When your defensive coordinator puts you in position to succeed and you perform so well you earn three trips to the Pro Bowl, you're sold on that coach and will do just about anything for him on the field. Signing your last NFL contract to play for a team that finished 0-16 the year before however, is a much different ask. That was the challenge Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had after being named head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2009.
Schwartz was inheriting a winless Lions team after being named head coach prior to the 2009 season. He had just left behind a defense that finished second in the league in points allowed, sixth against the run and sixth in third down defense. Heading to Detroit Schwartz knew he needed a lot of new pieces to rebuild a team that had sunk as low as one could in the win column.
So the new head coach and his front office put together plans for free agency and possible player trades to revamp the Detroit roster. Schwartz assigned himself with the task of adding a new pass rusher and had the perfect veteran player in mind.
The former Tennessee defensive coordinator wanted to bring Kyle Vanden Bosch with him to Detroit. Though he was 31-years of age Vanden Bosch was coming off his third straight Pro Bowl season (all under Schwartz) and would be in demand.
Furthermore Schwartz was likely fighting an uphill battle knowing Vanden Bosch might not want to end his career on a team that was literally rebuilding from the bottom up. Undaunted, Schwartz took an unconventional approach toward recruiting his now former player.
On the eve of free agency the Lions new head coach hopped a flight to Nashville and rented a car. He then proceeded to drive to the neighborhood where Vanden Bosch resided knowing by midnight he could begin to try and sell the pass rusher on coming to Detroit with him.
"I had a pretty good idea of what teams would be interested and what teams would be calling, but I was settled into my home expecting to take phone calls all night," Vanden Bosch recalled. "As soon as it was midnight and free agency started coach Schwartz was the first one to call my cell phone and he told me that he was at the end of my driveway and he wanted to come up and talk."
Vanden Bosch, a bit stunned that his former defensive coordinator decided to come directly to his home, invited him in.
"He came up to the house with a bottle of wine and came in and sat there and talked about football, our scheme, the direction the team was headed. What his goals were and how I would fit in," Vanden Bosch said. "He talked about the city of Detroit, the school up there, everything." Of course there was the issue of joining an 0-16 club that finished last in total defense, 29th in sacks and 30th in interceptions. But Vanden Bosch wasn't betting on the Lions. He was betting on the head coach.
"I turned my cell phone off when he got in and four hours later I called my agent and told him I was going to be a Lion," Vanden Bosch said. "So it was a pretty easy process for me."
Three years later Vanden Bosch, Schwartz and the Lions pulled off a 10-6 season and advanced to the playoffs as an NFC Wild Card team.
"Having played for coach Schwartz in Tennessee I knew what he was capable of," said Vanden Bosch. "He's not only a great X's and O's guy. He relates well to players. He motivates players. He challenges the leaders of the team and gives them a lot of responsibility. I knew he was the right man for that challenge and I was honored that he picked me to be part of that turnaround."