Caldwell has gotten through to the Lions in a way no other coach has in a long time

Head coach Jim Caldwell has the Detroit Lions off to a 6-2 record.

Head coach Jim Caldwell has the Detroit Lions off to a 6-2 record.

Normally I don’t put a lot of stock into press conferences that introduce a new coach, regardless of the sport.

The monologues often seem canned and they come off like campaign rhetoric, filled with promises and why the fans (voters) should believe in the new guy. The only difference between a new coach presser and a political stump speech is that the coach already has the job locked up.

Some sample, garden variety quotes and their real meanings: “We want to win now but we are building for the future.” Translation: This team isn’t very good and we are in rebuilding mode. But please come see us play anyway.

“This is a great opportunity with a great organization.” Translation: Boy, did they pay me a lot of money!

“We owe it to the fans of (name the city) to put a winning product on the field/court/ice.” Translation: Do you accept promissory notes?

“We will be a more disciplined football team.” Translation: We will be a more disciplined football team—if the speaker is Jim Caldwell.

The new coach tells the media and the fans what they want to hear, so naturally there are bound to be some whoppers in there.

Lions fans no doubt were happy to hear Caldwell, when he was introduced last January, talk about discipline. For years, Lions teams had a fetish for shooting themselves in the cleat.

Caldwell promised us that he would remove the pistol from his players’ hands.

The Lions are halfway through their 2014 schedule and guess what—they are more disciplined.

Caldwell made good on his campaign promise, at least so far.

The Lions don’t jump offside with maddening regularity anymore. They aren’t being flagged for roughing the quarterback, which always seemed to happen at the worst possible time.

Even penalties like pass interference and defensive holding, which aren’t necessarily rooted in being undisciplined, are down in 2014 from years past.

Hiring and firing coaches is a game of opposites.

If the fired guy was too reserved, you hire a manic loudmouth. If the fired guy was too intense, you hire a calm, casual dude.

The Lions fired Jim Schwartz after five years because his loose cannon, short-fused personality became too much to bear, as it came at the expense of turning his players into his likeness.

Even the postgame handshake became must-see TV.

You won’t see Caldwell in the center of any drama. He won’t be turning to the fans at Ford Field and giving them the what-for, as Schwartz did late last year.

Sports fans seem to gravitate to the fire and brimstone coach. They like their teams’ coaches and managers to yell and scream and prance around like a lunatic. They want them to turn over a postgame buffet during a losing streak.

But in the annals of sport, the stark raving mad coach is usually not the one who wins the championship.

Oh, there have been exceptions. Mike Ditka in football and Billy Martin in baseball come to mind.

But let’s look at pro football.

Think of the coaches of multiple Super Bowl winners.

Tom Landry. Bill Walsh. Chuck Noll. Don Shula—to name a few of the more famous.

These were men of little emotion on the sideline. Landry, wearing his fedora, wouldn’t have yelled if his hair was on fire. Walsh was the picture of intelligence and composure. Noll and Shula were steel-jawed men who preferred to bore holes into the skulls of their players with laser glares instead of words.

I’ll give you Vince Lombardi as another exception, but even Lombardi’s explosions were well-timed and performed with little animation.
Jim Harbaugh is an example of a coach of which many fans around these parts are enamored. He is the darling of a segment of University of Michigan supporters who wish Brady Hoke to be given the ziggy.

Harbaugh is admired, I believe, partly because of his maniacal manner on the sidelines.

Coaching football, though, is a difficult enough task without adding to it by being high strung. The physical toll is great, even if you’re as cool as a cucumber on the field. The football coach works 16 hour days, sleeps in his office and watches more film than a movie critic. He skips meals and doesn’t get enough sleep.

I’m amazed that with their living habits, coaches don’t drop like flies. Thank goodness they don’t.

The Jim Harbaughs and Jim Schwartzes often have short shelf lives. Even if they find work elsewhere, they don’t stay at any one place for any length of time. Their types tend to wear out their welcomes relatively quickly.

Jim Caldwell has instilled discipline in his Lions team, just as he said he would back in January. The 6-2 record has been built in no small part from playing smarter football and not engaging in the shenanigans—on and off the field—that have befallen teams led by Caldwell’s predecessors.

We don’t know why defensive tackle C.J. Mosley was suspended for two games—a transgression that got him sent back home from London late last week. Caldwell is remaining tight-lipped about Mosley, other than saying the suspension was due to conduct detrimental to the team.
But the question arises: would Schwartz have issued such a suspension?

Of course, Schwartz was no stranger to fast-starting seasons, either. He started 5-0 in 2011 (playoffs) and 6-3 in 2013 (collapse, no playoffs). The issue with those teams was the finishes (5-6 in 2011 and 1-6 in 2013).

The 6-2 Lions of 2014 don’t seem to have that feeling of doom about them, however. Their disciplined play and stingy defense might function as antidotes against any second half collapse.

So far, Jim Caldwell’s campaign promise made in January is panning out.

I love the Red Wings penalty killing but I hate their power play.

I love that the World Series went seven games, but I hate that it was less than a marquee matchup. Nobody cared who won, and that’s why the TV ratings were so bad.

I love the fact that when Michigan and Michigan State play each other on the court, you have no idea what’s going to happen, but I hate that when they meet on the gridiron, they may as well not even tee it up.

I hate the idea of the Tigers losing Max Scherzer to free agency, but I love that his loss means one less bad contract to hand out. May as well happen to another team.

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