Three weeks can change a lot. A balmy autumn afternoon can be replaced by two feet of snow. A presidential candidate can go from a leading candidate to an afterthought. Or, an NFL franchise can transform from a team in desperate need of a complete organizational overhaul to a team that may just need some minor tweaks.
At 1-7 during the bye week, directly off the heels of a 45-10 beatdown via the Kansas City Chiefs, the Detroit Lions needed to make a change. Four days after the embarrassing loss, Martha Ford dropped the hammer, firing both general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand. Jim Caldwell was spared, but with the team in disarray and many fans disappointed with his lack of intensity, it seemed his days were numbered.
But now the team is 4-7, coming off three impressive wins against teams in playoff contention. The Lions look more like the team of Caldwell's inaugural season, and possibly even better. While it's likely too late to get the Lions to the postseason, Caldwell is earning a lot of praise for keeping the team upbeat and competitive despite the disastrous first half of the season. The Ford Family seems absolutely impressed with the job Caldwell is doing:
Jim Caldwell just got a round of applause when he went to visit the Ford family— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 26, 2015
But when Martha Ford initially made the firings three weeks ago, it was described as a "total wipeout" and a major organizational shakeup. If the Lions were planning on overhauling everything, could three consecutive wins really change their strategy? Some would argue the Lions have already aborted that plan by hiring friend-of-the-Fords, Rod Wood, as team president. But since he won't be involved in football decisions, the Lions can still stick to the blueprint.
If the Lions decide to stick with Caldwell, it would not be as rare of a decision as you may think. FootballPerspective.com did a comprehensive study from 1995 to 2013 of general manager changes and the status of the coaches they inherited. Of the 95 general manager hirings during that time, just about half (45) retained the coaches in place. In fact, of those 45 coaches, 32 of them survived their initial season with the new GM for a second year.
But here's the catch, Caldwell's chances of survival very much relies on the kind of hire that the Lions choose to make at GM. If the Lions choose to keep interim GM Sheldon White or promote a candidate within the organization, Caldwell's chances of retention go up drastically. In the same Football Perspective study, 10 coaches kept their job after one year under the new general manager despite posting a losing record. In nine of those 10 instances, the new general manager was an internal hire. In other words, general managers who have been around the organization for some time are far less likely to rock the boat.
If Detroit decides to hire someone from outside the organization to fill the GM void, Caldwell's job security will be tenuous. Caldwell has actually gone through two GM changes in his coaching career, both at Indianapolis. In his first year as coach, Chris Polian was promoted to general manager in the middle of the season. The Colts went 14-2 that year and lost in the Super Bowl. Since Polian was an internal hire and the GM position was not technically filled beforehand, it would have been ludicrous for Caldwell to lose his job. However, three years later, when Polian was terminated and replaced with Ryan Grigson (an "outside" hire), Caldwell was let go.
But if Caldwell can keep the team winning, it certainly seems like his retention would be likely, at least for a trial period. The Lions are currently 15-12 under Caldwell through 27 games. If that number is even better by the season's end, don't be surprised if Caldwell is donning the Lions' headset again next season.