So there’s something I don’t admit publicly very often.
I’m a Detroit Lions fan.
And since the Lions has just finished an awful season (again), there are significant questions about whether they’ll fire their coach (again).
But this wasn’t just any bad season. It obviously isn’t the worst Lions season in recent history, but it might have been the most frustrating. I’m so mad, I actually might be happier if Detroit had lost at Green Bay in Week 10 and finished with a worse record. Because at least then they wouldn’t have wasted what should have been a historic moment, ending a 24-year-long road losing streak to Green Bay, on a meaningless season.
They could have done it last year. In Week 17. With the division on the line. For a franchise record 12th win. And with the game tied halfway through the third quarter. And instead, they let the Packers, who had struggled all season when facing top-flight defenses, roll up 30 points.
No. Even when the football gods finally choose to smile on us, the Lambeau curse is finally broken in the midst of late-season surge that
all became meaningless three weeks later after Rodgers flopped like a Cristiano Ronaldo and those cheese eaters got an unearned extra play. And also because the defense let the Rams run all over them a week later. But, mostly, the first thing!
All right, I never claimed to be a well-adjusted person, the point is this season sucked. And after what seemed like such a promising offseason, such a terrible real season should leave the Lions with one very clear answer as to what to do with Caldwell.
They need to keep him.
Despite the 1-7 start, and the 7-9 final record, there are four very important reasons getting rid of Caldwell this year would be a terrible decision.
Reason One: That Second Half Surge
Yes yes yes, as everyone has said, as I said just a few paragraphs ago, the fact that the Lions went 6-2 after their bye week meant, in the grand scheme of things, nothing. The Lions still missed the playoffs and couldn’t even get to a .500 record. And the strength of schedule in the second half definitely helped (6 games against playoff teams in Weeks 1-8, compared to 2 games against the Packers in Weeks 9-17).
But that doesn’t mean we should just ignore that resurgence. A lot of teams who start 1-7 would quit on their coach. This same team has quit on lesser coaches in the not-too-distant past. That Caldwell kept the team focused, and improving, in an otherwise lost season is a good indication that last year’s 11-5 record is closer to what we can expect in the future than this year’s 7-9.
But more importantly than all of that, the improved record over the final 8 games can be largely attributed to promoting Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator. Matthew Stafford never looked fully comfortable in previous OC Joe Lombardi’s offense. This was supposed to be the year he took a major step forward after spending all of 2014 learning the offense and playing it safe. Instead, with Lombardi, Stafford was heading to another mediocre season (13 TDs, 11 INTs, 64.5% completions, 84.1 rating after week 8). When Cooter had a chance to implement his offense following the bye week, Stafford transformed into one of the best QBs in the league almost overnight (19 TDs, 2 INTs, 70% completions, 110.1 rating in weeks 9-17).
Stafford needs to stay in Cooter’s offense. It seems he has finally found someone who can curb his problems with incompletions and interceptions without sacrificing his offensive proficiency. The last thing he needs now is to have to learn a fourth offense in his young career. And the best way to be sure Cooter stays around is to keep his boss around. Caldwell needs to stay.
Reason Two: An Inexperienced GM
Yes! The Lions seem to have finally changed their ways. After firing General Manager Martin Mayhew, they broke recent trends and chose not to promote from within and instead searched far and wide before bringing in Bob Quinn from the New England Patriots.
Right now, these all appear to be good signs and indicate that the Powers that Be recognize that there are systemic problems in the franchise and are attempting to address them.
But none of this changes the fact that Quinn comes to Detroit with no experience as a GM, and while his experience with the ever-consistent Patriots is certainly what made him an attractive hire, it’s worth noting that he joined the Patriots in 2000, the same year as Bill Belichick. The Patriots have not hired a new coach since then, or even looked at another
one. Not only has Quinn never made this kind of decision before, he’s never been a part of it. Or observed it. Or, probably, even thought about it.
Hiring a new coach is always a gamble. Asking a new GM to take that kind of a gamble when we already have a coach one year removed from an 11-win season does not make sense right now.
Reason Three: The Other Teams Have a Head Start
When the Lions made massive, sweeping changes this season, they announced they were going to wait to hire a new GM before they made a decision on their coach. And that’s fine, that makes sense.
But when they waited until yesterday to bring in their new GM, they gave all the other teams who fired their coaches a free week to research, scout, interview, and form relationships with all the hot coaching prospects.
Even if Quinn and his staff get to work right away, they’re probably not going to get their first choice.
And this is especially true, because…
Reason Four: That Second Half Surge
Okay, so when I said earlier that the Lions 6-2 performance over the season’s last eight weeks accomplished nothing, that wasn’t quite true…
It pushed the Lions to 16th on the NFL Draft Board.
Any new coach who comes in is going to want to bring in his own players and reshape the team to suit his preferences. While it wouldn’t be impossible for the Lions to do that this summer, it’s definitely a lot harder when you’re drafting in the middle of the pack and (presumably) getting middle-of-the-pack college players.
I would vehemently disagree with anyone who would say that the Lions should have folded during the second half of the season in an attempt to get a higher draft pick, but there’s no denying that by not doing so they made any new coach’s job that much harder.
So imagine this, hot, young, head coaching prospect. There’s a franchise out there that might be hiring. This franchise has, in the Super Bowl era, made the playoffs 11 times with a 1-11. Their star wide receiver is probably going to retire and
leave you with a gaping whole on your roster. Hiring you means they would have just fired their most successful coach since 1952. You won’t get your first choice of players this April. And to top it all off, waiting for their call means ignoring the six other franchises blowing up your phone for a week (or longer).
In what world do you wait to see their choice? In what world do you answer that call if it comes?
There are a lot of tough decisions coming for this franchise. Despite their strong showing in the last eight weeks they are definitely in rebuilding mode. But this choice should be pretty clear.
The Lions need to keep Jim Caldwell in 2016.