The opinions on Jim Caldwell and his style of coaching have swayed drastically over his three seasons with the Lions. He was wildly popular among the fanbase after starting his tenure with an 11-5 season. Since then, however, the public opinion on Caldwell has wavered quite a bit. Some have wanted him gone since the Lions’ poor 1-7 start in 2015, others have seemingly wanted him gone from the beginning. There’s a big subset of fans that point to Caldwell’s 27-20 record as the Lions head coach as a reason to keep him around for at least another year.
One common hot point of debate with Caldwell is his perceived conservative approach to game management. Many believe Caldwell isn’t aggressive enough—like when he decided to punt against the Cowboys in the 2014 playoff game on fourth-and-1 from Dallas’ 46-yard line. Others point out that other NFL coaches aren’t any more aggressive.
After the 2014 season, Football Outsiders put out a stat they called the “Aggressiveness Index,” which ranked Caldwell as the third most aggressive coach in the league. In fact, he went for it on fourth down more than any other coach that year.
Fast forward to 2016 and the same conservative criticisms linger with Caldwell. But according to the Wall Street Journal, those claims remain unsubstantiated. According to their methods—which use fourth down decisions, offensive and defensive playcalling and special teams decisions—Caldwell has been the second most aggressive coach in the NFL, behind only the Giants’ Ben McAdoo.
Again, it has been Caldwell ranked among the top in the league in fourth-down decisions, placing third among the most aggressive coaches. He also ranks first in special teams decisions, which the Wall Street Journal defines as decisions to kick an onside kick or go for the two-point conversion. Caldwell faced a lot of criticism earlier in the year for kicking an onside kick with three minutes remaining in the game against the Texans.
There are plenty of reasons to not like the job Jim Caldwell is doing as the head coach of the Lions. Heck, 43 percent of you don’t approve of him as of Wednesday morning. But there is mounting evidence that Caldwell’s conservatism, at least relative to the rest of the NFL, is nothing but a myth.