Detroit Lions: Is Jim Caldwell a good fit as head coach?

Ever since the Detroit Lions fired Jim Schwartz after yet another disappointing season, the search began for the next head coach. A few weeks later, after numerous interviews and rumors, they finally hired Jim Caldwell to be their new head coach.

Caldwell has everything that the Lions were looking for, or so it would seem. Detroit wanted a guy with NFL head coaching experience and one that could work effectively with the offense, including quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The Lions have as much talent offensively as nearly any other team in the NFL. Caldwell is a guy that has an offensive mind that could potentially get this skilled offense going in 2014.caldwell 2

For what it’s worth, Caldwell received praise from Tony Dungy regarding the fit between him and the Lions. Dungy talked about how Caldwell was able to help out the Colts’ offense and how he improved Peyton Manning’s performance.

“We talked about keeping that explosiveness but not being a high-risk team and taking care of the football,” said Dungy.

“Once Peyton really understood what Jim was trying to do, he went from a very explosive player to a guy in 2004 who threw 49 touchdowns and (10 INT) and that’s what I think you’re going to see from Matthew.

The Lions are hoping for a similar situation with a quarterback in Matthew Stafford that really struggled down the stretch in 2013.

Caldwell has NFL head coaching experience and the ability to work with quarterbacks, so all is well in Detroit, right? Well, I’m not entirely sold quite yet.

Caldwell’s experience

Caldwell played defensive back at the University of Iowa and started all four years from 1973-1976.

After his college playing career, he had coaching stops at numerous schools and eventually got his first head coaching gig with Wake Forest. In eight seasons with Wake Forest, Caldwell could only record one winning season and wound up with a record of 26-63. While his teams’ records were nothing to write home about, he did implement an offense that broke a number of school passing records at the time.

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Caldwell’s first NFL job came under Tony Dungy with the Buccaneers as a quarterbacks coach in 2001. He followed Dungy to the Colts up until Dungy retired. Caldwell was named Dungy’s replacement in 2009. In his first season as head coach of the Colts, Caldwell led them to a 14-2 record and a trip to the Super Bowl. Just two years later, the Colts managed just two wins and Caldwell was fired.

He was almost immediately snatched up by the Ravens, where he remained up until the Lions hired him. He served as the quarterbacks coach and eventually offensive coordinator. In his first season with the Ravens, they won the Super Bowl, but this past season has been a different story. In Caldwell’s first full season as offensive coordinator, the Ravens were among the league’s worst in offensive production.

Why he might not work in Detroit

Yes, Caldwell has had some success as a head coach in the NFL. His brief tenure with the Colts isn’t much to draw from, though. He was left with a very good team after Dungy retired, led by one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in Peyton Manning. To say that Caldwell played an instrumental role in why that team was so good that year would be hard to say. The Colts would have been a pretty solid team, with or without Caldwell.caldwell

Caldwell would last just two years with the Colts, as his team won just two games in his final season. Peyton Manning missed the entire season because of a neck injury, so it is sort of unfair to put all the blame on Caldwell.

And yes, Caldwell has also worked with quarterbacks in his coaching career. He has had multiple stops as quarterbacks coach in both college and the NFL and his signal callers have been pretty good. Peyton Manning’s success are known by everyone, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say he would have been alright without Caldwell. I’m not saying Caldwell didn’t help out Manning in any way, but maybe not to the extent people believe.

He most recently worked with Joe Flacco in Baltimore, where they won the Super Bowl in his first season there. Flacco burst onto the scene in the playoffs, but he struggled this season. His yardage total was similar to the 2012 campaign, but his touchdown-to-interception rate was not good at all. Flacco threw 19 touchdowns, but also threw 22 interceptions. That’s an alarming stat right there.

Does that translate into an improved Matthew Stafford? That’s what the Lions are hoping for, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if we see some of the same mistakes again in 2014. It could very well work out and we could see Stafford become a Pro-Bowl quarterback next year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

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Lions fans were relieved when the Jim Schwartz era ended in Detroit. Despite his brief success, which included the team’s first playoff appearance in a long time, the Lions were due for a change.

With Caldwell’s entrance into the Detroit franchise, things change a little bit. While I have remained pessimistic about the hiring of Caldwell, I really hope I’m wrong.

As a Michigan native, growing up watching the Lions and knowing they are going to lose, it would be a nice change of pace to win consistently. Caldwell could very well be “the guy” to turn things around for  a franchise that has not fared well in its history.

So, Lions’ fans, are you confident with a guy that has three years of coaching experience? One that boasts the ability to improve a quarterback’s game, but no numbers to back it up? 

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  • Joe White

    The good news is he wasn’t hired to be the OC. Maybe he’s better off as the main leader, which is what this team needs. They need an ultimate leader to get their heads right. Not sure if he’s the guy. Sadly the coaching candidates weren’t all that impressive this year.

  • Anthony Prano

    Until people actually start to put some of the blame on Stafford, And his lack of ability in the later part of a season (lazy?) then it won’t matter who the head coach is. Stafford is the issue here starting around game 9 EVERY season…swartz wasn’t the one giving up all those picks.