Lions coach Caldwell will return for third season
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Lions retained coach Jim Caldwell for a third season, giving him a chance to work with new general manager Bob Quinn.
It was Quinn’s call whether to keep or fire Caldwell during his first week on the job.
"As I stated Monday, I was looking forward to the opportunity to get to know Jim," Quinn said in a statement released by the team Friday. "After spending a significant amount of time together, it is clear that our football philosophies are very similar. Consequently, I am convinced he is the right man to lead our football team moving forward. Jim’s entire body of work is impressive."
Caldwell is 18-15, including a wild-card loss last year, in two seasons with the Lions. Detroit dropped six of its first seven games in 2015 before finishing 7-9.
"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," Quinn said. "Our entire focus now is on the offseason and all that it entails."
Figuring out Calvin Johnson’s future is likely next on Quinn’s to-do list. The superstar receiver may retire after nine seasons. If Johnson wants to come back, Quinn will probably try to restructure his contract to avoid a $24 million salary cap hit next season.
With or without Johnson on the field, Caldwell will be on the sideline.
"I am obviously thrilled that I will continue to lead this football team," he said in a statement. "I genuinely appreciate the faith Bob has shown in me, and I really look forward to working together. As I’ve said before, I truly love coaching the Lions and, while I’ve only been here two years, I have grown to love our fans, the city of Detroit, and the people of Detroit and Michigan."
The Lions also announced Friday that Kyle O’Brien was hired as director of player personnel. O’Brien was with the Jacksonville Jaguars as director of college scouting for the past three seasons. Before that, he spent one season as a regional scout with the Kansas City Chiefs and 10 seasons in various roles within the New England Patriots’ player personnel department.
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford fired team president Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew after the team’s awful start. Rod Wood, who replaced Lewand, made it clear that the new GM would decide Caldwell’s fate with the franchise.
Ford, though, is fond of Caldwell. After Quinn was introduced as GM, Ford was asked if she would keep Caldwell as coach.
"I love Jim Caldwell, but I don’t want to answer that question," she said.
Caldwell’s players seem to like him a lot, too, and are glad he will be back.
"It was the best thing for the team because of the leadership he brings, and the relationships he has," defensive back Don Carey said in a phone interview Friday morning. "He is hands down the best coach to get us where we need to be."
Caldwell had success in his debut season in Detroit, helping the franchise win 11 games — its most since 1991 — and earn a spot in the playoffs for just the second time in 15 years.
His cool and calm demeanor appeared to be just what the Lions needed after they fired an emotionally charged coach, Jim Schwartz. And unlike Schwartz, Caldwell seems to treat stars the same way as seldom-used reserves.
Caldwell created connections right away with players by taking them out to dinner — by position group — and letting them choose the restaurants, getting to know them by asking about favorite books and movies.
"The more you know about them, the better you can serve them," Caldwell said, entering the 2014 season. "I’ve always believed coaching is a service business."
The Lions gave Caldwell a chance to lead an NFL team for a second time. He was 26-22 over three regular seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, helping them reach a Super Bowl.
Indianapolis fired him after a 14-loss season in 2011 as Peyton Manning missed the season because of neck surgery. He landed in Baltimore, starting off as a quarterbacks coach and being promoted to offensive coordinator when the Ravens won the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2013.
His coaching career started as a graduate assistant in 1977 after playing defensive back for Iowa. He went on to work as an assistant coach at Southern Illinois, Northwestern, Colorado, Louisville and Penn State. Caldwell earned his first chance to be a head coach at Wake Forest, where he was from 1993-2000, before going to the NFL to work for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. When Dungy retired after the 2008 season, Caldwell succeeded him and won 14 games as a rookie NFL head coach.
Throughout the 2015 season with the Lions, he refused to be engaged in public conversations about his future with the franchise. Caldwell’s players appreciated his consistent approach with them and the media.
"We kept following this man when we were 1-7," defensive end Darryl Tapp said. "No one tanked and no one pointed fingers because of him. I’ve been a part of situations, unfortunately, where you have a start like that and the coach loses control and players start having personal agendas. That hasn’t happened here because he has done a great job of getting everybody to buy in every week with his consistency."