Jim Schwartz probably doesn’t like how he looked after the Lions’ loss to the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh probably doesn’t care how he looked.
Frankly, I think their tiff — or to use a football term, kerfuffle — was the perfect window into two teams and two coaches. I’ll even add this: It was fun to see.
Oh, I know we’re supposed to be all huffy and bothered by the lack of sportsmanship. Harbaugh started it with a too-hard backslap on Schwartz after the 49ers’ 25-19 victory at Ford Field. It wasn’t quite a shove, but it was close. I’m guessing it came from the exuberance of victory, but Harbaugh never has a problem antagonizing with his emotions.
Schwartz’s reaction was wrong but understandable, and wildly entertaining. He chased after Harbaugh, bounced a shoulder into him, then tried to get at him near the tunnel, as players and officials intervened. No punches were thrown and no one was hurt, and if anything, the profiles of both teams were raised, as ESPN launched around-the-clock coverage of the Throwdown in Motown (I just made that up, by the way.)
Schwartz and Harbaugh can’t make this a habit, obviously, and they should be scolded. Maybe the league will react with slaps on the wrist for slaps on the back. But please, in the robotic world of the NFL, you didn’t enjoy seeing a couple of hotly competitive coaches leading two formerly downtrodden teams?
The Lions aren’t being pushed around anymore, that’s the unspoken implication. If I were Schwartz, I’d hit that angle, while also acknowledging he can’t lose his composure. A coach can’t preach poise to players about avoiding penalties and kerfuffles, then lose his own cool.
Schwartz generally is the controlled, cerebral coach, with a feisty side that can come blasting out. Harbaugh is branded as the hot head, going back to his days as a quarterback under Bo Schembechler and Mike Ditka. When Harbaugh coached at Stanford, he ran up the score on USC and had a famous mid-field exchange with Pete Carroll, who plaintively asked, “What’s your deal?”
The deal is, Harbaugh is a passionately fiery coach, a big reason Michigan fans wanted him so badly. It’s also a reason he didn’t come to Ann Arbor, because his competitive ego pushed him to the highest level of football, the NFL.
Harbaugh is doing a fantastic job with the 5-1 49ers, using essentially the same players that went 6-10 a year ago. Schwartz is doing a fantastic job with the 5-1 Lions, using many of the same players that went 6-10 a year ago.
It was a great game of contrasting styles, with San Francisco’s punishing ground attack and defense beating Detroit’s passing offense. The Lions’ lack of a running game caught up with them, and now the status of Jahvid Best (concussion) has to be a concern.
Others can go bonkers about the Throwdown in Motown. You even can debate where it actually started, like in the first half, when Schwartz was seen on camera yelling, “Learn the rules Harbaugh!” after a disallowed coach’s challenge by Harbaugh led to a penalty.
Schwartz, you’ll recall, also was seen yelling at Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant a couple weeks ago, so he shouldn’t be shy about a little in-game or post-game profanity. Harbaugh did violate handshake protocol, and there’s a decent chance he did it intentionally.
Schwartz’s angry reaction wasn’t his finest moment, but it was a real moment, rooted in the psyche of a coach and a team sick of being shoved. Bad for him, and also, good for him.