So the Lions have hired the guy who they believe will lead them, their fans and the city of Detroit to the next level. Many within the organization are saying all the right things right now. They have to, regardless if they believe the words themselves or not. The fans on the other hand, do not. While the news of the hiring was received quite positively within the football community, it is safe to say that the opposite is true within the fan community. The word underwhelming was used quite extensively, and from a fan perspective that is the perfect word to use. On the surface Coach Caldwell is not the flashiest of names. He does not have a bigger then life personality like Jim Harbaugh. His is not an offensive innovator like Chip Kelly. He does not have the intensity of a Mike Tomlin nor is he a master tactician like Bill Belichick. What Caldwell does have, at least as reported by those who know and have worked for or with him, is the most important quality the Lions need right now...leadership.
One of the biggest knocks right now is the perception that he was the 2nd choice behind Ken Whisenhunt, but is that really true? While it is true they had a plane on standby to go get "The Whiz" and bring him to Detroit, his hiring was not a done deal. When the Lions Front Office flew out to San Diego to interview Ken, there was at least 1 person not on that flight....Mr. Ford. It is very doubtful that the Lions would have offered, or even talked, contracts (other then maybe gauge what his desired salary would be) with Whisenhunt. It has also been said that the Lions were in contact quite often with Jim Caldwell throughout the process and talked extensively with him while they waited to see if Whisenhunt was intrested in coming to Detroit to see the facilities and potentially meet with Mr. Ford. So while it is clear the process was waiting on Whiz to make a decision, it is not as clear as we originally thought that he was the clear Top Choice.
The second big argument about Caldwell revolved around his past. People argued that his success in Indy was a product of Peyton Manning and that it was Manning who really coached that team. Manning apparently talked to the Lions front office and gave a glowing report on Caldwell and how he helped Peyton grow as a QB and develop into one of, if not THE, greatest QBs in NFL history. Some pointed to the fact that Jim Irsey and the Colts fired Caldwell after the 2-14 season despite the fact that he was Tony Dungy's hand picked replacement and that no one could have won with that team once Peyton was lost for the season. Most, when presenting this argument, fail to also mention that Bill Polian (a GM who built the Bills in the 90s as well as built the expansion Panthers team who got to the NFC Championship game in just their second year of existence before taking over as GM and President of the Colts in 1997) was also fired after that season and that Manning was released. It was clear that Mr. Irsey wanted to start over fresh and simply was clearing out all remaining pieces to the old regime.
The last piece of Caldwell's past that people have argued as a knock against him is how underwhelming the Ravens offense was this season with him as the Offensive Coordinator. The offense looked boring, conservative and unable to produce and that was attributed to his abilities as a play caller. There is no doubt that the Ravens offense left much to be desired (and the reasons why is a topic for a different post). Fact of the matter is though that it really has little bearing on his hiring as the Head Coach here. He is no longer the Offensive Coordinator, he is the Head Coach. His role is not to call plays. His role is to provide strategic guidance to the people who do call the plays, the coordinators. He is like the driver in a vehicle. The driver is not the one who makes the vehicle go, the engine is. The driver is not the one who controls the engine and tells it how to work, now a days that is the job of the vehicle's computer. The driver's role is give inputs about a desired effect (movement), ensure the vehicle has everything it needs to acheive the desired effect (gas, tires, fluid, etc) and then use that effect to guide the vehicle, along with himself, to the desired destination.
The final knock was that the Lions simply limited their search too much with their set criteria and that they simply settled for Caldwell. While they did have a set criteria and two of the key piece in that profile was prior head coaching experience and an offensive minded coach it certainly does not appear they did not give their due diligence. When they reached out to Dungy on Monday it appears the first question Mayhew asked was if Dungy himself was interested in the job. I read in an article this morning as well that they were in contact with John Gruden all the way up until Monday afternoon, trying to coax him out of the broadcast booth. While they did eliminate some potentially quality candidates with their set profile, if these reports are true it is not really fair to say that Mayhew did not put forth the effort and energy needed while conducting possibly the most important coaching search in franchise history.
I am not a Caldwell slappie, nor am I completely on board with the way the search was conducted. I understand they wanted to have a staff in place for the upcoming Senior Bowl but I still would like to have seen guys like Zimmer and Bowles interviewed. That said, as I reflect on the hiring of Coach Caldwell and listen to what people who know and understand this game a whole lot more then I do talk glowingly about him and everyhting he can potentially do for this team, this franchise, this fanbase and this city I cannot help but become at least a little intrigued and realize that maybe that Honolulu Blue sky is not quite falling.