Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell is the new head coach of the Detroit Lions. To get a better idea of what he's all about, I sent five questions (plus a bonus question) to Matt Grecco from Stampede Blue, SB Nation's Colts blog. You can check out his answers below.
1. How big of a role did Caldwell play in Peyton Manning's development? Did he really help Manning become a better player or was Manning already on track to become one of the game's best quarterbacks?
I think Caldwell played a huge role in his development. Manning had a pretty good sophomore season in '99, but had just come off a season where he threw 23 INTs in 2002 when Caldwell got there with Tony Dungy. His completion percentage also went up about 5% almost instantly, and within three years he had one of the best seasons a QB has ever had in 2004. It's clear that Manning would have been really, really good without Caldwell, but I think he clearly listened to what he had to say (and Caldwell listened to Manning a lot, too), and it definitely helped.
2. Along the same lines, how much credit does Caldwell deserve for the Colts' 14-2 season that included a trip to the Super Bowl? Did Tony Dungy leave him a team that was built to win no matter what or did Caldwell really help elevate the Colts as the new head coach?
It definitely helped keeping a lot of continuity between the two coaching staffs, but Manning was playing at an entirely different level at that point, so I think a lot of coaches could have made that team really good, but Caldwell kept the team in a lot of the same routines/had similar expectations, so while some of the philosophies and in-game decisions were different, the overall culture never changed.
3. Without Manning in 2011, it was a rough season for Caldwell and the Colts. Considering what Caldwell had to work with at quarterback (Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter), is there anything he could have done differently from a coaching standpoint to avoid a 2-14 season?
I think Caldwell wanted to do a lot of things differently, but was told he was not allowed to. This is the reason why some Colts fans would have been okay with him staying after that season, as Bill Polian called all the shots, and Caldwell really didn't have a choice in the matter. Polian's philosophy, which I somewhat agree with, is if you're going to be bad, be really bad. I don't think game plans were bad, or they weren't trying to win, they just had very little talent on that team, even outside the QBs. They didn't take many chances at all, and I remember Polian going on the radio and saying because they were underdogs every week they should get more conservative and "do what they do," which is completely wrong. I can't guarantee Caldwell didn't agree with Polian, but I can't imagine he liked losing over and over with very little changing.
4. What kind of in-game head coach was Caldwell in Indy? We've all heard about his infamous timeout against the New York Jets, but were in-game gaffes like that the norm for him?
He'll punt when he shouldn't, and I think there were one or two other "big" gaffes during his three years, although I can't remember them specifically. I wrote something right after he was fired in 2011 (which is now gone, as it was on SB Nation Indiana), but here's the relevant paragraph:
There are more reasons that Caldwell seemed a bit over his head as a Head Coach, including kicking field goals while inside the 10 down by multiple touchdowns in the second half of games, having his star player publicly question your use of timeouts in playoff games, and being so risk-averse, at least in the conventional sense, that it put the Colts, who were at a clear disadvantage talent-wise throughout the season, even more at a disadvantage by not figuring out new and out-of-the-box ways to try and win games. While not the only example, the Colts did not try one surprise onside kick, fake punt, or fake field goal all season. Even if they didn't work, would they have been any worse off?
My hope for Lions fans is he learned some things from John Harbaugh on how to make correct decisions, as Harbaugh seems to make them "correctly" more times than not.
5. On a more general level, how disciplined were the Colts under Caldwell? Turnovers and penalties were a big issue for the Lions under Jim Schwartz, but how were Caldwell's Colts in the discipline department?
On our site I track penalty yards per play, and the Colts finished second, fourth and first in his three seasons, so I'd say the Caldwell Colts were very disciplined in that regard. Turnovers steadily went up over the three years, but you can't blame him for those three QBs in 2011 making bad passes. In 2009, they were 11th in turnovers, and in 2010, Manning had a stretch of games where he had 4 INTs in consecutive games, so that really hurt. Those three QBs had 16 fumbles amongst them, but only 8 for the rest of the team for the season, so overall the rest of the team took pretty good care of the ball. I don't remember anything completely stupid that a player did during those three years.
Bonus question: What would you characterize as the strengths and weaknesses of a "typical" Caldwell-coached team based on his three seasons as the Colts' head coach?
Strengths: Very few penalties, always played hard, offense was very productive when they had a non-terrible QB.
Weaknesses: Conservative decisions, almost looks emotionless on the sideline no matter what is happening (like this), unable to make changes quickly.