The Detroit Lions hired Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to be their 26th head coach in team history on Tuesday, per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. Detroit moved quickly on Caldwell after Ken Whisenhunt, allegedly the team's preferred choice according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, chose the Tennessee Titans on Monday.
Is Caldwell the right man for the job, or did the Lions desperately move on to what they felt was a safe choice after being spurned by Whisenhunt?
Time will tell, but this looks to be another bad move by a franchise that can't seem to get out of its own way.
Caldwell is an extraordinary man and a good football coach. He's experienced, having been a head coach at Wake Forest from 1993-2000 and, of course, with the Indianapolis Colts from 2009-2011. He spent the time between his head coaching stints as a member of Tony Dungy's staff, first in Tampa Bay, then with the Colts.
Much of Caldwell's NFL career has been spent coaching quarterbacks, specifically Peyton Manning. Now it may be up for debate on how much Caldwell actually coached Manning, but that partnership did earn him praise from the future Hall of Famer.
According to the Baltimore Ravens' official website (the Ravens promoted Caldwell to offensive coordinator in December 2012, and he helped lead them to a Super Bowl victory), Manning had plenty of complimentary things to say about his former coach:
"I felt like he really took my game to another level," Manning said. "He's also a tremendous mentor and friend to me."
No doubt, Manning likely holds Caldwell in high regard as a person. But does anyone remember Caldwell's gaffe in a January 2011 playoff game against the New York Jets?
With the Colts holding a slim 16-14 lead, Caldwell called a timeout after the Jets gained just two yards on first down. The Jets had one timeout remaining, and instead of forcing them to use their final timeout, Caldwell essentially gave New York a free timeout. Manning was none too happy.
Caldwell's excuse after the game was even more flimsy, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk: "I didn't care. 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."
As you know, the Jets would go on to win the game with a field goal, and that was the last game Manning would ever play for the Colts.
Caldwell's final season as head coach in 2011 was an unmitigated disaster. With Manning out for the year with a neck injury, the Colts went 2-14, and Caldwell was subsequently fired.
Caldwell did good work with Baltimore in 2012. His decision to run the ball more after his promotion was a big reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
So how did Caldwell do in his first full year as an offensive coordinator in the NFL in 2013?
The Ravens finished No. 29 in total offense. Sure, the departure of Anquan Boldin and injuries to Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta played a big part in Baltimore's struggles, but Caldwell could never find an answer.
And now he's a head coach again. How exactly did that happen?
According to The Baltimore Sun, Caldwell had excellent interviews with both Detroit and Washington. Knowing that both franchise quarterbacks struggled in 2012, Caldwell came to each team's interview with a detailed breakdown of how he would personally fix the young passers. Matthew Stafford even sat in on the initial interview with Caldwell.
But after such a disastrous stint as head coach of the Colts and a poor performance by his team on offense this past season, how did Caldwell manage to line up multiple coaching interviews?
He can personally thank his good friend Dungy for that. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, the former Indianapolis and Tampa Bay head coach "spoke with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. earlier Monday to reaffirm strong attributes he believed Caldwell would bring to the Lions." The Rooney Rule process also benefited Caldwell. And that's a credit to the process. It actually gave Caldwell an opportunity to show NFL teams he should be a head coach again.
Caldwell is the polar opposite of former coach Jim Schwartz. He won't engage in false bravado on the sideline or participate in heated postgame handshakes. He is mild-mannered and has the type of mentality this team could use.
But the Lions panicked when they lost Whisenhunt and quickly, too quickly, hired Caldwell. According to MLive.com, the Titans offered Whisenhunt $1 million more per season and input in personnel decisions.
It's understandable that Detroit didn't want a new coach having his hand in personnel decisions. More often than not, that arrangement backfires. But to get outbid for the coach you want is unacceptable.
Did the Lions' thriftiness cost them Whisenhunt? They still owe Schwartz $12 million over the next two years. But what is $1 million extra per year to secure the coach you want? This team is young and extremely talented, but built to win now. Windows close quickly in the NFL, regardless of how young the talent on your roster is.
Caldwell had a golden opportunity in Indianapolis with Manning as his quarterback, and he failed. In eight seasons as a college head coach, Caldwell had a record of 26-63. Regardless of whether you coach at Wake Forest—far from a perennial power—or Florida State, 26 wins in eight years is unlikely to ever get you a crack at a head coaching gig again.
It did for Caldwell—twice.
What have we learned within the last three years that makes us believe things will be different this time around?
There's a good chance Detroit will make the playoffs in 2014. The roster is strong and is stocked with talent at several key positions. However, the same things were said the last two years, and the Lions ended up watching from home.
If the Lions miss the playoffs next year, watch out. General manager Martin Mayhew could be out of work, and that would likely spell the end of Caldwell.
It's way too soon to call the hiring of Caldwell a bad move, but it was definitely rushed. Why not wait it out over the next week and interview more coaches? It wasn't like Caldwell wouldn't still be there.
Detroit fans deserve a winner. And Caldwell may be the man for the job, but it just feels like a reactionary hire. One thing is certain about Caldwell, he won't get five years like Schwartz did if he puts up similar results. He must win—and win immediately—or Detroit will be cleaning house again one or two years from now.
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