Since the Detroit Lions have been eliminated from the playoffs, the calls for Jim Caldwell’s job have hit a fever pitch.
It’s pretty clear that the Fire Jim Caldwell train has left the station in Detroit. Since the Detroit Lions laid an egg—a big, stinky, rotten one—in Cincinnati last weekend, knocking them out of the playoffs, nearly everyone—pundits, fans, and even a few national-media types have called for the Lions’ head coach to lose his job.
I’m on board. Caldwell was a calming influence after the tumultuous Jim Schwartz era. By percentage, he’s the Lions’ winningest coach in the Super Bowl era. This team has made the playoffs two of Caldwell’s four years. Yes, all these things are true, and in the coach’s corner when people defend him.
With the best quarterback in franchise history, and the injury to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, though, Caldwell should have pushed this team forward to a division title. His team has had almost no success against winning teams in his four years here, and this year was no exception—the Lions mustered only a road win against the Minnesota Vikings early this year. It’s time to go.
Except for one thing. And I can’t believe I am writing this, but it has me hedging on firing the coach this off season.
The NFL head coaching market is brutal right now. According to SI.com’s Albert Breer, there could be 10 head coaches looking for work this year. That means the Lions will be in competition for a decent, experienced head coach should they fire Caldwell.
There aren’t ten quality coaching candidates out there available. Who do the Lions end up with? Some of the names being tossed around include those guys with New England ties, due to the Bob Quinn connection: Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. Mike Vrabel, of the Kansas City Chiefs, is another popular one. Some have even floated Jon Gruden’s name out there to be tied to the Lions.
And what about Teryl Austin? He’s done quite a bit with what amounts to a bottom-five roster. And does Jim Bob Cooter—whose tenure seems to parallel the vast improvement we’ve seen from Matthew Stafford over the past handful of seasons—stay or go? Or does he become the head coach?
I have issues with all of these guys. McDaniels—though clearly an offensive genius—completely trashed the Denver Broncos while he was there. Patricia has no head coaching experience, like Vrabel. Those crooning for Austin to become the head guy—and I think that he deserves a shot—he’s also never been a head coach. Jim Bob Cooter, who I do not think is ready to be a head coach, since he can’t game plan for a running game, isn’t the answer in my opinion, either.
Is it worth bringing in an untested, inexperienced, brand new (or at least mostly brand new, in the case of McDaniels), to take the reins? Keep in mind that the franchise—meaning Stafford—is turning 30 soon, and should be in the prime of his career. Can we, as Lions fans, hire a new coach and hope that he’s the answer, and risk wasting the career of another great? (If you’re not sure what I mean by “another,” just Google Calvin Johnson and/or Barry Sanders career playoff statistics).
It is this reason that I think we might have to sit and watch another year of the Stoic One. Caldwell at least has a playoff win to his credit (two, actually, with the Colts) and a Super Bowl appearance (also with those same Colts). True, he had arguably the greatest quarterback in history under center, but Stafford is at least good. He should be able to get us close—or maybe all the way—to the promised land.
If the Lions are able to improve the roster—I’m look in the trenches on both sides of the ball—might there be enough talent there to allow Caldwell and company to break through? Is that any greater risk than bringing in a rookie coach? I am leaning towards keeping things consistent here.
There is one name that I have seen floating around that I would sell the farm for. I don’t believe it will happen, but Jon Gruden is rumored to be sniffing around for another head coaching gig. I can’t stand his smirking face on the sideline, honestly. But I am sure that he has what it takes to get the Lions over the hump. If Bob Quinn thinks that he can get Gruden in Honolulu Blue, then he has to fire Caldwell as soon as possible and get it done.