It doesn’t feel all that long ago that the Detroit Lions underwent one of the most frustrating offseasons in team history. Back in 2012, it seemed like you couldn’t go a single week without a Lions player getting arrested. In fact, in a six-month stretch from the end of January to the end of July, seven Lions players faced arrests.
The Jim Schwartz era ended up being defined by that type of attitude. The Lions defense was good, but at times overly aggressive and teetering on the edge between legal and illegal play. The team was often called undisciplined, dirty and even just plain stupid.
When the Lions hired Jim Caldwell as the new coach in 2014, it appeared to be a change in team identity. To call Caldwell a more stoic personality is to call a Matthew Stafford pass a little faster than a Tim Tebow toss.
But has that personality rubbed off on the identity of the team? We’ve looked at the number of penalties and found no direct impact. From 2014:
Under Schwartz, the Lions ranked 19th, 31st, 30th, 18th and 24th in penalties per game. Under Caldwell, the Lions ranked 27th.
But since then, the Lions have gotten considerably better, ranking 13th and 11th in 2015 and 2016 respectively. On the field, the Lions have almost certainly become more disciplined.
However, it looks like the biggest impact Caldwell has had on the team’s personality has come in the offseason. Per USA Today, 10 Lions player were arrested under the Jim Schwartz regime (2009 - 2013). Since Caldwell has taken over, just one Lions player has been arrested: Rodney Austin for a domestic violence dispute. Austin was immediately released after he was arrested.
The Lions’ clean reputation was somewhat tarnished last offseason when the team went against their zero tolerance policy on domestic and gun crimes after signing tight end Andrew Quarless. Quarless, who was arrested after discharging a firearm in public, ended up serving a suspension while in Detroit and was promptly released after the suspension was up. He never played a game with the Lions.
The heat only got worse for the Lions when general manager Bob Quinn expressed his disappointment in the NFL for not inviting Joe Mixon to the NFL Combine in early March because of the violent video depicting Mixon punching a woman in the face during an argument at a restaurant. For a team that had prided itself on its imagine—especially in regards to violence against women—Quinn’s comments were denounced as tone-deaf and ignorant.
Of course, both of those controversies seem to reflect more on Quinn than Caldwell. For now, Caldwell’s squeaky-clean reputation seems to be working on keeping his players out of trouble, both on and off the field.