Lions believe Caldwell will lead them to their first Super Bowl
This is the one. This is the coach who will lead the Detroit Lions to their first Super Bowl.
Dominic Raiola believes it’s true — although he admits he’s felt that way with all the others, too.
He did when he broke into the NFL as a rookie in 2001 and Marty Mornhinweg was the Lions’ coach for two years.
And he felt it again with Steve Mariucci (two-plus seasons) and Rod Marinelli (three years) and Jim Schwartz (five years).
Probably even with interim coach Dick Jauron during those five games after Mariucci got fired in 2005.
"You always believe that this guy is going to be the guy," said Raiola, a center who is entering his 14th season in the league. "I said that about every coach that’s come in here before. I believe this guy is the guy."
This time the guy is Jim Caldwell, who replaces Schwartz after spending the last two years as a quarterback coach/offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens.
While Schwartz was fiery, at times to a fault, Caldwell is known for a much different demeanor.
"It’s a calm feeling round the building," Raiola said.
The Lions developed a reputation for being undisciplined, both on and off the field, under Schwartz. Many blamed him for setting the tone and not doing enough to change those actions by the players.
Schwartz would slam his headset to the ground, both in anger and jubilation. He nearly started a brawl during a post-game handshake confrontation with San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Schwartz was even seen shouting obscenities at the fans during his final home game.
Caldwell, 59, comes across as a gentleman, a fatherly figure who could be just what the Lions need to become a more disciplined team.
"You just get a sense this guy has been there, done that, and he has," Raiola said. "You look at his track record. Being around him, not just hearing about it, but what everybody was saying for a couple months, that really is him.
"I don’t know how to explain it. There’s a sense of calm, a sense of we’re going to do things his way and that’s it. That’s the bottom line. There’s nothing more to it."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford added: "He’s a confident, level-headed guy. Everything he says seems to make a lot of sense. He’s very well-thought-out. He’s been doing this for a while. He carries a level of respect. (He has) obviously been to multiple Super Bowls, and he has a lot of respect in that locker room already. Just the way he carries himself, the way he talks about treating us and expecting the same kind of treatment in return, that’s something that is always good."
Caldwell has been a part of two Super Bowl champions, one as the quarterback coach with the Indianapolis Colts and the other as offensive coordinator for the Ravens.
He hasn’t had the same level of success as a head coach, however. In eight years at Wake Forest (1993-2000), his record was 27-63.
Caldwell was then the one who took over a championship team from Tony Dungy and led the Indianapolis Colts back to the Super Bowl in his first year.
It went downhill rather quickly from there. The Colts finished 10-6 and lost their first playoff game the next year and Caldwell got fired after a 2-14 season in 2011, which quarterback Peyton Manning missed because of a neck injury.
You always believe that this guy is going to be the guy.
"One thing I really admire about coach Caldwell, he thinks having a family-like atmosphere is important," said receiver Golden Tate, who signed a free-agent deal with the Lions after playing for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks last season.
"I thought that’s why Seattle did so well. We had our 7-9 years and then we had our Super Bowl year. I was a part of the lows and the highs. I watched that team grow. This past year, we were playing for each other. We were playing for the city. We were playing for the 12th man.
"That’s what I expect from here. We want this locker room to jell. We want everyone to be able to sit down and know something about the guy you’re playing with. I think that’s very important.
"It’s going to get tough, but you need to look to your right, look to your left and see who you’re playing for. I think that’s going to drive us as a team. We won’t play for ourselves. We’ll play for the guy I went through camp with in 95-degree weather."
The Lions have never made it to the Super Bowl. They’ve won only one playoff game since 1958. They’ve made the playoffs once in the last 14 years. Their last division title was in 1993.
For Caldwell to be able to show off two Super Bowl rings is significant to the players.
"That’s credibility," Raiola said. "It’s been proven. We’re excited about that. He’s a proven winner. He’s been in coaching a long time and he’s been successful at it.
"When Jim (Schwartz) got fired, a lot of that (last year’s 1-6 collapse over the final seven weeks) erased itself. It’s like a new era. It’s refreshing. This is a fresh start."