Detroit Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell said the decision to fire Brayden Coombs on Monday was an “agonizing” one, but after the first-year special teams coordinator went rogue with a fake punt call in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans, it was something he felt needed to be done for the sake of the team.
“If we’re going to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’ then I feel like it’s important that I come through with that,” Bevell said. “And sometimes when it goes the other way, there’s moments that you can really help yourself or hurt yourself, and I thought this was really an important moment.”
Bevell said he decided to fire Coombs after much deliberation late Sunday night, then brought it to president Rod Wood for approval.
Team and league officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Coombs’ dismissal was mostly about his lack of culture fit within the organization. Some considered him a self-promoter, he was late for meetings on more than one occasion in recent weeks, and Sunday’s insubordination was the proverbial final straw.
Bevell declined to comment on any other incidents. Asked about Coombs not being a culture fit, he said, “I don’t want to use those words from me. We’ll just move on from there.”
Coombs did not return a phone call seeking comment.
As for the fake punt, Bevell said he wanted punter Jack Fox to kick the ball with just over 12 minutes left and the Lions in fourth-and-4 from their own 31-yard line down 14 points, and Coombs decided to go for the fake on his own.
“There’s a decision to be made there,” Bevell said. “The decision for me was, I have to assess everything. I’m assessing that the quarterback is not in a good way (after being hit the previous two plays), and so also with the score and where we were, we had three timeouts left plus the two-minute warning, and Jack is punting really well, I thought it’d be best to flip the field and keep us in the game there, down two scores. We’d get the ball back, you saw how the offense was going, with a really good chance.
“If I’m going to go for it there, I’m going to leave the offense out and I’m going to trust Matthew (Stafford) with the ball. And that didn’t happen in the situation and there’s some things that could be different. Like, I would be standing in a different spot, could have made really good decisions in that, and not knowing what was going on led to bad things happening.”
Bevell said the Lions have had fake punts in the game plan in all three games since Matt Patricia was fired in late November, but have not used them based on predetermined parameters related to down-and-distance or game situations.
On Sunday, Bevell said the Lions had at least three third downs within the parameters for a fake punt, but converted and never got to the play.
He declined to share the parameters or say if they included the fourth-and-4 situation where the Lions unsuccessfully ran their fake. Regardless, he said it was clear he wanted to punt the ball.
Instead of a punt, personal protector C.J. Moore took a direct snap on the play and ran a sweep to the short side of the field where he was stopped just short of a first down.
The Titans took possession at the Lions’ 34-yard-line and scored six plays later to break open the game.
“In that situation, clearly as I explained what the situation was at that moment with timeouts, time of the game, score, Matthew’s situation, it was a situation for me to punt and that didn’t happen,” Bevell said.
Coombs, 34 and in his first season as a coordinator, helped transform the Lions into one of the NFL’s best punt teams. Fox ranks second in the league with a 45.3-yard net punting average, and the Lions have three blocked punts and a blocked extra point.
Several of the Lions’ core special teams players expressed surprise at the move on social media.
“What we doin man, cmon,” return man Jamal Agnew tweeted.
“One of the Best coach i played for in the NFL,” wrote cornerback Tony McRae, who started at gunner before a season-ending knee injury. “Team guy and player coach on and off the field. Great Energy and a man who will challenge you week in and out I’m lost for words. I’ll play for Brayden anyday!”
Bevell said he spoke individually with some players Monday about the move, and would address the entire team when it reconvenes Tuesday to begin preparations for this week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“With the interim tag, I totally understand my situation, and I understand that I have five weeks to be able to do this for now and I’ve been given the authority to manage the coaching staff and to work with those guys,” Bevell said. “And so first it was my decision to start, but obviously it’s one that I cannot make by myself. I do have a boss as well, so I took it to Rod and then I waited to hear from him, what they thought was best. So I would say clearly, it was an organizational decision, not one that I made on my own. But I did have input in the decision.’
Assistant special teams coach Marquice Williams will run the unit for the Lions’ final two games.