A lot has been made about Jim Caldwell's job security as head coach of the Detroit Lions, and a lot seems to hinge somehow upon how well Caldwell performs for the remainder of the season. It's certainly speaking for itself right now, a three-game win streak following the bye to put the Lions at 4-7 and marked improvement on the offense and defense each week.
But put the on-field results aside for a moment. It's easy to get wrapped up in those, especially in football where all glory and goodness in winning is given to the coach without much real inspection. While chances for Caldwell to remain aren't great if a new general manager is brought in, there are a few reasons to consider keeping him on the sidelines for another season as the Lions work to rebuild the front office, even if the short term is fans throwing heavy objects in disgust.
The GM search may put the Lions behind the ball on coach hunting
It's uncertain how many NFL teams will be up at the dance when it comes time for a new head coach to provide unlimited hope and prosperity and dreams of Super Bowls before a single game is played. At the least, we can expect the Titans and Dolphins to be there alongside the Lions this year; the Eagles and Colts are liable to join the dance, and at any moment the Chargers, that team in Washington, the 49ers and the Browns could try to cut in. Maybe Tom Coughlin retires and the Giants are suddenly on the block. Given the number of open coaching positions in the college ranks it's not likely any coaches at the NCAA level will be called upon to fill professional roles.
This all means the pool of suspects for NFL coaching jobs is not only limited, but more than a few could be diving in this offseason.
Assuming the nuclear option for a moment...do fans really want the Lions to have to settle for their second, third or even fourth choice for a head coach yet again? It's liable to be that; the fact that Detroit must first secure a general manager and let him chose his personnel could put the team at a disadvantage when it comes to the timing in all of this. Whenever the new GM is ready, it's quite possible that the top candidates will already be settling in at their new jobs. Can there be guarantee that the best candidate for the job will be willing to wait to take a Detroit job that may not look as sexy up against the other options? (Sure. You, the fan, might think Detroit's a job that can't be beat, but when you're debating whether to spend your winters in Detroit versus Miami or San Diego, it's not so clear-cut)
The staff might be worth something
Changing a coaching staff is not a matter of replacing a top piece and keeping everyone else. If Jim Caldwell is gone, it's very likely to see Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter skip town.
This may not be all it's made out to be, and it's hard to parse the difference of this Lions team before and after the bye week. Teryl Austin's defense was one of the worst in the league. Now it has shown flash and promise in three weeks, even when it's arguably feasting on on teams that are going the wrong way offensively. As for the offense, it's hard to proclaim Jim Bob Cooter to be the solution to all the woes for the Detroit Lions, and questions remain if he's ready to take the stage as a permanent offensive coordinator. Nevertheless, he figured out how to operate the run game from the Lions' current personnel and seems to be calling plays that utilize the strengths of Matthew Stafford. Ron Prince has taken over on directing the offensive line and the unit has been kept together rather than subjected to Lombardi's various packages.
But the Lions have players who have professed a desire to play for the current staff. Stafford loves the aggressive nature of Cooter's offense. It does make a difference when the workers like the bosses enough to put in those extra hours. One only needs to look at the Lions' opponent from Thanksgiving, the Eagles, to see what it looks like when the workers don't want to play for the current management.
Likewise, the middle management feels the same about their own boss. Austin and Cooter both came to town to work for Caldwell. Without Caldwell, they might not have the same reasons to stay.
Continuity means something
What's the point of setting up an offensive system when it's has to be wiped away the very next year? What's the point of a roster when the next guy comes in and demands a completely different vision that forces widespread turnover so he can get the right personnel?
Coaches in the NFL are notoriously stubborn. Everything must be just so. Asking for flexibility feels like an insurmountable task for such perfectionists who work 100 hour weeks just to draw up a new slant route. That stubbornness works against them each time one comes into a new job and finds the work of the coach before him anathematic to his singular vision.
It's no surprise that the best franchises in the NFL feature coaches that have implemented their systems and have had the years in place to make it work. Granted, that's not really a revelation, the coaches that are successful and win stay in place. But if the carousel keeps moving, it's impossible to see whether something comes to fruition. It's frustrating, but Jim Caldwell has only ever held a head coaching job in the NFL for three years. In Detroit, he's currently in his second.
Whoever comes in next will undoubtedly face growing pains. These things will undoubtedly take time. The myth remains in the NFL that a wizard coach (usually Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher) can step right in and wave his sorcerer's staff and fix everything, turn mice into horses, pumpkins to carriages and all the rest. That's rarely the case.
Continuity is rare; patience to create that continuity is even more rare. Jim Caldwell has put less than two seasons in. He's faced a crisis and managed to make the adjustments to right a ship, even if it came too late to save preseason expectations. A third year would be worth seeing if he can create a lasting stability.
Enough instability for one year
Few teams perennially fire staff and the Detroit Lions are always in play (usually the Browns and Dolphins are there too). Yet every year, fans of every stripe line up, bitch about the coach they just fired and the awful job he did right before taking the trash from someone else and begin talking about how the future is so bright and the team is going to make the playoffs for certain now that Winner Genius Guy is here. Fans of every team in every sport in every league do this dance every year without realizing the Sisyphean nature of the affair.
The Lions just torched most of their front office and their offensive coordinator in the span of two short weeks. It was assumed that Jim Caldwell was kept in order to keep the lights on. Maybe that's still true; it's probably so given the inherent mechanics in a new general manager hire in the NFL (and the reason why most of this is hypothetical).
But continuing to burn does leave an impression in the ashes. If one's own corporate job faced so much instability where entire swaths of management were being let go in a short span of time, that person would be liable to start putting his resumé out there for a new gig. It makes those who are looking at joining the organization think twice.
Keeping Caldwell has the potential to allay that fear. It shows there's a commitment to the future without burning everything down and possibly repeating the same dance in three year's time. That means something to players who are currently Lions and those who are looking to join sometime in the future.
These are all points that might rankle the Honolulu Blue collective thought; after all, this Lions organization has had a nasty reputation for keeping The Losers for two or three years longer than they probably should have. But in this case, there's probably enough blood spilled for one season. Any more could run this cup over with disastrous results.