September 21st, 2017
Based on his resume with the Lions,
Jim Caldwell deserves an extension
By KEITH GAVE
Everybody’s talking about Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s contract status except the two people who matter most: Jim Caldwell, and the guy who will decide his fate, general manager Bob Quinn. And neither are talking.
Granted, they’re the only two who matter, so the story isn’t likely to advance much beyond all the attention it got during Monday Night Football’s telecast, when ESPN broadcasters Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden were unabashedly campaigning on Caldwell’s behalf.
“He doesn’t have a contract,” McDonough said when the Lions held a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter of their 24-10 win in East Rutherford, New Jersey. “That’s unusual for a coach in just about any major sport in America. But he’s not worried about it.”
Understandably, Caldwell was peppered with questions about it at his news conference Tuesday in Allen Park.
Even after surprising a lot of people by starting the season 2-0, the Lions’ coach wasn’t taking the bait. Yes, he heard a little buzz about the conversation on TV in front of about 14 million viewers. But no, he doesn’t care to talk about it. The only thing on his mind, he said as he always does, is his men and his mission, which is winning the Super Bowl.
Win, and things tend to take care of themselves. Quinn has said even less, other than that he and his coach have agreed not to talk about it until the season’s end.
Caldwell is on the fourth year of a four-year contract. He was hired by Quinn’s predecessor, Martin Mayhew. Quinn, beginning his third season, is in the midst of a dramatic overhaul of the Lions’ roster. To date, he’s changed out more than two thirdsof the players he inherited from Mayhew.
Widespread speculation is that Quinn wants his own coach, too, so he’s set the bar pretty high for Caldwell this season. A mile high, for that matter. At least when it comes to the franchise’s history. Word is that if Caldwell’s team doesn’t make the playoffs and win at least one game in the post-season – something the Lions haven’t done since 1991, their only playoff win in the last 59 years.
Unreasonable? It is to me.
By just about any other reasonable measurement, Caldwell should have had an extension by now, with a reasonable pay raise. He has taken his team to the playoffs in two of his three seasons in Detroit. He has won 29 of the 50 games he’s coached here for a winning percentage of .580. For those keeping score at home, that’s the best win rate of any Lions coach since Buddy Parker (.671 from 1951-56).
In fact, of the last 14 coaches dating back to 1973, only Gary Moeller has a winning percentage above .500. But his ill-fated tenure lasted just seven games, and he went 4-3.
To be sure, we’re all tired of the past 60 years of mostly ineptitude from this franchise. It’s about time the Lions do something, and with the player moves Quinn has been making through the draft and free agency – and the way they’re being deployed on the field by Caldwell and his coaching staff – this team is making serious progress.
But the “playoff-win-or-you’re fired” attitude simply wrong. What if the Lions go 13-3 this season (OK, I know I’m getting carried away here, but hang with me a second) and they lose a close game in their playoff opener at Ford Field because quarterback Matthew Stafford went down with an injury early in the first quarter? You fire the coach for that? I think not.
Stafford’s hand injury late last season probably cost Detroit a home playoff game when they blew a two-game division lead in the final three games of the season. He’s performed like an MVP in these first two games. Ziggy Ansah looks like an All-Pro again on a defense that has manhandled two teams with suspect offensive lines. And the special teams look more than capable even missing one of the best punters in the league.
We’ll likely to see how good this Lions team is when Atlanta visits on Sunday. And the way the Falcons dismantled the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, they look like a team bent on changing some perceptions after they squandered an apparent Super Bowl title in February.
The Falcons remain one of the best teams in the NFL, and if the Lions were to beat them and go to 3-0, well, the conversation about Caldwell’s future will only get louder – perhaps to the point of becoming a distraction, when the players are asked about it every week.
Everything is conjecture at this point, of course, especially if the people who matter aren’t talking. But the ESPN broadcast team made a good point: Based on his body of work in Detroit, Caldwell deserves better.