The Detroit Lions proved they are the same old Lions and hired Jim Caldwell

Before I get into slamming the Detroit Lions for this hire and ripping Jim Caldwell’s resume and coaching ability let’s get a few things out of the way.  I would love nothing more than to be wrong about this.  I would love for someone one year, two years, three years or however long down the road to find this post, comment on it or send it to me and tell me I’m an idiot.  I want Jim Caldwell to be successful.  I want Caldwell to be successful as much as anyone.  I’m not going to sit here and hope that he fails just so I can say that I was right.  I’m still going to watch Lions games and show up to Ford Field and cheer for them.  This hire doesn’t change that and only a few things could make me dump this team.  I’m sure he’s a great guy and certainly has the support of a lot of players and people in and around the league.  But, at the end of the day, this was an underwhelming, bad hire by the Detroit Lions.

If you’re going to sit here and tell me that Jim Caldwell won two Super Bowl’s as an offensive coordinator and took a team to the Super Bowl and lost as a head coach, I have a few things to say to you.

#1 Peyton Manning was offensive coordinator the year the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl, not Jim Caldwell.  Seriously though, Tom Moore was the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2008.  Jim Caldwell was never anything more than the QB coach and assistant head coach under Tony Dungy.  Besides, anyone who watches Peyton Manning play knows that he calls the plays at the line of scrimmage and that he is running the show.  Jim Caldwell had nothing to do with that and neither did Tom Moore.

#2 Jim Caldwell was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens in LATE December.  He was the OC for three regular season games and the post season.  Joe Flacco played out of his mind and the Ravens are a Hail Mary away against the Denver Broncos from being knocked out.  The Ravens defense and Joe Flacco playing like a guy in a contract year won that Super Bowl.  The offense did do pretty well and they did win a Super Bowl, but it wasn’t like the Ravens were an offensive powerhouse that strung up 50 on each team.

#3 This year the Ravens were 29th in total offense and 25th in scoring offense, Joe Flacco was a disaster and threw more interceptions than touchdowns and Ray Rice turned into a steaming pile of garbage during Jim Caldwell’s first full season as an NFL offensive coordinator.  The regression on the offense wasn’t completely his fault, with a patch work offensive line and injuries, but those are some friggin’ brutal numbers with a supposedly “Elite” QB.

#4 Yes, Caldwell did take the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in his first year as an NFL head coach, that is an astute observation on your part.

Jim Caldwell was 2-14 as a head coach in the NFL without Peyton Manning and wasn’t even deemed good enough by the rest of the NFL to land on his feet and get an offensive coordinator position.  He took the quarterbacks coach job with the Ravens that turned into an OC job.  Here’s an interesting read on Caldwell being hired by the Ravens.  At Wake Forest, his other head coaching stint, he went 29-63.  No, Wake Forest is not a good football team, but my god that is a disaster.  He had one season with more than 5 wins and only made one bowl game in eight years.  Here’s a closer look at his coaching history courtesy of the Pride of Detroit.

Caldwell has endorsements from Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, which is very impressive, but don’t think that Caldwell created Peyton Manning and turned him into a Hall of Famer all on his own.  David Cutcliffe molded Peyton Manning.  How much Caldwell influenced Manning isn’t public knowledge, but Cutcliffe is Manning’s offseason QB guru.

In Caldwell’s second year as a head coach, he blew a playoff game for the Colts against the New York Jets with his clock management.

Look at Peyton Manning’s face. What was Caldwell’s explanation after the game?

“I didn’t care,” he said postgame. “I was going to make sure that they couldn’t … make them snap the ball. They were in field-goal range. We wanted to try to make them snap the ball as many times as they possibly could.”

Uh, okay?  The Jets were in range for a 49-yard field goal, that’s not a gimme.  I don’t see how Caldwell’s game management ability is any better than Jim Schwartz’s.  I honestly don’t see Caldwell as an upgrade, it’s a lateral movement in my eyes at the moment.  I will say this, at least under Caldwell they will be more organized and more disciplined, that’s a guarantee.

In his second stint, could Caldwell do better?  Of course.  Maybe he will be able to keep the team disciplined and harness the talent and produce on the field.  Just don’t believe for a second when the Lions say that Caldwell was their guy from the start that he was.  He was the first guy they interviewed, but if he was their guy from the start, they would have hired him right away instead of waiting to interview Ken Whisenhunt.

Is Ken Whisenhunt a perfect hire that would be guaranteed success?  No, of course not.  He turned in garbage seasons of his own while he was the Arizona Cardinals head coach.  At least he landed a job as an offensive coordinator afterwards and turned Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense around.  There was no reason to rush to hire Jim Caldwell.  Why not wait?  Go through another round of interviews, wait for the Seattle Seahawks’ coordinators or Denver Broncos’ coordinators to be open for interviews.  Mike Munchak and Gary Kubiak aren’t the answer either.  None of the candidates they interviewed after Whisenhunt were exciting, so why not interview more?  Caldwell wasn’t exactly getting scooped up quickly by any other team with an available head coaching job, so why the rush?

If you want someone to blame for Whisenhunt going to Tennessee, blame Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop and the referees that inexplicably called back a Chiefs touchdown during the San Diego Chargers-Kansas City Chiefs game.  If the refs don’t blow the game and Succop doesn’t miss that field goal, the Chargers lose.  That means the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs and the next day, December 30th, the Lions fired Jim Schwartz.  The Tennessee Titans fired Mike Munchak on January 4th.  Maybe the Lions would have been able to get Whisenhunt wrapped up in that four-day head start on the Titans and Caldwell wouldn’t be the head coach.  Pretty wild how one thing seemingly so meaningless to your team becomes a major impact.

In all seriousness, Ken Whisenhunt went to the Tennessee Titans because he got $1 million more, more roster control and most importantly, the Lions cap situation is worse.  That is a MAJOR red flag.  The Lions were screwed by having too many high picks in the waning years of the old CBA where there wasn’t a rookie pay scale.  Now they have players making more money than they would be now and a strapped for cash.  They have holes and it’s going to take hard work and a good draft to fill them, as well as some great coaching.

Here’s what the Lions owner William Clay Ford had to say about the hiring:

“On behalf on my entire family, I want to express how thrilled we are with the appointment of Jim Caldwell as our new head coach,” Lions owner and chairman William Clay Ford said. “We believe Jim is the right man to lead our team and deliver a championship to our fans.”

I hope that Martin Mayhew knows that if Jim Caldwell fails that he will likely follow him out the door.

This is going to be a hostile environment Caldwell is coming into and hopefully he’s ready for the pressure.  Lions fans are not happy with the underachieving team and are not happy with the hire.  Calvin Johnson won’t be young forever and they cannot continue to waste his talent with mediocre garbage seasons.

To make matters worse?  Not only did the Lions botch the coaching search, but Brian Xanders, their Senior Personnel Executive is interviewing for General Manager jobs.  Why is this bad?  Xanders came in last year before the 2013 NFL Draft and revamped the Lions entire scouting system after being fired as GM of the Denver Broncos.  The result?  Arguably the best and most complete draft the Lions have had in probably a decade.  Not to mention they found two undrafted free agent starters.  Losing Xanders would be one of the worst things that could happen to this franchise, worse than hiring Caldwell or keeping Jim Schwartz.

Who will be on Caldwell’s staff, you ask?

Teryl Austin is currently the DB coach with the Baltimore Ravens, he’s not a bad hire, but who will know how he does as a defensive coordinator.  Bill Lazor is the Philadelphia Eagles QB coach, who has only been an offensive coordinator in college.  Lazor did help turn Nick Foles into a Pro Bowl Alternate QB, so I don’t exactly hate the hire, but I’m not exactly thrilled with the lack of experience.  The big issue for me is hiring Ron Prince.  This dude was a complete disaster at Kansas State and did a real good job as OC at Rutgers.

[UPDATE: Bill Lazor has been hired by the Miami Dolphins to be their offensive coordinator, Ed Werder of ESPN was the one who said that Lazor would be Caldwell’s OC and apparently retracted it later.]

Now why would you fire Jeremiah Washburn for Prince?  The players love Washburn and the Lions offensive line was awesome this year.  No reason to fire him.  To make matters worse everyone keeps talking about Jim Tressel coming with Jim Caldwell to the Lions.  Tressel as an employee for one of my teams?  Makes me sick.  My hope is that these are just rumors and that Prince and Tressel do not actually get hired by Caldwell.  His staff isn’t official yet and I’ll update this post with more once it is official, probably sometime in the next week.  It will be interesting to see how reliable Ian Rapoport’s information is.

Yes, the draft is a little less than four months away and the season doesn’t start for another seven months, and plenty can happen.  None of those hires are set in stone, nor has Xanders left yet.  As I said, the players seem to like the hire and so do some people around the league.  Caldwell had a thorough interview and broke down every throw Matt Stafford made last year and went over them with him.  Maybe Caldwell and Lazor are the QB gurus that Stafford need.  Maybe the Lions make the playoffs next year with their new head coach and right the ship with the new leadership.  Maybe I’ll be wrong about Caldwell and his staff just like I was wrong about Ziggy Ansah.  Maybe Caldwell will knock his press conference on Wednesday out of the park and I’ll start to believe in him.  Or maybe he’ll have a brutal presser, the Lions will have a terrible draft and turn in another losing season and they will continue to be one of the most talented, underachieving teams in the league.  I’m a “glass is half-empty” person, so you should know exactly where I stand.

The bottom line is every season I’ve gone into the year with hope or thinking that this is the year the Lions do something and this hire does not do that.  I do not see this team in a better position than they were.  I’m not encouraged nor excited about next season right now.  The draft and free agency could change that, especially if the Lions somehow land Sammy Watkins, but I’m not holding my breath.  Caldwell is not a great head coach.  He’s not a great offensive coordinator.  Could he be?  Sure, people and things change.  But all I see is a good man with good friends in high places.  If Caldwell fails over the next few seasons, Tony Dungy should be forced to come out of retirement to replace him.  Keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best, Lions fans.  That’s what I’ll be doing…along with expecting the worst.

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