Seidel: Playoffs or not, Detroit Lions should bring back Jim Caldwell

Jeff Seidel
Detroit Free Press
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I think the Detroit Lions will lose at Dallas and then beat Green Bay at home.

Hello, New Year. Hello, playoffs.

And if the Lions make the playoffs, there should be no question that Jim Caldwell should return as the Lions coach.

But what if they don’t?

What if they lose both games?

It is not much of a stretch of the imagination to think that the Lions might end the season on a three-game losing skid. What then? Do you bring back Caldwell?

I say yes.

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Caldwell should be brought back whether the team makes the playoffs or not. Then again, bringing him back is not as simple as it sounds. He has one year left on his contract, which means that the Lions will have to extend him.

So, yes, I’m saying that the Lions could lose three in a row and Caldwell would walk away with an extension. 

Which might not make sense on first blush.

But try to look at the big picture.

Right now, Caldwell has a 27-19 record as a Lions coach. That’s a .587 winning percentage, which is better than any Lions coach since Buddy Parker was winning championships in the 1950s (.671 winning percentage in 1951-56).

Listen, I’m not putting Caldwell up for the Hall of Fame. Far from it.

He makes some in-game decisions that are confusing and frustrating; and some of his news conferences leave me wanting to poke my eyes out with a pencil.

But give him some credit. It’s late December and the Lions are playing meaningful games. How many times can you say that around here? 

Over the last half century, Lions fans have been trained not to trust their coach. It’s ingrained in their DNA. But you have to consider what Caldwell has done in Detroit. This is not a great team. Not a single player on this roster was named as a starter for the Pro Bowl – something that actually proves my point. That’s validation of what Caldwell and his coaching staff have accomplished. This is a flawed team that is in transition, under a new general manager. It’s a team that has already overachieved, no matter what happens over the next two games.

Of course, I can hear the counter arguments:

“All of these wins are because of a soft schedule. They haven’t beaten anybody of note.”

“That is a loser’s mentality. The expectation should be higher now.”

“This team had a two-game lead with three to play! If they don’t make the playoffs, it’s a failure of a season. If they don’t make it, Caldwell should be fired!”

“Do you think Caldwell can lead this team to the Super Bowl? If not, get somebody else.”

OK, I hear you. I feel your stress and frustration. Let’s slow down, take a deep breath and think about that. 

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First of all, general manager Bob Quinn should have the right to pick his coach. If he can’t work with Caldwell – to be clear, there is nothing to suggest this – then he should make a change. If they have monumental differences – again, nothing suggests this – then he should make a change.

And if he has a clear home-run upgrade, then make the change. 

But if he doesn’t, he should stick with Caldwell. Which means he will have to extend him. 

If Quinn fires Caldwell and hires a new coach, that means, in all likelihood, the new coach will bring in new offensive and defensive coordinators.

Do you really want that?

Have you seen how effective Stafford has been under Jim Bob Cooter?

Have you seen how the defense has played lately under Teryl Austin? Despite injuries to several key players?   

But let’s say that Quinn fires Caldwell.

Who does he bring in?

An experienced coach? Remember when Rex Ryan was going to be the savior in Buffalo? He is 15-16 in two seasons.

OK. How about a hot, rising assistant coach. But this franchise has gone down that road before. Can you say Jim Schwartz?

Schwartz, if you remember, was the guy who created the mess that Caldwell has cleaned up.

Then again, Quinn could go with somebody he knows from New England, like Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia or offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

McDaniels has already failed once as a head coach, going 11-17 in two seasons in Denver, although a previous failure should not, in itself, disqualify him. After all, Bill Belichick went 36-44 in five seasons in Cleveland. Belichick didn’t become a head coaching genius until he started coaching Tom Brady.

Ah, yes, the quarterback is everything in the NFL.

Which brings us back to Stafford.

Why have the Lions won this season? Stafford. He has played fantastic and has this team on the verge of the playoffs.

So I have to think that bringing back Caldwell – which means bringing back Cooter – will make it easier to sign Stafford to an extension.

Quinn has already said that he shares a “very similar” football philosophy with Caldwell.

"Consequently, I am convinced he is the right man to lead our football team moving forward," Quinn said in a statement last year.  

"Jim's entire body of work is impressive," Quinn said in the statement. "Not only did he lead the Lions to the playoffs his first season here, but when you look at how the players responded the second half of last season, under difficult circumstances, it's clear to me that this team believes in him and responds positively to his leadership.”

What has changed since then?

Actually a lot. After a bad start, Caldwell has the team on the cusp of the playoffs for the second time in three years. 

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So again, think about the big picture of what is happening here. Quinn has already made an impact on this roster. Caldwell is coaching them up. Stafford and Cooter are clicking, even without Calvin Johnson. And everything is heading in the right direction, at least, in the big picture.

How the Lions fare over the next two games – while potentially playing without Theo Riddick and Darius Slay and with a quarterback who has a finger injury – shouldn’t change any of that.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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