Detroit Lions coach Bobby Ross retired today, a day after an embarrassing blowout loss to Miami.
Assistant head coach Gary Moeller will take his place at least for the rest of this season. Detroit is 5-4.
“He felt he just burned himself out, physically and mentally,” team owner William Clay Ford said. “The gas tank was empty. … I can assure you this is his own decision.”
Ross alluded to the possibility he would leave after Sunday’s 23-8 loss to the Dolphins, calling it “one of the most embarrassing losses I have ever had.”
“We showed right from the start of the game that we weren’t ready to play, and ultimately, that is my responsibility. I won’t back down from that,” Ross said Sunday. “This loss is going to very hard for me to digest. I’m going to have to go home and reflect on some things and talk them over with my wife.”
Moeller: No Big Changes Planned
In his fourth year with the Lions, Ross, 63, was 27-30 in the regular season and 0-2 in playoff appearances. He replaced Wayne Fontes, who was fired in December 1996.
Moeller received a three-year contract. He said Ross “did get burned out to some degree. He’s not hurting mentally in any particular way.
“Sometimes the pressures get a little heavy. By that I don’t mean that he’s not a fighter because he is a fighter. … Did I see it coming? In some ways, possibly, because you hear a rumor here and there. It was surprising to me in a way but understandable as well.”
Moeller was fired as Michigan’s football coach in 1995 days after his arrest during a disturbance at a Detroit-area restaurant. He served two seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals’ tight ends coach before being hired in January 1997 as the Lions’ running backs coach. This year, the 58-year-old Moeller has served as an assistant head coach and linebackers coach.
Moeller said he doesn’t plan to make too many changes right now.
“Today, as we all know we sit there at 5-4. But I think we can grow as a football team and can be better,” Moeller said.
Dismal Playoff Performances
Ross has had some well-documented blowups in the past after especially sloppy defeats. Miami (7-2) forced Detroit to turn the ball over three times without giving the ball up once Sunday.
“What bothered me is that we never fought back,” Ross said after the game. “If there is one thing I want to leave with the people of Detroit, it is that I will always fight back. You want your team to be a model of yourself, and I’ve failed at that.”
In September, after the Lions lost 31-10 to Tampa Bay, Ross apologized to Detroit fans.
Last November at Arizona, Detroit cut the Cardinals’ lead to 23-19 with 5:26 left, when Ross opted for a 2-point conversion attempt that fell short. The Lions later drove to the Arizona 11 in the final minutes and could have tied the game with a short field goal if they had kicked the extra point earlier. But forced to go for the touchdown, the Lions failed.
“I decided to go for two points because I felt we were going to play it to win it. I thought it through. It wasn’t a spontaneous decision,” Ross said then. “I could probably look back on it and kick myself in the teeth, but I’m not going to do that because I thought it through.”
Detroit’s franchise has struggled, though the team is tied for second place with Tampa Bay behind Minnesota in the NFC Central. The Lions got off to a good start last year, going 6-2 after running back Barry Sanders’ surprise retirement.
But when it comes to playoffs, the record is dismal. Detroit has lost six straight playoff games since defeating the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the 1991 season.
Since winning the NFL championship in 1957, the Lions have only qualified for the playoffs nine times. They went from that 1957 title until 1970 before ever earning another playoff berth.
In all, Detroit is 1-9 in the playoffs since 1957.