After losing to the Washington Redskins, 45-0, on opening day, Wayne Fontes coached the Detroit Lions to a 12-4 record and kept the team together in the face of injuries ranging from tragic to controversial.
At season’s end, Fontes had the Lions in the NFL playoffs for the first time in eight years. Wednesday, he was chosen the Associated Press’ NFL coach of the year.
Fontes, 52, edged Joe Gibbs of the Redskins in voting by sportswriters who cover the NFL.
The Lions won five in a row after losing to Washington and were 8-0 at home. Along the way, they lost quarterback Rodney Peete, linebacker Mike Cofer, nose guard Jerry Ball and offensive linemen Mike Utley and Eric Sanders.
Utley was paralyzed during a game against the Rams.
Ball’s injury came in a game against the New York Jets and brought about a protest for a blocking technique that cut him down.