The Detroit Lions have named Jim Caldwell as their new head coach in a move that has been met with a wave of criticism. The former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and more recently the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens comes to Detroit with the expectation of turning a team with a penchant for disappointing late in the season into a winner. There’s no doubt that the Lions have the talent to compete with the best in the NFL, but what exactly has Caldwell done to prove he’s the man to lead them?
Looking at his previous work as a head coach, you start to wonder. In college, when he was leading the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Caldwell had just one winning season in seven years and won more than three games twice during that span. With the Colts, Caldwell went to the Super Bowl in his first season where he lost to the New Orleans Saints 31-17 where he appeared to be out-coached at just about every level. Indy was able to make the playoffs again the next year, but most of that success seemed to be thanks to Peyton Manning at quarterback and the roster that Caldwell inherited from Tony Dungy.
When Manning was lost for an entire season following neck surgery, Caldwell saw the wheels come completely off in Indianapolis. The team started 0-13 before finishing 2-14 that year leading to a total house-cleaning by the Colts organization. Caldwell ended up in Baltimore as a quarterbacks coach before taking over as offensive coordinator in December of 2012 where he seemed to provide a spark to the offense that carried them to the Super Bowl last season. His work down the stretch earned him the gig full time in 2013, which you would expect to be the work that earned him the Detroit job.
But his work this season as OC of the Ravens has been pretty hard to watch. Baltimore finished No. 29 in the league in total offense and No. 25 in scoring as they missed the playoffs for the first time with John Harbaugh as the head coach. Joe Flacco threw more interceptions than touchdowns (22 INT, 19 TD) for the first time in his career and completed less than 60 percent of his passes for the third straight season. Running back Ray Rice rushed for just 660 yards, the lowest total since his rookie season which was also the last time he failed to rush for at least 1,000 yards. In short, the Baltimore offense took a step back in Caldwell’s first (and only) full season as the offensive coordinator.
Somehow, that resume earned Caldwell the Detroit job, though. While many support Caldwell as a good man and good coach with an even temperament that could provide some discipline to the Lions’ roster, it is difficult to justify the hire looking at Caldwell’s body of work. When handed significant responsibility, teams have deteriorated at his last two stops in the NFL. Will things be any different for Detroit?