The time has come. For two years Lions general manager Bob Quinn has given Jim Caldwell the opportunity to squeeze more out of his team than their talent would indicate they should produce. That is what good coaches do after all.
They put their players in a position to be as successful as they can be. Watching the last month of Detroit Lions games it is clear that the team is not giving its best possible performance. This is not anger based. This is simply the recognition of a pattern that Lions fans, and frankly the Lions front office, should be tired of seeing.
Jim Caldwell can only get the Lions to perform adequately in half of their games each season. That simply can not be good enough anymore.
Caldwell was a breath of fresh air after the self-destructive 80’s rock swagger of the Lions previous head coach, Jim Schwartz. Schwartz’s teams had lacked discipline, but they had played with fire and passion to a fault. Martin Mayhew sensed correctly that he needed someone to reign that in. Jim Caldwell was a very good hire in 2014. Immediately the Detroit Lions brought in schemes that were capable of utilizing their gifted players in a manner that fit their skill set while reducing the liability of their less gifted players.
The result was a great season, the best year the Lions had in the Mayhew era. Then the roster that Mayhew had built disintegrated. The Lions went 1-7 to start the following year. The team fired Mayhew and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi mid-season. A change was coming. But it didn’t. Quinn met with Caldwell, waited weeks before announcing his decision, and eventually stuck with Caldwell as the coach of the Detroit Lions.
Mediocrity Reigns Supreme
This is a difficult hurdle for a Lions fan to jump over but Jim Caldwell’s 33-27 record is not impressive. He has not had poor rosters that he bled every ounce of production out of. He has not had a Superbowl caliber group either, but he has had a franchise quarterback with solid offensive weapons, and that is usually enough to keep a team competitive. Jim Caldwell has fielded a competitive team, with a competitive roster. He is not a bad coach.
It is understandable that Lions fans fear change because slightly above average is not the worst place to be. 2008 was the worst place to be. The Millen Era was the worst place to be. It is the scab that keeps being ripped off freshly in each broadcast by the yahoos in the booth. You’ve heard it a thousand times. “The Lions are (horrifyingly bad record) in the last (number so large that 3/4 of the games predate even Matthew Stafford’s presence on the roster) in this situation. The Lions have slowly been turning numbers like 0-26 into 3-28 during the Caldwell era. When all we’ve seen previously was below average and terrible, it is entirely understandable how mediocre can become applauded.
The Case Against Jim Caldwell
Under Caldwell, Lions teams have consistently failed to close out games, to put their opponents away. His risk-averse, ultra-conservative, and maddeningly uncreative coaching style is always going to keep his teams from getting too low for long, but it can’t help but pull them down when they get too high as well. the team doesn’t really ride a sustained wave of success or failure for long. This is a great trait to have in times of adversity, but a terrible one to have in times of success.
The Detroit Lions need a killer. They need someone who is willing to call a flea flicker when they’re already up by 21 points in the third quarter, just to make that something that every opponent for the rest of the season has to be worried about. Not someone who will run for two yards per carry until the other team mounts a comeback.
They need someone that will do their entire job, not parcel aspects of it out in ever smaller chunks to an ever ballooning coaching staff to the point that they don’t notice their defense has only nine players on the field before the ball is snapped because someone other than the head coach of the team is supposed to handle noticing what happens on the field. (Editor: the exasperation of the previous statement deserves to be a run on sentence where you run out of breath after reading.)
There Are Cracks In the Dam
Even the players who have been here for the entire Caldwell regime are beginning to lose faith. Faith, of course, was the only thing that kept the team from quitting in 2015 and 2016 after 1-7 and 1-4 starts respectively.
If Golden Tate’s post game remarks are any indication the locker room has gone agnostic. Tate remarked, “This is something that I haven’t felt since I’ve been here. Typically, over the years, we’ve done well late in the season. We had been playing with a lot of confidence and finding ways to get wins, but we don’t have that feeling this year.” That is not strictly speaking true, the Lions finished 2014 and 2015 strongly, but were 0-4 to close out 2016. The important thing though is that Tate once believed it and he no longer does.
Every coach loses the locker room if they’re in a job long enough with the same group of guys. The leaders of this team have all been here for the entire Caldwell era. Glover Quin, Tahir Whitehead, and Matthew Stafford were here before Jim Caldwell. Golden Tate got here at the same time. It has to be wondered, when Caldwell is telling them every week that the things which are not working will work if they just keep plugging away, at what point do they conclude that it’s not going to happen.
As any student of history knows, the problem with faith-based societies is that when the leader loses the mandate of heaven that goes poorly for everyone but the new ruler. Right now there are locusts in the fields, the children are hungry, and the people are looking for answers as they sharpen their tools. It doesn’t look like Caldwell has any.
So long coach, and thank you for your service.