Detroit Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell said Monday the decision to fire special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs came after Coombs went against Bevell’s decision to punt in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, going for a fake instead.
Bevell said he told Coombs he wanted to punt and Coombs defied Bevell’s wishes and called a fake that ultimately came just short of converting the first down.
Bevell was asked whether he considered a less-severe punishment for Coombs and said it was a difficult call.
“It was an agonizing decision,” Bevell said. “It was something that was really hard for me. You know, I thought it would be important to think on it a lot. You know, I really thought about it basically all night long.
“I ended up getting a hold of [team president] Rod [Wood] and talking it through with Rod and there are some things that you can do and I feel like you can come back from. And I think there are some decisions that you don’t make those decisions and there’s got to be repercussions because there’s a lot of people that are making similar decisions in different ways.”
Bevell said he made the decision to fire Coombs and then took it to Wood, who met with the team’s leadership group — which was formed after the Lions fired general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia on Nov. 28. Wood ultimately signed off on Bevell’s choice.
Bevell called it an organizational decision multiple times Monday. A Lions source told ESPN that Coombs, 34, was “not a culture fit,” and that the fake punt was the final straw for issues that had been percolating.
Bevell declined to give Coombs’ explanation for going for the fake and also whether this was an isolated incident or part of a pattern since Coombs’ arrival from Cincinnati after last season, when he replaced John Bonamego. Coombs declined to comment to ESPN.
The fake punt came with 12:09 left in the game and the Lions trailing 32-18. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been playing through a rib injury suffered a week earlier against Green Bay, had been hit on back-to-back downs.
Bevell said throughout each drive there is clear communication — both in the moment and looking ahead — of parameters when to go for it, when to fake and when to punt. In reading the situation in real time, Bevell decided he did not want to chance it on fourth down. He said if he did go for it, he would have left the offense on the field because of in-game scenarios.
“The decision for me was, I have to assess everything. I am assessing that the quarterback is not in a good way and so also with the score and where we were, we had three timeouts left plus the two-minute warning,” Bevell said. “And Jack [Fox] is punting really well, I thought it would be best to flip the field, keep us in the game there down two scores, 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 with the ball. That didn’t happen in the situation and there’s some things that could be different.
“You know, 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.”
The Lions gave up a touchdown on the next possession, icing the game.
Bevell said he spoke with some players about the decision Monday, but not the entire team since it was the players’ day off.
Some special teams players voiced displeasure with the decision on social media.
One of the Best coach i played for in the NFL. 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!
— Tony Mcrae (@talibantone21) December 21, 2020
What we doin man, cmon
— Mal (@jamalagnew) December 21, 2020
Bevell said he would address the team about the decision Tuesday when they returned to start preparing for Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay.
Bevell, 50, said he made the decision now, with two weeks left in a season where the Lions have already fired their head coach and general manager, are out of playoff contention and will finish with a losing record for the third straight season, because of accountability.
“I do think it’s important as a leader, as hard as the decisions can be, I think it’s important that I have a philosophy and I have a belief and things that I tried to instill in the team, instill in the coaching staff and instill in the program,” Bevell said. “When things happen that are outside of it, then there needs to be something that happens. If something doesn’t happen, then really you lose some credibility. I always feel it’s important, I tell our coaches all the time, we need to do what we say we’re going to do. If we tell these guys something, we need to be able to come through.
“Now sometimes game-plan situations can change. Obviously we’re saying here’s the game plan and they understand some of the parameters that can change within a game, but if we’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’ then I feel like it’s important that I come through with that. And sometimes when it goes the other way, there’s moments where you could really help yourself or hurt yourself and I thought this was really an important moment.”