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NFL head coach rankings: Jim Caldwell worst coach in NFC North

Jim Caldwell still is fighting a poor national reputation.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday we polled our readers asking if they thought Jim Caldwell would still be the head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2018. 81 percent of you believe Caldwell will be around next season, showing a pretty strong confidence in the fan base that he will keep the Lions on the right track in this upcoming season.

That same confidence is not felt by writer Elliot Harrison, who released his annual head coach power rankings on Wednesday. According to Harrison, Caldwell is the 19th best coach in the league, up two spots from 2016.

Harrison justifies his ranking, saying that Caldwell’s career has been “tough to gauge.” He makes the point that as goes his quarterback, so goes Caldwell. When Peyton Manning was injured in 2011 the Colts went 2-14. When Matthew Stafford injured his finger late last season, the Lions lost their final four games.

It’s an interesting point to make, considering Caldwell is largely considered the mastermind behind developing the game of both quarterbacks. After Caldwell took over as the quarterbacks coach/assistant head coach in 2002, Manning made nine straight Pro Bowls and MVP four times with the Colts.

With Stafford, his influence is even more obvious:

Pre-Jim Caldwell Stafford: 59.5% completion, 4.4 TD%, 2.9 INT%, 7.0 Y/A, 83.1 passer rating

Post-Jim Caldwell Stafford: 64.3% completion, 4.4 TD%, 2.0 INT%, 7.2 Y/A, 92.0 passer rating

Obviously, some of that can be attributed to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and natural development for Stafford, who has entered the prime of his career over the past few years. Still, since Caldwell has come to town—even before Cooter took over the offense—the change in Stafford’s game to a more selective, careful gameplan was noticeable.

Not only did Caldwell land in the bottom half of Harrison’s rankings, but he was lowest ranked NFC North coach on the list. Packers coach Mike McCarthy ranked third on the list, while Vikings coach Mike Zimmer landed at 10th and John Fox was No. 12.

You can have quibbles with just about every one of those placements, but the numbers speak for themselves. Here is the record of each coach in the past three years (since Caldwell was hired by the Lions):

John Fox (2 years with Bears): 9-23
Mike McCarthy: 32-16
Jim Caldwell: 27-21
Mike Zimmer: 26-22

John Fox obviously gets a lot of credit for his time with the Broncos, when we coached the Panthers (73-71) and the Broncos (46-18), but he’s someone who is very much considered on the hot seat right now.

The case of Zimmer is interesting, because he seems to get a lot of credit despite little results. His reputation as a defensive coordinator is phenomenal, but in his three years as a head coach, he only has one winning season and no playoff wins. Certainly injuries were a big reason for the Vikings’ struggles, but I’m still not convinced his resume is good enough to warrant a place among the league’s top 10 coaches.

As for Mike McCarthy, it’s hard to put the guy down considering the Packers’ impressive reign over the division for the past 10 years. McCarthy is also the third-longest tenured coach in the NFL right now, holding his position with the Packers since 2006.

So it seems this list is based more on reputation than it is reality. I’m not saying Caldwell should be among the top 10, but if we’re talking recent results, he certainly needs to be closer to his NFC North counterparts in Minnesota and Chicago.

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