What Does The Future Hold For Jim Caldwell In Detroit?
Jim Caldwell’s approval from fans has been mixed since becoming the coach of the Detroit Lions. Fans have called for his head more than once since his arrival in Detroit. He seemed to have eased fans’ concerns for a large part of last year, only to reignite the controversy when the Lions faded down the stretch. Many thought that Caldwell should be fired during Martha Ford’s front office purging in 2015. He wasn’t. Many thought that Bob Quinn would try and bring in his own hand-picked head coach upon his hiring. He didn’t. Even after this latest playoff appearance, Caldwell’s job is not entirely secure.
How many losses would it take for us to feel that the Detroit Lions should move on and find a new coach? How many wins would it take before we are on-board and feel comfortable with the Lions offering Jim Caldwell an extension? The writers here at Detroit Lions Podcast got together to discuss Caldwell’s future as the coach of the Detroit Lions.
Jim Caldwell is in his last year of his contract, and what a time to show what you can do. Caldwell has been on a roller coaster of approval from Lions fans since becoming the head coach. In 2014 he took the Lions to the playoffs with an 11-5 record but lost in a very controversial way that Lions fans still have PTSD from.
The next year was a complete 180 as the Lions would miss the playoffs, starting the season 0-5, but finishing 7-9. Fans wanted Caldwell gone after just one year removed from a playoff appearance. Last year Detroit was going back to the playoffs off a 9-7 season but blew the lead they had in the NFC North race and would lose in the first round again.
So the question that everyone is wondering and asking Bob Quinn is “Will Jim Caldwell get an extension after the 2017 season?” That question probably won’t be answered until the 2017 season is over, or close to ending. If Detroit can’t make the playoffs by week 12 or 13, you could see Caldwell go, or talks won’t start until the season ends. If they make the playoffs, but can’t get past the first round again, talks won’t happen until it is over. But, if they make it past the first round, Quinn will want Caldwell to sign on the dotted line.
Is that fair? Somewhat, but here is what should happen. If Caldwell can get at least eight wins and just make the playoffs he should be given a one-year “prove it” extension. That is only if Detroit makes it to the first round and loses.
If he is able to push Detroit past the first round with eight or nine wins, make it a two-year deal. The only way I am bringing Caldwell back for three or more seasons is if he can get Detroit past the first round of the playoffs and can get 12 wins this season. That would show to the fans that this team can win and is coached well as it would be three playoff appearances under Caldwell and two double-digit win seasons.
If Caldwell gets less than eight wins and Detroit misses the playoffs, it might be time to cut the cord on Caldwell and start over with a new coach. He has had four years to show he can coach this team, and while he did lead the team to the playoffs two times, if there isn’t progression, if the team isn’t getting better, winning more games, getting closer to the championship, then he isn’t doing his job as well as someone else. I like Caldwell, I think he has done well as a head coach, but if he can’t get this team back to the playoffs, or past the first round, he just isn’t the right fit.
Honestly, I haven’t been nearly as critical of Jim Caldwell as other fans have. Perhaps that is my mistake. I tend to think that a lot of the issues that we have seen on the Lions have to do with things that are outside of Caldwell’s control. Caldwell cannot be held responsible for injuries. He cannot be held accountable for a sub-par roster.
Fans cannot blame him for many of the things that have contributed to the failures throughout his time as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. This is not to say that he isn’t partially responsible, only that he should not be asked to shoulder the entirety of the blame.
Let me first say that I am not a Caldwell fan-boy. I’m not overlooking the fact that the Lions faded down the stretch last year. I’m not overlooking the fact that the Lions still haven’t won a playoff game in far too long. I know that Caldwell and the rest of the coaching staff have made questionable decisions.
Jim Caldwell has not been a transcendent coach for the Lions. This is true. That said, I think he has been adequate. Maybe the Lions need a new coach to elevate them to the next level. I can’t say for sure. However, I’m not an advocate for moving on from something that appears to be trending upward for something that is unknown. Moving on would bring overhaul that I do not believe that the team needs.
My expectations for the Lions this year are somewhere between six wins and eleven wins. Six wins represents a disappointing season, but not a season that would shock me. Bob Quinn is still building the roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The offense still has questions to answer, specifically in the run game.
If the team fails to improve in these areas, six wins is a very plausible outcome. If Jim Caldwell ends the season with five wins or less, I think a large part of the blame has to fall on him. If the Lions win six games, I could feel comfortable chalking it up to a roster-in-progress. Less than that, I think it may be time to move on from Jim Caldwell.
If the Lions win twelve games or more, I think that fans have to give Caldwell credit. Bob Quinn has done an admirable job improving the roster since taking the reins to the franchise, but there still appears to be a lot of work to do. The Lions winning twelve games would indicate to me that whatever the coaching staff is doing, it is working. It would also probably indicate that the Lions won the NFC North title. If that happens, give Jim Caldwell and extension.
Anything in between, and I could go either way. I would lean toward hoping he gets one more year.
In the past, I’ve been very vocal in my disapproval of Jim Caldwell. After the team barely squeaked by the Eagles last year, I penned a hit piece on the embattled coach and called for his head on a pike. The article, which hasn’t aged well, contended that the team was hamstrung by his conservative coaching style. That belief proved to be ill-conceived, as the adjustments the coaching staff made ultimately mitigated the woes of a defense that ranked dead last in DVOA in 2016.
While I’ve backed off from my harsher views on Caldwell, I’m not sure how much leeway is appropriate to give him moving forward. On one hand, I don’t want to revert to being hyper-critical of him; but I also don’t want to lower the bar just because I’ve been wrong in the past. In a piece I wrote a few weeks ago, I praised Bob Quinn’s vision for the coaching staff, noting the ties that Caldwell and various offensive coaches had to Peyton Manning. I’d like to maintain continuity moving forward, but not if it means stunting the progression of the team.
Perhaps the greatest variable in all of this, to me, is the imminent promotion of Jim Bob Cooter. The better the team does, the more likely the offensive coordinator will be poached by a franchise that covets a quarterback whisperer. If the offense (or Stafford) regresses in 2017, his stock will likely be impacted as Teryl Austin’s was following the 2015 season.
However, if the Lions build on their 2016 campaign, the up-and-coming OC could make his way elsewhere. Indianapolis and Cincinnati could eventually end up with new head coaches in 2018, and Cooter would make sense for both of those teams.
I don’t want to answer with a copout, but I’m going to anyway. Barring a significant regression, I think Caldwell stays. Problem is, it’s likely the offense performs at a high level in 2017, while the defense still needs time to recover. It’d be unfair to scapegoat Caldwell for the state of the roster on the defensive side of the ball, but I also think you don’t want to risk losing the coach that has helped heighten Stafford’s play to new levels.
I think Caldwell’s status moving forward is largely dependent on several factors, namely win-loss record and offense-defense balance. Ultimately, I think Quinn will have to gauge Caldwell’s performance vs. the upside of, and market demand for, Cooter.