DETROIT - Jim Schwartz has confronted challenges his whole life.
Leading the Detroit Lions, coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season, is just the latest for a man who has an interesting story to tell and isn't afraid of sharing it.
"I'm comfortable in my own skin. I have enough friends," Schwartz said. "I don't need to make any new ones by trying to be somebody who I'm not. I just have fun with it."
Don't be fooled, though, by the tales about Schwartz growing up in an 11-person family in Baltimore, sporting a mullet while studying economics at Georgetown, or his devotion to heavy metal.
Schwartz will soon passionately put in 100-hour weeks as a first-time head coach in the hopes of turning around a franchise that hit rock bottom last year.
He can't wait to get to work.
And, there's plenty to do.
The Lions will report to training camp today and will start practicing the next day.
"We're chomping at the bit," Schwartz said yesterday before playing in the Buick Open pro-am. "It's good to recharge your batteries with vacation, but every day you're recharging, you're getting more anxious to get out there.
"There's not a coach in the NFL, college or high school football that doesn't look forward to this time of year."
There may not, however, be another coach in the league quite like the 43-year-old Schwartz.
He was born and raised in Baltimore as the second of nine children. His father, whose name is also Jim, was a police officer, and his late mother, Pat, had the job of raising two boys and seven girls.
"We had a Volkswagen bug and my dad would cram all of us into it sometimes because our station wagon used more gas," Andy Schwartz, Jim's brother, recalled. "And, we would never go through the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore because my dad didn't want to pay a dollar, so we would go around the Beltway.
"It felt like we were in a clown car. People would drive next to us and start counting how many people we had shoved in there."
In those days, the Baltimore Colts were so bad the home games were blacked out on TV. Andy Schwartz fondly remembers his mother making sure he and
"Jimmy" had a place to listen in on the radio while enjoying Oreo cookies and milk.
Schwartz played linebacker and was a captain at Georgetown, where he earned distinguished economics graduate honors. Then his passion for football pushed him on a unique path for a person with his academic credentials.
He started his slow climb up the coaching ladder in 1989 at Maryland, where he was a graduate assistant. After having the same job at Minnesota and moving on to be an assistant at North Carolina Central and Colgate, he interviewed for an unpaid gig for Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns.
"When we brought him in for an interview, we did a psychological profile for him much like we did for players," recalled Mike Lombardi, a former NFL executive who now writes for the National Football Post. "After Jim took the test, the guy who evaluated it told us not to let him out of the building because he would be the best guy we'd ever hire."
Schwartz started off handling mundane tasks such as picking people up at the airport. He grew into a larger role and learned from Cleveland's remarkable cradle of coaches on Belichick's staff, including current Browns coach Eric Mangini and Alabama's Nick Saban.
Schwartz spent three seasons as college and pro scout for the Browns. He landed his first coaching job in the league in 1996 as a defensive assistant under coordinator Marvin Lewis in Baltimore.
The Titans hired him away a few years later and he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2001, a job he had until Detroit hired him to replace Rod Marinelli.
Unlike Marinelli and most coaches who guard their off-the-field interests as if they're game plans, Schwartz is unafraid to let the public know what he enjoys to do.
He was an in-studio guest at Detriot radio station for more than an hour once this offseason, where he aired his knowledge and love of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the like.
Schwartz is an avid reader of books - going through 500-plus pages in a day when he was single, not married with three kids as he is now - and the latest niches intriguing him are the Civil War and historical fiction.
"If I find an author -
David Morrell, Mario Puzo, John Grisham or any guy I hear is good - I'll read everything he did," Schwartz said. "I don't read books by women. I've tried to, but their perspective is different, so I stick with what I like."
Schwartz has a flame-filled
tattoo that wraps around his right leg just above his right ankle.
"I got it soon after my mom passed suddenly at the age of 53 on December 21, 1994," he said quietly. "I wanted to have something every day that reminded me of her when I woke up to keep the pain of losing her near the forefront of my mind."
Schwartz learned how to tackle a challenge from his father, and one of his best friends is confident he will be able to handle the huge one facing him this fall.
"At least once a year since he was working for free in Cleveland, I've visited him for a game," said Stewart Miller, a Georgetown teammate. "Years ago, our friends from school who are investment bankers and lawyers, were always rolling their eyes and asking me, 'What is Schwartzy doing with his life?' I would always say, 'Leave him alone, he's pursuing his dream of being a head coach in the NFL.'
"He never had any doubt in his mind this day would come and now he has the perfect challenge, trying to turn around an 0-16 team."
LIONS SIGN DELMAS: The Lions have signed second-round pick Louis Delmas to a four-year contract.
The team announced the deal, but did not disclose terms.
Delmas, a safety, was selected with the first pick in the second round (33rd overall) out of Western Michigan. In 2008, Delmas led the Broncos with a career-high 111 tackles (61 solo). He also had four interceptions.
Also, the Lions released defensive end Eric Hicks.42.33168 -83.04792 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Pro!
Jim Schwartz has confronted challenges his whole life.