Hall of Famer Tony Dungy believes Jim Caldwell turned the Detroit Lions around only to be fired for his efforts. Is he right?
When the Detroit Lions elected to move on from Jim Caldwell as the team’s head coach after a 9-7 season, some likely thought that was a bit unfair. You can count Hall of Famer Tony Dungy as one of them.
The two-time Super Bowl winning coach recently spoke up for his longtime colleague. Caldwell joined Dungy’s staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a quarterback coach. He then followed Dungy to Indianapolis the following season and spent the next seven years as his assistant coach as well. When Dungy retired in 2009, it was Caldwell that picked up the mantle of head coach in his place.
These two men have some serious history. So when his former assistant coach was promptly fired on New Years Day, the move left Dungy confused.
"“They didn’t win enough I guess,” Tony Dungy told MLive.com this week. “I went through that in Tampa and you always feel like we can bring someone else in who can win more. But Jim Caldwell I think turned that team around. He brought a class to the organization, they’re doing things the right way. I think they’re very, very close. It’s always disappointing to me when any coach loses their job.”"
Before Caldwell joined the Lions in 2014, Detroit was coming off a 4-12 season (2012) and a 7-9 season (2013) under Jim Schwartz. In his first season as head coach, Caldwell led the Lions to a 11-5 and only their second playoff berth in 15 years. He followed that up with a 7-9 record in 2015 and then two back-to-back 9-7 seasons.
Caldwell did lead the Lions to the postseason twice in his four-year tenure in Detroit. He was very close to doing it a third time in 2017. And that was despite possessing the worst rushing offense in football. So, if the Lions’ brass had decided to retain Caldwell for another season, fans would have been upset, but his track record in Detroit would have made the move understandable.
Perhaps Jim Caldwell’s fate was sealed the day the Detroit Lions’ hired Bob Quinn as their general manager. The former New England Patroits’ Director of pro scouting inherited Caldwell in 2016 and had no hand in hiring him. Quinn gave him two years to prove himself. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Especially when more familiar coaching candidates like the Patriots’ Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels were suddenly available.