Lions coach Jim Schwartz: Ndamukong Suh crash no issue

Eric Lacy/ The Detroit News

Lions coach Jim Schwartz says he isn’t worried about the car crash defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was involved in last weekend in Portland, Ore.

Schwartz told a Detroit radio station Tuesday he believes Suh is under “too much of a microscope” because of the incident.

“We just worry about him on the field,” Schwartz told 97.1 during his weekly radio appearance. “Ndamukong is a hard-working guy; he hasn’t had any kind of issues with the law, including this one. Let’s worry about him on the field and those things, get him back playing well.”

Schwartz told the station he heard Suh wasn’t injured in the crash, but said he hasn’t been allowed to contact Suh because of the player’s two-game suspension. Suh stomped on the right arm of Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving Day, was ejected, and then suspended by the NFL.

“He can’t be in our building, that’s why he’s in his hometown of Portland,” Schwartz said. “He can’t go to meetings. We can’t have contact with him. We did get word that he was uninjured, and that’s about all we really know.”

Suh served the first game of his suspension last weekend and is off the active roster for Sunday’s home game against Minnesota. He’s expected to return for the Dec. 18 game at Oakland.

Suh’s image took a hit after his ejection, and remains under scrutiny because of the crash. Schwartz, however, claims the criticism of Suh’s character isn’t more of a problem than that of any other player.

“I’m concerned about every player we have,” Schwartz said. “I think that was not something he wants on his resume, particularly after what happened on Thanksgiving. And in fairness to him, that’s really the first thing he had after the whistle, something that wasn’t part of the play.”

Russell Spielman, Suh’s marketing agent, wouldn’t speculate about his client possibly losing endorsement deals with Chrysler, Subway and Nike, or if Suh plans on speaking publicly about his off-field problems before his suspension ends Dec. 12.

“When we’re ready to speak, we’ll speak,” Spielman said

More than a fender bender

Schwartz described Suh’s accident as a “fender bender,” but a police report obtained by The Detroit News paints a slightly different picture.

The report includes interviews from two female passengers among the three passengers in Suh’s vehicle.

The women claim Suh was driving his 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle at an uncontrollable speed around 1:14 a.m. on Dec. 3 in downtown Portland before the car spun and crashed into a light pole, water fountain and tree near Dante’s night club.

Police amended the original report after the passengers reported their injuries, but no citations will be issued and no one will be charged, police said.

Suh told police he tried to drive around a parked taxi on the dry, paved street before he lost control of his vehicle.

The two women, according to the report, claim otherwise.

“There was never a taxi,” a passenger told police. “He was just going too fast and he could have killed someone at Dante’s.”

Attempts by The News to reach employees at Dante’s were unsuccessful.

Police also didn’t administer a sobriety test on Suh because they said he showed no signs of impairment. Police also said Suh was “very cooperative” after the crash and provided a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance.

Attempts by The News to reach Suh were unsuccessful.

The report also said two female passengers were hurt in the crash and required hospitalization. The second injured person was quoted as saying, “He was driving unsafe. It was just clear to me that we were going too fast.”

It also mentions one injured passenger had a “laceration to her forehead that required five stitches, a black eye, a ‘busted’ lip and a torn shoulder muscle.”

Suh, according to police, called 9-1-1 to report the crash. A Portland TV station, KGW, obtained a recording of that call.

When asked, “Are you sure you don’t need an ambulance?” the station reported Suh replied, “Yes, everyone is fine.”

Yet, in the police report, a passenger said she told Suh repeatedly she was hurt and needed a doctor. She said he refused and told her she was fine.

She had her husband pick her up and take her to Oregon Health and Science University for treatment.

Messages left on the cell phone of Blaine Smith, a witness mentioned in the police report, weren’t returned.

A witness named Allan, who also called 9-1-1 to report the crash, spoke Monday to KGW.

He said the driver “floored it” when a stoplight turned green at 3rd and Burnside streets. He said it looked like the driver was trying to “show off.”

Allan also told KGW there were no cars in front of Suh’s vehicle and he did not see a taxi.

Two of the passengers told police they wanted their names to remain confidential because they feared for their safety because Suh has “lots of friends and family” in the Portland area.

Past accidents

The accident last weekend wasn’t the first such incident Suh has been involved in.

Last year, Suh was in an accident in Royal Oak (11 Mile and Campbell) with a 30-year-old Shelby Township woman.

Police said the woman was at fault because she disobeyed a traffic signal as she attempted to turn southbound on Campbell.

The woman’s Honda Civic struck Suh’s Land Rover as he headed east on 11 Mile.

Suh wasn’t injured, and alcohol wasn’t involved, but police said the woman suffered minor injuries.

According to the Associated Press report, Suh was in an accident at Nebraska.

Suh pled guilty to negligent driving and paid a $60 fine after crashing into three parked cars.

Suh, reportedly driving his mother’s SUV, said he swerved to avoid a cat. He also paid $48 in court costs.

John Niyo: Ndamukong Suh, Lions must tread carefully

John Niyo

Allen Park — He’s gone, but hardly forgotten. And he’ll be back, perhaps sooner rather than later.

So even as the Lions tried their best Tuesday to ignore the elephant notin the room, the question remains: What do they do with Ndamukong Suh?

The NFL weighed in with its initial answer, handing down a two-game suspension in response to Suh’s helmet-grinding, foot-stomping ejection in last week’s loss to Green Bay.

And the Lions all-Pro defensive tackle countered with his own reply, appealing the suspension at the urging of the NFL Players Association and others, no matter how tone deaf that strikes some in Suh’s growing legion of critics.

But while the expedited (and likely fruitless) appeal won’t change the immediate plans — Suh is expected to miss Sunday’s game at New Orleans and next week’s home game against Minnesota — it still left the entire organization, and particularly the players, stuck in an awkward limbo.

Not just because the team returned to practice without its best defensive player. But also because his absence leaves his teammates to answer for him, literally and figuratively.

And while none of them cared to reprimand Suh publicly Tuesday, I think it’s safe to say they’ve had enough of the nonsense, just like most everyone else, including the league’s disciplinarians.

After getting tossed for stomping on Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith — not to mention the Ford family’s treasured Thanksgiving tradition — Suh spent a good chunk of last Friday meeting with coaches and teammates before finally issuing his day-late, dollars-short apology to the Lions and his “true fans” via Facebook. Team officials also issued a statement then, expressing all the proper regrets to try to minimize the public-relations damage after a nationally televised meltdown.

But Suh has yet to speak to reporters since his defiant postgame news conference took a bad situation and made it immeasurably worse. (He also has yet to apologize to Dietrich-Smith, as far as we know. The Packers guard avoided the media Tuesday in Green Bay.)

Suh was back with the team in Allen Park on Tuesday morning, but got the anticipated phone call from the NFL about the suspension — one that included a ban from the practice facility — and just like that, he was kicked out. Again.

So we’ll have to wait a while longer to hear from him directly about where he goes from here, or how he truly intends to make amends and start repairing his reputation while the Lions try to salvage a playoff berth.

“He’s going to have to deal with the repercussions of it personally,” said veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, a team captain who said he had a 1-on-1 talk with Suh last Friday. “We’ll handle the effects it has on us as a team. But it’s gonna be tough for him.”

Short on contrition

It’ll be tougher still, because for all of Suh’s good qualities — on and off the field — contrition doesn’t appear to be one of them, at least publicly.

Yet, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said he’s had “a lot of conversations with (Suh) the last two days and I think he is in a different spot,” than he was — emotionally — after the game.

“I think, for sure, he understands the position that he put his team in the game, and also the position that we’re in right now,” Schwartz added. “And he feels a tremendous sense of responsibility for that. There’s an accountability for what we do on the field and he — particularly these last couple days — is well aware of that.”

And yes, I’m well aware contrition isn’t exactly what the Lions — or their playoff-starved fans — need from Suh to reach the postseason. But therein lies the real challenge going forward.

Now that one of the team’s cornerstone players — the face of the franchise, alongside quarterback Matthew Stafford — has crossed the line, how will he handle this tightrope walk? How will he handle the backlash? How will he handle his emotions? And, quite frankly, how will it affect his play on the field?

Because if Suh thought he was a target before all this — and that’s why he said he went to New York to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell and others — it’s going to be far worse for him now. Everyone from Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene to Suh’s head coach was saying that this week — “Everybody knows that he’s had this one, and players are gonna push him to the edge,” Schwartz said — as this Suh saga spiraled out of control.

Keeping his cool

Look, the sooner he returns, the sooner his teammates can forget about what he has done. And the sooner he can start doing something about it.

But for the foreseeable future, the question is always going to be whether Suh can keep his cool.

“It’s difficult,” Vanden Bosch said. “A lot of things happen in the game and you’re taught to be aggressive, you’re taught to be as physical as possible, and when people are doing things to you throughout the course of a game to try to antagonize you … sometimes it’s difficult to swallow your pride and walk away and move on.

“Especially in the heat of the moment. A lot of people just want to say, well, he just should’ve walked away. And even though that’s the right thing to do, in that moment, a lot of people don’t understand how difficult that is to do.”

Maybe not, but Suh better understand now.

And I think that’s the real appeal here — not to the NFL, but to Suh. He better swallow his pride — easy for me to say, I know — before he lets it swallow his career.