Now that the Detroit Lions' 2014 season is in the books, it's time to do some post-season evaluations of the team. The obvious place to start is the Lions' first-year head coach, Jim Caldwell. Though Caldwell's season had a few notorious bumps in the road, his performance has been generally praised. In our latest approval poll, 85 percent of fans approved of the job Caldwell had done.
It's hard to disagree with the masses here. The Lions went 11-5 in the regular season. The Lions have only reached 11 wins four times in franchise history. Additionally, he brought the Lions to the brink of their first postseason victory in over 20 years.
But just like the quarterback wins fallacy, judging a coach solely on his team's record seems a bit crude. Coaching is just one cog in the random number generator that spits out a team's record at the end of the season. Granted, coaching is a big part, but to whittle down a coach's entire performance to one number is completely unfair. Let's dig a little deeper.
Caldwell was brought into Detroit for his offensive acumen. He endeared himself to Lions fans by breaking down Matthew Stafford's passes from 2013 during his interview. Caldwell brought the highly praised Joe Lombardi with him to run the offense. The results weren't exactly impressive:
Outside of passing yards, the Lions offense was actually very middle of the pack in the year prior to Caldwell's arrival. Even so, the Lions offense fell in the rankings in every category listed above, most drastically in the yardage statistics. However, yardage isn't always the best way to measure an offense's efficiency. More concerning is the significant drop in yards per carry and the small decline in passer rating (DVOA remained steady).
However, it may be unfair to unload all of the offense's problems on Caldwell. He hired a first-time offensive coordinator, and expectations were probably a bit too high for Lombardi's inaugural season. Still, a look at Caldwell's time in Baltimore leaves you wondering: will time simply heal the Lions' offensive problems?
Caldwell joined the Baltimore Ravens' staff in 2012 as the quarterbacks coach. Toward the end of the season, he was promoted to offensive coordinator and retained that position throughout the 2013 season. Here are the results:
Gulp. After keeping the offense somewhat stable during the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning 2012 season, everything fell apart in Caldwell's first full season as offensive coordinator. Everything but Baltimore's passer rating not only declined in 2013, but plummeted to the basement of the league. One bad season isn't enough to label Caldwell as an offensive disaster, but the fact that the Ravens completely rebounded this season isn't exactly a shining endorsement of Caldwell's offensive intellect.
Another perceived benefit of the Caldwell hire was his mild-mannered tone, which was in stark contrast to Jim Schwartz's over-the-top, reactionary temperament. The notion was that Caldwell would bring discipline to a team with a "dirty" reputation and a problem with penalties.
However, the results don't show any improvement in that area in 2014. Under Schwartz, the Lions ranked 19th, 31st, 30th, 18th and 24th in penalties per game. Under Caldwell, the Lions ranked 27th. And after the back-to-back weeks of controversy with Dominic Raiola and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions' dirty reputation certainly remains pervasive throughout the league. It may be unfair to expect Caldwell to change the entire identity of a team in one offseason, but 12 months into the job, it's hard to see any real improvement in a change of culture.
All of that being said, you just cannot completely deny the results. The Lions had one of their most successful seasons in team history in 2014, and Caldwell deserves a good amount of credit for that, especially considering it was his first year with the franchise. There are obviously still some major issues with the team -- and some potential red flags with Caldwell himself -- but his tenure as coach is off to a decent start.