Jim Caldwell and the Fan Dilemma
By Jeff Risdon
The Detroit Lions are 1-2, dealing numerous key injuries and struggling in a number of facets. One of those struggles is coaching, and head honcho Jim Caldwell bears ultimate responsibility for the coaching malpractice, to borrow a term from Jim Costa of ESPN 96.1 and WFDN.
Jim Caldwell might indeed be destined to fail, as Drew Sharp recently suggested. The thin roster and curious final 53-man composition (Andre Roberts as the fourth and final WR? Extra defensive tackles in lieu of better quality depth at LB?) are challenges for even the most adept coaching minds. That’s company Caldwell has never kept, not even at his most successful.
One of the offseason recurring themes was guessing how the forced marriage of Caldwell and new GM Bob Quinn would progress. Yes, Quinn chose to keep Caldwell but that was far more about the lack of more desirable alternatives than any ringing endorsement of the third-year coach.
My take at the time, one I espoused several times in the studio with Costa, was Quinn set up Caldwell as his “fall guy”. Cris Carter made this term popular but it’s been a reality in the NFL, and really all high-profile businesses, for some time.
Quinn comes from the New England Patriots, the epitome of sustained success. Part of that success is that there are no sacred cows. New England has never been afraid to cut bait on a player or system if it’s not working, the public scorn be damned. This is a team that dumped Randy Moss, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker and Asante Samuel (among others) while those Pro Bowl-level talents all still had gas left in their NFL tanks.
So with Quinn having no emotional or personal investment in Caldwell beyond what can get written off as a rookie GM learning experience, this conclusion comes naturally. Jim Caldwell certainly isn’t popular with the fans, so firing him might actually earn Quinn points with a fan base accustomed to sticking with what doesn’t work far too long. Eight friggin’ years of Matt Millen will do that…
Many Lions fans unwittingly painted themselves into a corner with Jim Caldwell. While you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in Ford Field who believes Caldwell is a good coach, a fair percentage do still harbor high expectations and a strong desire to succeed in 2016.
The catch is, if this Detroit edition does thrive, Caldwell will get the lion’s share of the credit. Quinn will too, for having the prescience to retain him. But the head coach could point to two playoff trips in three seasons. Right or wrong, that’s legit success that’s darn near unprecedented in Detroit in the Super Bowl era.
And herein lies the dilemma. If this Detroit roster performs near its overall potential even after the disappointing 1-2 start, they’re in good shape to make the playoffs. Really. Look around the NFC and look at the Lions schedule, notably the injury-ravaged NFC North opponents. Those fans who still believe in 10 wins and a Wild Card berth have justifiable hope.
But that achievement would almost certainly result in another year of Jim Caldwell as head coach. Even the most delusional optimists would struggle to pronounce Caldwell as more than an adequate head coach propped up by a gifted young offensive mind in Jim Bob Cooter. Caldwell’s coaching apex likely came with the controversial playoff loss in Dallas in 2014. Expecting a higher level to his coaching acumen is expecting a deck umbrella to protect your home in a hurricane.
On the flip side is the unenviable choice of rooting for more losing. More humiliating losses like the last two weeks, where Caldwell and his staff were beaten just as much as the players on the field, will bring his Lions tenure to a merciful end. Short-term success inhibits long-term growth, unless you believe Caldwell is the answer. The drug testing line forms to the left…
Winning in 2016 only enhances the chances Jim Caldwell remains the Detroit Lions Head Coach. Is that really worth rooting for?