Maybe it’s not the most coveted job in the National Football League, but head coach of the Detroit Lions is still a pretty big deal. There are only 32 head coaching jobs in the league, after all. Detroit may not have the winning tradition of Green Bay or Pittsburgh or New England or even (gasp!) Chicago, but Detroit loves its football team.
Now, Jim Caldwell is in the crosshairs.
Caldwell has done the job before, and he’s won. In 2009 he followed a legend (Tony Dungy) in Indianapolis and guided the Colts to the Super Bowl in his first season. They also went back to the playoffs the following year, but when Peyton Manning was lost for the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, Caldwell’s team limped to a 2-14 record. He was fired.
Already, in the mere hours since his hiring was announced, fans are taking to social media to slam Caldwell. Some claim he’s a loser, others call him worse than Jim Schwartz. I’m not sure what those people are smoking, but it’s obvious some fans just don’t ever want to see anything positive.
Caldwell spent just three seasons in the NFL as a head coach and he took his team to the playoffs twice, to the Super Bowl once. He’s been part of winning teams at the NFL level in each of his three stops. He has two Super Bowl rings. Some will claim “the players won” those titles, but if that’s the case, why be concerned with the coach at all? The credit or blame should fall squarely with the men in uniform wearing the Honolulu Blue.
Fact is, Caldwell is well respected in the league and he was quickly hired by the Baltimore Ravens to be their quarterbacks coach after being let go by the Colts in 2009. That was a job that Caldwell excelled in, and Lions fans should take note – Caldwell has spent 16 years in that role, working with Manning, Joe Flacco, both of whom won Super Bowl titles with Caldwell speaking into their ears. Matthew Stafford has put up big numbers for the Lions in a few of his seasons, but the young QB has never had the guidance of someone like Caldwell.
In Caldwell, the Lions are getting a football lifer, a man who started coaching when Jimmy Carter was president. Caldwell has worked mostly as an assistant or a right-hand man, he’e been the wizard behind the curtain in many places where the offense has been electrifying. He was head coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons for eight seasons in the 1990s, with limited success. But he’s really learned at the professional level, especially under Dungy, who is actually 10 months younger than Caldwell.
Caldwell is the first African American to coach the Lions, and only the second minority to manage or coach the Lions, Red Wings, or Tigers. The Pistons have had several minority head coaches, including current coach Maurice Cheeks.
Caldwell comes to Detroit less than a year after winning a Super Bowl title as the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. He also won a Super Bowl with the Colts in Super Bowl XLI. His head coaching record in college was 26-63 though he did win his only bowl game. At the NFL level he was 26-22 as head coach of the Colts, and he set a record when he won the first 14 games he coached in 2009.
With Cladwell as his QB coach, Manning won three MVP Awards and set records for completions, yardage, and touchdowns, all of which have been subsequently been surpassed. Caldwell has a reputation as a players’ coach but he also expects disciplined play, something the Lions have lacked in recent years. Despite their great talent (Detroit boasts Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Reggie Bush) the Lions have been inconsistent for the last few seasons and blew a two-game lead in the NFC North as they lost six of their last seven games under coach Jim Schwartz, who was fired immediately after the 2013 season.
Stafford is a lightning rod for criticism from Detroit fans. In one moment he can make a fantastic play with his strong arm or as a leader as he did when he leaped over the goal line to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in 2013. But then he can also look awkward as he throws off his back foot or sidearms the football into coverage. He tossed 19 interceptions last season despite topping the 4,600-yard mark for a third straight year. It’s hoped that with Caldwell at the top, Stafford and his offensive weapons can be harnessed into a winning unit. The Lions have won just one playoff game in the last 56 years.
“Jim Caldwell’s one of the best quarterbacks coaches over the years at teaching fundamentals that translate to the game and allow quarterbacks to maximize their play,” Baltimore assistant Cam Cameron told BaltimoreRavens.com in 2012.
Do you think Caldwell can turn the Lions around? Can he deliver a playoff win or even a Super Bowl title? Tell us in the comments below.