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Lions Taking Sizable Risk With Unproven Jim Caldwell As Head Coach

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Jim Caldwell has worked with Peyton Manning and most recently Joe Flacco. Can he turn Matthew Stafford around as the Lions head coach? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Jim Caldwell has worked with Peyton Manning and most recently Joe Flacco. Can he turn Matthew Stafford around as the Lions head coach? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

The Lions announced on Tuesday that Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell would be the new head coach in Detroit, ending a fairly brief search following the termination of Jim Schwartz. The news came just one day after Chargers OC Ken Whisenhunt, whom reports had said had the Lions job to lose, decided to take over the reins for the Titans.

It’s unclear at the moment whether or not the Lions got the man that they wanted most for what was arguably the best head coaching job available. However, one thing is certain—the Lions have taken a huge risk in their future by hiring Caldwell.

But isn’t Jim Caldwell the guy who won two Super Bowls as an assistant, and led the Colts to an appearance in Super Bowl XLIV? Didn’t the Colts start out 14-0 in Caldwell’s first year as a head coach?

Yes, and yes. However, it’s not as black and white as that.

As the Colts quarterbacks coach, Caldwell had the good fortune of working with Peyton Manning, who could pretty much run an offense by himself. More so than any other quarterback possibly in the history of the NFL, coaches are a mere formality to Manning. So while Caldwell can obviously put on his resume that he helped lead the Colts to a Super Bowl XLI title, I would argue that most of that success came from Manning and his surrounding offensive weapons.

When he took over the Colts after Tony Dungy’s retirement in 2009, Caldwell again rode Manning’s arm and football IQ to a 14-2 season. However, Caldwell made noticeable clock management gaffes, and just didn’t look like a head coach on the field. When Manning missed all of 2011, the Colts fell to 2-14. Simply put, Manning was the heart and soul of those Colts teams for more than 10 years, and it didn’t much matter who held the official “head coach” title—Manning took care of that himself.

Following his dismissal from the Colts, Caldwell joined the Ravens as their QB coach, and became the OC when the Ravens quit on Cam Cameron just weeks before the 2012 playoffs. Caldwell took over and led the offense to a Super Bowl victory against the 49ers this past February, giving him his second Super Bowl ring.

However, in his first full season as a permanent OC, the Ravens’ offense tanked—quarterback Joe Flacco had argubly the worst season of his career, running back Ray Rice disappointed fantasy owners everywhere (including myself) with just 660 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and the offense as a whole never really developed much of a rhythm throughout the season.

So while Caldwell’s resume looks great on paper—two Super Bowl rings, a head coaching position with Peyton Manning, and an offensive coordinator position—it’s hard to say that he has earned the head coaching position with a team so close to the playoffs.

What Caldwell has going for him, though, is the Lions team that he inherits from Schwartz. Caldwell has already shown that he will work with Matthew Stafford to help the young quarterback realize his potential—Caldwell presented the Lions brass with a detailed analysis of all 634 of Stafford’s passes from 2013 with suggestions on mechanical improvement.

Caldwell also joins a team that has almost all of the tools set in place for a playoff run, much like he inherited in Indianapolis. If Caldwell can help Stafford with his fourth quarter decision-making while being a capable head coach, the Lions could be in good shape for a number of years. However, Caldwell’s track record—especially from last season in Baltimore—is a legitimate reason for Lions fans to be worried about this new head coach.

In the end, the Lions got their offensive-minded coach with experience working with some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. I’m just not sure that the results of Caldwell’s past jobs have fully warranted handing him the keys of this playoff caliber team.