III CoSIDA/GTE Academic All-America and All-American honors.
He was hired as a graduate assistant and linebackers coach at the University of Maryland in 1989. From there, he found employment at three other colleges before getting hired to research film for head coach Bill Belichick of the Browns from 1993-1995.
If you have ever watched on NFL Network “A Football Life”, one episode was entitled “Cleveland 95” which told the story of how the 11-5-0 Browns of 1994 were predicted to become one of the league’s best clubs and make a serious run at the Super Bowl; but instead, rumors of relocating to Baltimore decimated their season under Belichick.
In that video, you see a young Jim Schwartz who was one of the “slappys” as Belichick would call his assistants whose job it was to perform mundane duties. As just yet another young and inexperienced 20-somethings, these young men were hungry and willing. Schwartz can also be seen interviewed as the head coach of the Lions.
Once Browns’ owner Art Modell announced his intentions of moving the club to Baltimore, he fired Belichick and the majority of his entire coaching staff but retained some of the front office personnel such as Director of Pro Personnel Ozzie Newsome who was named GM. Schwartz was one of the few retained in the move and named Defensive Quality Control coordinator and linebackers coach.
In 1999, he was hired by Tennessee Titans who had been the Tennessee Oilers the past two seasons while nomads in the state. Schwartz worked his way up to the DC spot beginning in 2001.
He had an eight-year tenure with the Titans in which he sent numerous players to the Pro Bowl such as Cortland Finnegan, Albert Haynesworth, and “the freak” Jevon Kearse.
During the seasons 2007-2008, Tennessee’s defense ranked fifth in accumulative sacks with 84, had 39 forced fumbles (ranked 4th), was third in the league in interceptions (42), allowed the fourth fewest yards (9,363) plus was ranked #2 in fewest points allowed with 531.
In an article written by Haynesworth entitled, “Letter to My Younger Self”, the All-Pro defensive tackle wrote:
“If nothing else, listen to me on this, Albert: Do not leave the Tennessee Titans. Your defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a mastermind. No matter how much I tell you this, you’ll probably never realize it until your career is over, but it’s true. You’re like a system quarterback. You thrive in a very specific scheme. (In free agency) take less and stay in Tennessee where you belong.”
The success of Schwartz’s defense garnered him a hot prospect among clubs that had head coach openings. Schwartz interviewed with Miami, Washington, Detroit, and Atlanta. The 2009 Lions were the winner in the Jim Schwartz sweepstakes after finishing 0-16-0 in 2008.
Detroit President Tom Lewand stated at the time:
“After an extensive search that included several highly-qualified coaches, we are thrilled that Jim Schwartz will become our team’s head coach. (General manager Martin Mayhew) and I believe that Jim’s qualifications and vision will lead this organization on the field toward our goal of becoming a championship football team.”
Schwartz was viewed as competitive, highly-educated, a tremendous communicator and a motivator. Plus, after being an accomplished defensive mind in one organization for 10 years including eight as their DC, he had been ready for this next step for several seasons and yet took his time for the right fit.
In his first season in Detroit, the Lions finished just 2-14-0 with one victory oddly against Cleveland. In just two more years they made the playoffs. After a 6-3-0 start in 2013, the Lions lost six of their final seven games to finish 7-9-0 to which Schwartz was fired.
The Buffalo Bills hired him as their DC in 2014 and he quickly infused their defense including leading the league in sacks, and finishing fourth in yards allowed as well as points allowed. When head coach Doug Marrone resigned and the franchise hired Rex Ryan as the new head coach, Ryan brought on board his usual DC in Greg Roman instead of retaining Schwartz.
Schwartz took a year off before being hired as the DC of the Philadelphia Eagles beginning in 2016 where he remained through 2020.
During those five seasons, the Eagles ranked high every season in multiple categories including third in third-down defense (35.9 percent), sixth in red-zone defense (52.7 percent), forcing three-and-out drives (27.5 percent), third in rushing defense (99.1 yards per game) and seventh in sacks (208).
As already mentioned, Philadelphia’s defense featured just two defensive linemen in DE Brandon Graham and DT Fletcher Cox who were perennial Pro Bowlers. During this time frame, this duo led the NFL with 78 combined sacks, hurries, and knockdowns in a single season.
The Eagles captured the Super Bowl in 2017 with Schwartz’s defensive schemes. In the playoffs, the defense played a more important pivotal function as they only surrendered 10 points to Atlanta in the Divisional Round and seven points in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota.
The following season Philadelphia finished first in the league in red zone defense (44.6 pct.).
One thing is very evident: Schwartz is an incredible defensive-minded coach that has been a head coach in this league. One thing he will do, and expect this immediately, is he will improve the Browns’ defense with the roster he has inherited plus the players that will be hand-picked to give this unit respectability for a change.
He is an avid reader, very intelligent, and married with three children. He is also well-known for his love of hard rock music.
Wherever Schwartz has been employed as the DC, it has worked and he has been a huge asset to the team. His defense has landed at the Top-10 in multiple categories on an annual basis.
But understand this: Schwartz does not come across as your buddy. He can be very abrupt and direct when answering questions. Which is probably a very good thing. There needs to be an asshole on every coaching staff and the Browns’ head coach has surrounded himself with too many “yes” men so far.
The key to his turnaround on this defense will come down to one thing: getting the defensive line to become ultra-productive.
Schwartz’s heart is with the defense and he will be persistent and apply pressure on Stefanski as well as GM Andrew Berry as needed. He is a team player, though, with his entire fabric and focus being distributed into winning games.
The Browns hired the right man for the job. And even if his strongest opponent is his head coach and GM, Schwartz is willing to be that adversary in exchange for a turnaround for this defense.