The Detroit Lions have hired Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz as their new head coach. Caldwell inherits a team loaded with talent, but lacking in discipline. The Lions should have been a playoff team this year and last year thanks to the play of wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, but bad penalties and an inability to close out games has them on the outside looking in on another playoff tournament, and this time it cost Schwartz his job. They’ve come a long way since going 0-16 in 2008, but the Lions are still losers, and I’m not sure Caldwell is the right guy to change that.
Jim Caldwell’s tenure as a head coach in Indy was defined by it’s highs and lows. He was the coach-in-waiting for years when Tony Dungy was in charge, and when the Hall of Fame finalist retired, Caldwell inherited a team that was already a Super Bowl contender. Caldwell won his first 14 games as an NFL head coach before he and Bill Polian made an organizational decision to rest their starters for the last two games before they playoffs. They could have gone 16-0 like the Patriots did, but thought the pressure would be too great to win the Super Bowl. They thought they were smarter than everyone by trying to go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl rather than go undefeated and lose in the playoffs. They flirted with history and got rejected when Tracy Porter of the New Orleans Saints intercepted Peyton Manning and ran it back for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. So close, yet so far.
Caldwell’s Colts made the playoffs again the following year, but were bounced in the Wild Card Round by the New York Jets. That offseason, Peyton Manning had neck surgery and missed the entire season. The Colts won two games that year despite having most of a roster that was in the Super Bowl two years before that. Caldwell was fired along with Polian, and Manning was traded to Denver to make room for Andrew Luck, who the Colts acquired with the 1st overall pick.
Caldwell took over as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator near the end of last season, and the won the Super Bowl over the San Francisco 49ers. This year, they had one of the worst offenses in the league, but Caldwell still managed to land another head coaching gig. Caldwell might be the right guy, but he might not. He never seems to have any facial expressions, and his ability to make adjustments in-game are often called into question. Based on his track record with the Colts and Ravens, the 2014 Lions might be really good, but they could just as easily be terrible. I thought Ken Whisenhunt, who guided the lowly Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2009, would be the best guy for the job in Detroit, but he ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans instead. The Lions want to take the next step forward, but I’m not convinced they have the right coach to get them there.