Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Lions to an 8-7 record thus far. Although the team has more wins than losses, they have been eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and many people are blaming Caldwell.
On paper, Caldwell’s tenure in Detroit actually looks good. He is finishing his fourth season in Detroit, and so far he has gone 35-28 with the team. His winning percentage of 55 percent as the head coach is the fifth-highest in the Lions’ 88-year history. In fact, he has the highest winning percentage of any Lions head coach to coach at least one full season with the team since Buddy Parker was the club’s head coach from 1951-56, in which he had a .671 winning percentage. Caldwell is the first winning coach since Joe Schmidt, who coached from 1967-72.
Most Lions fans are quite used to having losing seasons. So why fire a coach who has led his team to more wins than losses in his career? Because Caldwell has blown two of the greatest chances to win the NFC North division in recent memory, in back-to-back seasons.
In the 2016-17 season, the Lions had a two-game lead in the NFC North standings over the Green Bay Packers after Week 14. All Detroit had to do to clinch the division was win one of their last three games; they went on to lose all three and the division.
Losing their division caused them to have to match up against the three seed on the road in the playoffs. If they had won their division, they would have played the five seed at home.
This season, the Lions are currently in second place behind a Minnesota Vikings team who has been on their third-string quarterback for majority of the season. And the Vikings aren’t the only team without their starting quarterback, as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6.
With the injuries the Vikings and Packers have dealt with, the Lions have had the best talent on the field in the division, yet sit in second place.
There were three losses this season that were inexcusable.
The first was their Thanksgiving Day match-up against the Vikings. Going into Week 12, they were just two games behind the Vikings, a team they had already beaten on the road. In a must win game, the Lions fell to the Vikings 30-23.
The following week, the Lions traveled to Baltimore to take on the Ravens, a match-up in which the Lions were favored to win. The Detroit defense ended up allowing 37 points against the Baltimore offense, which ranks 26th in the NFL in total offense, and lose the game 44-20.
But after two straight wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14 and the Bears in Week 15, Caldwell wound up 8-6 and one game out of a playoff spot. Caldwell appeared to be somewhat safe for the time being.
But Caldwell may have sealed his fate last Sunday.
The Lions went to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, who owned a 5-9 record going into that match-up. The Bengals currently own the least productive offense in the NFL, yet the Detroit defense was on the field for 78 plays in their match up, a season high. The Lions lost that game 26-17.
If Caldwell would have won these three games, which he should have, we would be looking at an 11-4 Lions team that would be in first place in the division.
Not only has he blown two great chances at the NFC North crown, but he hasn’t recorded a playoff win with the Lions in either of his two trips. He lost against to Dallas in the 2014-15 playoffs 24-20. Two seasons later, he lost to Seattle in the 2016-17 playoffs, 26-6. Even when he is making the playoffs, he is not advancing the Lions beyond the first round.
However, the Lions definitely own the talent to compete in the playoffs. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is the highest paid player in NFL history. Stafford, along with receiver Golden Tate, cornerback Darius Slay, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and kicker Matt Prater have all made at least one Pro Bowl appearance under Caldwell’s coaching tenure.
There is no question that Caldwell’s teams have underperformed.
When it comes to the standards of the Lions, if a coach is winning more than he is losing, justifying firing him seems kind of silly. Unfortunately, in the land of sports, it’s not what you have done for me, it’s what have done for me lately. In Caldwell’s case, it’s blowing two of their best chances to win the NFC North in years.
Now that playoff hopes are done in Detroit, Caldwell may be too. It may be time to turn the page to a new chapter in Detroit. A new coach could give the franchise a new look and a new energy.
There are some good candidates to replace Caldwell as the leader of the Lions. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter would likely be the top internal candidate. His familiarity with the team would put him towards the top of the list for potential replacements.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy may draw some consideration as well. The Chiefs are fifth in total offense under Nagy’s command. If Nagy is looking for a promotion, he may have to look elsewhere, however, as Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reed most likely isn’t going anywhere after clinching his second straight AFC West title. He may draw interest from other teams looking for a head coach.
Nagy has also been instrumental in the career revival of quarterback Alex Smith and the breakout of rookie running back Kareem Hunt. If he were to get his hands on Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford, he could turn him into a superstar.
New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may be looking to leave New England. With Bill Belichick in the organization, there isn’t much room for advancement past his current position.
McDaniels has been the offensive coordinator in New England since 2012. Under his tenure, he has won two Super Bowls and six AFC East titles. He has been able to work with super star quarterback Tom Brady. Bringing in McDaniels could help improve Stafford even more.
McDaniels has ties to the state Michigan, as he was an assistant coach under former MSU head coach Nick Saban in 1999. He may look to return to Michigan if the Lions would be willing to give him an opportunity to take over the team, but he has been linked with the open Giants job as well.