Caldwell entering make or break year


New Lions GM Bob Quinn surprised many when he chose to keep head coach Jim Caldwell after a disappointing 7-9 season. The players had been strong in their support of Caldwell, but usually, a new president and general manager equate to a new coaching staff as well.

Quinn chose instead to give coach Caldwell the 2016 season to prove himself as the guy to lead this talented, yet underachieving roster. The move makes sense on a couple of levels. Nobody can say Quinn came into the job with his mind made up since he chose to keep Caldwell after the two had several private meetings.

Those pessimistic of the move see it is as a win-win for the first time GM.  He will be given a pass if the team doesn’t make the playoffs because he listened to the players and gave their coach a chance when he didn’t have to.

Had Quinn decided to bring in his own guy, fans would be expecting an immediate improvement. After all, Caldwell did go 11-5 in his first season with the Lions. Over the course of his two years, Caldwell has gone a respectable 18-14 during the regular season.  While that record isn’t exactly elite, it’s rare around these parts that a coach has an above .500 record after two seasons.

Former head coach Jim Schwartz lasted five years, with his best season coming in 2011. He led the team to a wild-card birth and a 10-6 record in his third season as head coach. Schwartz did a good job initially, taking over after that 0-16 disaster of a team in 2008. However,  he clearly wasn’t the guy to get the team to the next level and never was able to improve on that 10-win season of 2011.

Caldwell was supposed to be the antitheses of the emotional Schwartz, who was viewed by some as an out-of-control egomaniac. In his first season taking over for Schwartz, Caldwell lived up to the hype as a calm leader of men. The players responded to his different approach with the team’s best season since the 1990’s.

Many expected Detroit to take a step back after Ndamukong Suh signed with Miami before last season. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Outside of Detroit, it was expected that the Lions would take a backwards step in 2015. After all, they did lose their two starting defensive tackles in free agency and pro-bowl linebacker DeAndre Levy for most of the season.  Management believed that the offense would pick up the slack and the team would be alright.

Instead, the offense sputtered to a 1-7 start, essentially eliminating their playoff chances by mid-season. Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi was fired and Caldwell’s future looked grim as Detroit’s head coach. After GM Martin Mayhew was fired, it seemed very likely that Caldwell would be getting the axe as well.

The players however, refused to go quietly into the night, winning six of their final eight games. While it was too little too late, at the very least Caldwell had given the new GM reason to consider keeping him. It also didn’t hurt that owner Martha Ford had voiced her support for Caldwell after the season.

Whether or not Quinn really wanted to keep Caldwell is now irrelevant. If he leads the team back to the playoffs, he won’t be going anywhere. Unless you believe Quinn expects the team to fail in 2016, he has put his faith in Caldwell for the time being. In the NFL, contracts are essentially meaningless. Players and coaches are always one bad season away from losing their jobs. Caldwell knows he must produce next season or it will be his last as Detroit’s head coach.