Could Caldwell really survive Lions' upheaval?
The NFL hiring cycle after the 2012 season was an interesting one, when seven general manager jobs came open and all seven were filled by first-time GMs.
Teams such as the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars raided more successful franchises for their hires. Others, such as the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, promoted from within.
All five of those teams changed coaches, too, overhauling their organization, to varying degrees of success.
But perhaps the most interesting moves that winter played out along the eastern seaboard, where the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers torpedoed their front offices but left their coaching staffs in place, at their owner's behest.
In New York, the Rex Ryan-John Idzik marriage appeared doomed from the start. Several GM candidates spurned the Jets, who had made it known that they were keeping the hugely popular Ryan from the start.
Both Ryan and Idzik were fired after last year, when owner Woody Johnson finally took a blowtorch to his dysfunctional franchise.
In Carolina, owner Jerry Richardson said shortly after that season that Ron Rivera would return for a third year as head coach. The Panthers hired Dave Gettleman a week later, and that duo has Carolina 8-0 now, atop the NFC and closing in on its third straight playoff appearance.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell referenced the Panthers' arranged but successful marriage in a rambling, 7-minute filibuster he gave at the beginning of his news conference Monday, when his job security was a primary topic of conversation.
"We're not the lone wolves in this regard," Caldwell said, unprompted. "I think, matter of fact, I think 2011 or '12, Carolina Panthers kind of went through something similar to this and were certainly able to bounce back."
The Panthers started the 2012 season 2-8 with a couple blowout losses along the way. General manager Marty Hurney was fired six games into the season, and speculation swirled about Rivera's future all year.
A locker room favorite, Rivera coached Carolina to four straight wins that December, and the team's strong finish -- the Panthers ended up 7-9 and tied for the second place in the division -- was enough to sway Richardson Rivera's way.
Caldwell, who brushed off questions about his status as a lame duck coach Monday -- "We'll see," he said, assuredly -- said he has a chance, however small, to join Ryan and Rivera in that exclusive club of coaches who survive when a hurricane hits upstairs.
"This is a day-to-day business, and that's the way we look at it," Caldwell said. "In the scripture, it says tomorrow's not promised to you, so how can you lean upon a job if your life is not promised to you in another day? I look at things a little bit differently, in that regard. I got a chance to coach today, and perhaps I'll have a chance to coach tomorrow. And I'm going to keep coaching until they turn the lights out on me."
Certainly, Caldwell has more working against him returning for a third season with the Lions than just the new management team and its natural desire to pick their own coach.
Part of owner Martha Ford's decision to fire Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand on Thursday, as she told people involved, was to "send a message" that what has happened within the organization for a long time won't be tolerated anymore.
Keeping Caldwell, an extension of the Matt Millen era through his ties to Mayhew and Lewand, would anger much of a fan base that's desperate to start anew.
But Caldwell, like Ryan and Rivera when they were retained, has two years left on his contract after this season and is liked within the locker room.
He said he has ways to keep players motivated even when their natural instinct is to shift to more individual goals (such as making it to 2016 healthy).
And he knows that, as long as the odds seem with his team an NFL-worst 1-7, there's only one path to job security.
"It still really comes down to what happens on the field," Caldwell said. "That's ultimately what the key to it is."
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
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