Jim Caldwell a Perfect Fit at Head Coach for the Detroit Lions

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJanuary 14, 2014

USA Today

Shortly after relieving Jim Schwartz of his head coaching duties, Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew presented a candidly specific profile of the next man they wanted to be in charge of the franchise. 

The Lions brass let it be known that they desired a candidate with head coaching experience, leadership qualities and an ability to make positive change, both at quarterback and inside the locker room. 

Those preliminary guidelines for a head coach seemed to paint a perfect picture of Ken Whisenhunt, a former Super Bowl head coach who helped transform the Arizona Cardinals before going on to shine as offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers

But the profile also fit former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, who the Lions have reportedly picked to replace Schwartz after missing out on Whisenhunt a day earlier. 

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Caldwell will officially be hired as the Lions' next head coach on Tuesday.

The Lions had to shift gears once Whisenhunt picked the Tennessee Titans opening over Detroit on Monday. The focus quickly moved to Caldwell, per Schefter and Chris Mortensen

Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy endorsed Caldwell's coaching credentials throughout the process. 

"I already had told Martin Mayhew that Caldwell is a great match for a team that has the personnel of being capable of playing in the Super Bowl," Dungy said, via Schefter and Mortensen. 

Caldwell helped get the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009.
Caldwell helped get the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Caldwell's boss in both Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, Dungy praised the vast respect his former assistant earned from his players, his potential ability to help regressing quarterback Matthew Stafford and the discipline he could bring to an occasionally boisterous locker room in Detroit.

The 58-year-old Caldwell certainly adheres to the main criteria laid out by Lewand and Mayhew at the start of the process. 

A head coach for eight years at Wake Forest, Caldwell eventually caught on with Dungy in Tampa Bay as the Buccaneers quarterbacks coach. When Dungy left for Indianapolis in 2002, Caldwell tagged along in the same position. Later, he added assistant head coach to his job title.

The Colts won Super Bowl XLI in February 2007. 

Caldwell's first NFL head coaching opportunity came after Dungy left football following the 2008 season. Instead of hiring someone from the outside, the Colts promoted from within and elevated Caldwell to the top job. 

His three years leading Indianapolis were a mix of the very best and very worst.

Jim Caldwell's NFL Coaching History
2001TBQB Coach
2002-2008INDQB Coach/Assistant Head Coach
2009-2011INDHead Coach
2012-2013BALQB Coach/Offensive Coordinator
2014-?DETHead Coach
Source: Pro Football Reference

The Colts won Caldwell's first 14 games and eventually advanced to Super Bowl XLIV, where Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints beat Indianapolis. Caldwell won another division title during his second season, but lost to the New York Jets in the Wild Card Round. 

The Colts fired Caldwell after the 2011 season, which ended with a 2-14 record and the No. 1 overall pick after quarterback Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to a neck injury. Caldwell finished with a regular-season record of 26-22 in Indianapolis, with two wins and two losses in the postseason. 

Soon after being canned by the Colts, the Baltimore Ravens hired him as their quarterbacks coach. Caldwell was promoted to offensive coordinator later in 2012, and the Ravens eventually went on a Super Bowl run that included 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions from Joe Flacco in the postseason. 

Caldwell's experience coaching the quarterback position should be very attractive to the Lions. 

We discussed Monday how important Stafford's development would be for Detroit's next head coach. In fact, it might be the single biggest determining factor for the success of Caldwell's reign with the Lions. 

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16:  New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell of the Baltimore Ravens looks on as quarterback Joe Flacco #5 warms up before the start of the Ravens game against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Baltimor
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Over 19 starts from 2010 to 2011, Stafford completed 63 percent of his passes and tossed 47 touchdowns against just 17 interceptions. He appeared on the brink of becoming one of the game's best young quarterbacks. 

But in the 32 games since, the Lions' 25-year-old quarterback has had his completion percentage dip below 60 percent, with 36 interceptions and a passer rating of just 81.9. 

This past season, Stafford completed just 58.3 percent of his passes and threw 19 picks—each of which were his worst totals since his rookie season. The Lions started 5-3 behind Stafford's 94.7 passer rating but finished at 7-9 after his second-half rating plummeted to 72.1. 

Caldwell, who spent almost 10 years with Manning and then coaxed one of the greatest postseason runs in NFL history out of an inconsistent Flacco, has the experience and know-how to get Stafford's career back on track. 

According to Ian Rapoport, via Kevin Patra of NFL.com, Caldwell met with Stafford during his initial interview with the Lions. The two broke down film, and he presented the quarterback with a detailed approach to fixing some of the issues that have plagued Stafford over the last two seasons. 

It certainly doesn't sound like Caldwell will be coddling Stafford, who needs the technique work and accountability that only a proven quarterback teacher like Caldwell could provide. 

While improving the play at quarterback is paramount to Detroit's comeback, Caldwell can also offer a respected locker room leader and a calming demeanor. 

Caldwell has been to three different Super Bowls in the last eight years. His teams have made the playoffs in three of the last five years. And only twice since Caldwell entered the NFL in 2001 has he not been part of a postseason appearance. 

Immediately, he will stand at the front of Detroit's locker room and demand the respect of his players, likely without saying as much as a word.

And in Caldwell, the Lions couldn't get a more different personality than the man who was just recently fired. 

Schwartz, a tough guy defensive coach who was as intense along the sidelines as any in the game, will be replaced by one of the calmest and levelheaded coaches in recent memory. Many will view that as a positive change. 

Under the hot-headed Schwartz, the Lions earned themselves a reputation for being undisciplined and mistake-prone. It was believed that these attributes spawned in part out of the way Schwartz handled himself as the team's leader. 

If that truly was the case, Caldwell should be able to instill some obvious change in the behavior and personality of the Lions franchise. 

"He’s even keeled and you’re not going to see him hollering and cursing at officials and stomping and throwing things on the turf," said John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press.

The effect of that kind of personality could spill over to the players.

"You won't see the players whooping and hollering and jumping up and down and getting up in the officials' face because their leader doesn't do that," Wooten said, via Birkett. 

Many will view Caldwell as nothing more than Detroit's second option, a coach who got the job only because Whisenhunt picked another franchise. 

But in Caldwell, the Lions are getting a respected leader who features a similar coaching resume as the new Titans head coach. And best yet, he perfectly fits the expectations first laid out by the Lions' decision-makers. 


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