Here we are again, my fellow Lions fans. This is that old, familiar, dark place we have all been before, if not with a slightly more optimistic hue. Following the Lions 35-11 throttling of the Green Bay Packers, the team parted ways with their head coach of the last four years, Jim Caldwell. During those last four years in the Motor City, Caldwell has managed to become one of the best coaches in the history of the team, amassing a 36-28 record.
He inherited a team laden with talent and in possession of a franchise quarterback. His predecessor, Jim Schwartz, had brought the team out of the depths of a 0-16 hell, but it was clear that his fiery attitude and seeming lack of self control was spreading to his players and the act had worn itself out with management. Caldwell was brought in as a man who could harness the intensity of his players but also institute a new level of discipline and take the team to the next level. And he did.
Caldwell ushered in a truly new culture of winning and kept the team in the running for a division title three out of four years. He also led the team to two playoff births and gave the team their first back-to-back winning seasons since the Bill Clinton was in office. All of this makes it sound as though the team must be crazy to part ways with the guy, but if you look a little more closely, it’s plain to see that the writing was on the wall, and this was all but inevitable.
Jim Caldwell deserves all of the credit in the world for role in the Detroit Lions long march to legitimacy, but he was hired by the Lions former GM, Martin Mayhew. His success is the only thing that kept him around. He was fired not because he was a bad coach but because he wasn’t as good as the team needs and had he been a .500 or worse coach he would have been jettisoned by current GM, Bob Quinn, much sooner.
Though he kept his team in contention for a division title more often than not, he never could get make it happen, even when it was all right in front of him the last two seasons. Most painful is this current season, when Aaron Rodgers played sparingly and the team secured an early win against the eventual division champion Vikings. Everything was in line for the Lions to win the first division title since the NFC North was formed into its current state, but in-game blunders and a lack of preparedness at times kept it out of reach.
So Jim Caldwell wasn’t able to ever win a division title. That’s slightly more understandable when you consider that the Lions have had to deal with future hall of fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, maintaining a stranglehold on the division every season (except this one). The team has however made two playoff appearances in four years under Caldwell. He deserves credit for this when you consider just how bad this team had been during the current century. A closer examination gives you one game where the refs robbed the team –hardly Caldwell’s fault — and another where the team got embarrassed to the tune of 26-6 in Seattle. For general manager, Bob Quinn, who was groomed in the New England Patriots organization, that is just not good enough.
Don’t think that Quinn made this decision without a plan in mind. If he didn’t already have his eye on a replacement, or if no better replacement was available Jim Caldwell would probably still be leading the Detroit Lions. Caldwell is a decent coach and he is not someone you would throw aside if you don’t have a better option. Bob Quinn has already proven in two years that he is an astute evaluator of NFL talent on the field, but it is now time to use that beautiful mind of his to find the next big thing on the sideline.
Whether is be Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel, Pat Shurmur, Josh McDaniels, or somebody else, Bob Quinn has the confidence of a majority of the Lions fanbase, and more importantly of ownership. To some it might seem foolish to fire a coach with such a solid win/loss record, but the NFL is a league where teams MUST stay ahead of the curve and continuously adapt. Firing Caldwell, who most likely has plateaued as a head coach, and finding the next great head coaching mind is a step forward. Ownership and fans have put their trust in Bob Quinn to create a champion, in order to do that he needs to find his champion head coach. And I think he will.