If they decide to move on from head coach Jim Caldwell, will the Detroit Lions elect to promote his replacement from within for 2018?
Jim Caldwell is a lame duck coach. The players respect him, he hasn’t had any clock management issues lately, and he’s clearly shifted the culture for the better. Since the beginning of the 2016 season he’s coached about as well as anyone, he continues to win, and yet he still remains unsigned past this season.
One reason the organization may not be comfortable extending Caldwell long term is because his recent success may be attributed to his fantastic coordinators.
Offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are both rising stars in this league. Cooter is largely credited for Matthew Stafford’s ascension to the elite level and Teryl Austin has consistently gotten the most out of his defense even with suspect talent.
Besides having arguably the best name in football, Detroit’s offense under Cooter has excelled. Since taking over as offensive coordinator in the second half of the 2015 season the Lions have a combined regular season record of 17-9. That is good enough for fifth best record in the NFL and second best in the NFC behind only the Seattle Seahawks.
With Austin implementing his stout defensive schemes players like Darius Slay and Ziggy Ansah have developed into pro bowl caliber defenders. According to the team, from 2014-16 the Lions ranked in the Top 10 in opponent yards per game, rushing yards per game, and games allowing 20 points or less under Austin.
It’s a copycat league and both Detroit’s offensive and defensive coordinators will be hot head coaching commodities this offseason. Honestly, I’m surprised they’ve been able to hang onto both of them for this long.
Austin recently ranked third and Cooter sixth respectively on Monday Morning Quarterback’s list of top ten coaching candidates for 2018.
If Bob Quinn doesn’t fully trust in Caldwell to get this team to the next level he may be crazy enough to replace Caldwell with one of his coordinators and it wouldn’t be without precedent.
Dirk Koetter recently served as Lovie Smith’s offensive coordinator and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Lovie and swapped him with Koetter. The Bucs saw something in Koetter and his relationship with quarterback Jameis Winston so they replaced Lovie from within.
If Quinn feels as if Austin or Cooter can be a greater asset to the team than Caldwell I could see him cutting ties with the beloved coach and replacing him with one of the younger rising coordinators. This move could cause a backlash among the players who enjoy playing for Caldwell, but could pay dividends long term.
If the Lions could ensure the trio of Caldwell, Teryl Austin, and Jim Bob Cooter remained intact for the duration of an extension I would sign up for that in a heartbeat, but that’s not the way things work in the NFL.
Now I’m not saying Caldwell wont be extended and I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve an extension, but it is safe to assume he wouldn’t be as effective as a head coach without his stellar coordinators who are both worthy head coaching candidates.
Caldwell’s recent improvement as a coach has been marked by a more assertive approach. If he had a chance to go back in time to the 2014 Wildcard game against the Dallas Cowboys he probably would decide go for it on fourth and one on the Cowboys 46 yard line instead of punting.
As of late I have no complaints about Caldwell’s coaching, but I’m not sure how much of his progress should be credited to Austin and Cooter. It would also be a shame to see Cooter leave and risk any regression from the most important player on the team Matthew Stafford.
Quinn could be using this season as a trial run for Caldwell, but he may also find greater value in his coordinators to the extent where it would be tough for him to see such young and gifted football minds just walk out the door.
The Lions have a great thing going with Caldwell as the leader of the team, Cooter running the offense, and Austin calling the defense, but this dynamic trio is bound to be broken up one way or another.
So we might as well sit back and enjoy watching them work together this season and hope whoever is coaching the team in 2018 will continue to build on the success of the current coaching regime.