The Detroit Lions are now their interim head coach in the meantime, as Darrell Bevell will not coach Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to COVID-19 protocols, the team said Thursday.
The Lions will put wide-angle receiver coach Robert Prince in the role of head coach and hand over playcalling duties to quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, who was at no level a playcaller.
On defense, Coordinator Cory Undlin and all three main position coaches – Bo Davis (defensive line), Ty McKenzie (linebacker) and Steve Gregory (defender) – will also not train on Saturday due to COVID-19 protocols.
Head coach assistant Evan Rothstein will act as the defensive player against the Buccaneers. Ty Warren, David Corrao and Tony Carter will take over the line of defense, linebackers and defenders.
In addition to any coach changes, Lions have listed a number of starters as either out or questionable. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (ribs / right thumb), center Frank Ragnow (neck / vocal cords), kicker Matt Prater (back), offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai (concussion), left winger Taylor Decker (groin), linebacker Jamie Collins (neck) and cornerback Darryl Roberts (hip) are all questionable. Broad receiver Kenny Golladay (hip) and right tackle Tyrell Crosby (ankle) both drop out.
Bevell said he and the other COVID-19 coaches will be available until game day but will not be able to have any contact with the other coaches on Saturday, which means first-time playcallers Rothstein and Ryan won’t have much guidance. However, Bevell said he had been playcalling with Ryan “for some time”. Rothstein has worked with former head coach Matt Patricia, and Bevell described Rothstein as “our most competent about our defenses and really what we do across the board”.
“I may have to find a place to see it for myself,” Bevell said of Saturday’s game. “You know, I can’t even tell you what it’s going to be like. I know what it was like to sit outside, but sit outside and know that I’m totally disappointed that I can’t be there and want to be there for my boys and all the respect I have for these players.
“I’ll be crazy, I think. I’ll jump up and down. I’ll be less calm than on game day.”
Bevell said the Lions spoke to the NFL about postponing the game to Sunday, but that didn’t happen. Bevell said he couldn’t speculate whether the league’s decision not to postpone the game had something to do with Detroit (5-9) not making the playoffs.
“I know we tried hard to have things that could help us and again, it’s between the league and the club,” Bevell said. “I’m disappointed. I know if the game was on Sunday I would be there because the time frame was up and all these coaches could be there. I think that’s the most disappointing part, but we got it.” I have to go with what they tell us. “
Safety and Defensive Captain Duron Harmon laughed and said “next man I think” when asked how he had processed how many of his coaches would be unavailable. Harmon said he’s never had a week like this, from shuffling the coach to firing Brayden Coombs, the specialty teams coordinator – all in a short week.
“These are the times we are in,” Harmon said. “What can I do? Sit around and complain? No. I just have to find a way. Find a way to keep going, find a way to keep being motivated, and find a way to play the best game, that we can play against a good Bucs team. “
Prince, who has never been a head coach, was the offensive coordinator at Fort Lewis College (1994-95), the Japanese X League (1996-97), Portland State (1999-2000), and Boise State (2012-) 13). He was the temporary game coordinator in Colorado in 2010.
He has been with the Lions since 2014 and was hired by former trainer Jim Caldwell.
Bevell will be credited for Saturday’s game, which is not included in Prince’s head coaching ledger according to ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau.
The only time a team had three head coaches in one season was with the 1978 New England Patriots. Chuck Fairbanks was suspended for a breach of contract, so Hank Bullough and Ron Erhardt were co-head coaches for Week 16 before Fairbanks for the playoffs returned.
On Monday, the training team’s linebacker, Anthony Pittman, and a trainer both tested positive for COVID-19. The NFL and Lions then went into their close contact tracing procedures, wiping out most of the defense staff.
Bevell said Wednesday that he believed some of this was due to traveling to the team’s last game in Tennessee – Nashville has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 new cases in the country – but he’s otherwise not sure about its players and coaches caught the virus.
On Wednesday, Bevell would not “approve or reject” a Detroit Free Press report that one defense assistant did not always wear his contact tracing tracker and another held a meeting in his office.
Bevell said Thursday that the close contact label doesn’t mean the coaches concerned aren’t wearing masks. He said “it is the contact time” that they go, as well as an interview process about wearing masks and individual time around others. Bevell said he was “absolutely” wearing his mask.