It came as a big surprise to fans when the Detroit Lions announced the hiring of Jim Caldwell as their new head coach. Fans everywhere wanted and expected the Lions to hire Ken Whisenhunt. Unfortunately, he wanted to coach in Tennessee instead and they were also pursuing him. When he announced he was going to coach the Titans, Detroit Lions fans speculated who would interview next. No one was happy with the current selection of interviewees and there were still some teams in the playoffs with quality assistants that could not yet be interviewed. Instead, the Detroit Lions announced the hiring of Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. While fans were upset with the choice at first, Martin Mayhew strongly urged fans that he was exactly what the team was looking for in their next head coach.
On paper, Jim Caldwell is a fantastic choice. He has won two Super Bowls as an assistant coach, and coached in a Super Bowl as a head coach. He has a proven track record of getting better performance out of quarterbacks as confirmed by Peyton Manning’s endorsement of him and Joe Flacco’s performance during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run two seasons ago. He was given glowing references by almost everyone he has ever coached for, including Tony Dungy and John Harbaugh. So why did fans not want Caldwell?
The simple answer here is that Detroit Lions fans remember the bad and never the good. If you ask a Detroit Lions fan about their team, you usually hear about how they have never played in a Super Bowl, only won one playoff game, and Matt Millen. Occasionally you will hear about Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, and that great draft they just had. With Caldwell, they remember the 2-14 season the resulted in Owner Jim Irsay cleaning house.
Looking deeper at the resume of Jim Caldwell, we see a pattern of success. After a relatively poor head coaching stint at Wake Forest, He joined Tony Dungy in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After one season together in Tampa Bay, Dungy was let go, and landed in Indianapolis. Caldwell followed and after a number of years as an assistant, he won his first Super Bowl. Along the way, he transformed Peyton Manning’s game to a level where accuracy matters, and his audibles and quick decision making traits defined him. These became staples of how Caldwell coached.
In his first season as head coach, he even took his team to a Super Bowl, barely missing an undefeated season along the way. Caldwell’s downfall though was when he had to make due without Manning two seasons later. He relied on the years of Curtis Painter as a backup to translate to success. It did not. He then moved to a myriad of quarterbacks that also floundered. His best of the bunch was Detroit Lions cast off, and now once again backup QB Dan Orlovsky.
Caldwell moved on from the Indianapolis days by landing a job in Baltimore. There, he was a quarterbacks coach turned offensive coordinator when they fired Cam Cameron. He won yet another Super Bowl there as an assistant.
Overall, if you look at the profile Jim Caldwell created for himself, you can see why he was hired by the Detroit Lions to be their new head coach. His experience and success show he is up to the task. His staff and mini camps show that he’s doing all of the right things. Now, it is up to him and his players to put it all together.