clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Did the Detroit Lions make a mistake firing Jim Caldwell?

Did the Lions do the right thing when they let Jim Caldwell go?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Alright everyone just calm down. If you made it to this point—and I’m talking about the first paragraph here—I’m proud of you. You didn’t simply get upset without hearing me out.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now. When the Lions fired Jim Caldwell after the 2017 season, the idea behind the move was that 9-7 was no longer good enough and it was time to make a change and take that next step. In walked Matt Patricia to great excitement. Nine losses later and the Lions are eliminated from the playoffs and looking strongly at the possibility of a top-five draft pick in April. What happened?

Early on, I was all in. While things looked rough against the Jets and the Lions squandered games to the 49ers and the Cowboys, I believed the Lions just needed to put it all together and they would be on their way to the postseason. Wins over the Patriots and the Packers confirmed that to me. Their win over Miami really confirmed it.

Those strong wins now feel like they were three years ago. The Lions proceeded to lose six of the next eight games, and here we are now. I feel like I was wrong all along, but not just wrong about Matt Patricia, I feel like I was wrong about wanting Jim Caldwell gone.

But I think if this were a court case, the jury really needs to hear both cases here. We can’t just send Matt Patricia off to prison without thinking about how we got here. We also can’t just let Jim Caldwell go either. So let’s do that. Let’s treat it like a case. Let’s hear both sides of the story.

The case for Matt Patricia

Right now it’s really hard to have much belief in Matt Patricia. This was supposed to be a hire that brought the Lions great success. Now it kind of feels like Bob Quinn gave his friend a job, and Lions fans are just stuck with him until they both get fired.

But let’s think about this. How much can we really pin on Patricia this early into his tenure? The Lions have dealt with a litany of injuries, especially on the offensive end. This has crippled the Lions’ ability to put points on the board. Guys like Marvin Jones Jr., T.J. Lang and Kerryon Johnson were integral parts of the game plan.

While injuries are a part of the game and all that, not a lot of teams lose their starting receiver, starting running back, starting guard, replacement receiver who was in for the one the team traded and their starting right tackle. This all seemed to happen back-to-back-to-back. That’s the kind of thing that can end a season real quick.

Not to mention, Patricia held onto offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter as well. And Cooter has had an all-world bad caliber season and is more than likely on his way out on black Monday. Again, scoring points is important, but it’s hard to do that when you’re throwing 5-yard outs 62 times a game. It’s hard to fully blame Patricia for all of this.

But it wasn’t all bad. The Lions had a real-life run game in 2018. It tapered off after the Johnson injury, but it was there for a little bit. It existed. The Lions also got pretty good at defense suddenly. The Damon Harrison Sr. trade helped transform things, and Paul Pasqualoni deserves some credit for turning things around... as does Patricia.

The Lions also did score a few signature wins, as we mentioned earlier. While things did get really bad, the Lions managed to beat the Patriots and Packers. And while the Packers are bad these days, these are still games I can’t say I was sure they could win with Caldwell.

All in all, it’s probably not time to fire Matt Patricia. All things considered, it’s fair to say he should get another crack at it in 2019 before we fully judge him.

The Case for Caldwell

Here’s my thing with Jim Caldwell. I want to ask you all a question, and I want you to be honest. What did the Lions improve upon with Matt Patricia that they couldn’t have improved upon with Jim Caldwell?

A lot of the issues we all had with Jim Caldwell still seem to be here. The Lions have an issue with discipline still, they’re still too conservative and they’re still not over the hump. So with that in mind, what did the Lions really get out of dismissing Jim Caldwell?

The team had an issue with its offense and the run game. We all thought that was Caldwell. Now it seems pretty clear that it was Jim Bob Cooter all along. So what if you gave Caldwell a new offensive coordinator and made all the offseason improvements to the run game that the team made? Is it fair to say that the results would be similar or possibly better? Maybe, maybe not.

In my opinion, the team was more committed to Jim Caldwell for a couple reasons. To begin with, continuity is extremely important in the NFL. The team was coming off two winning seasons and presumably needed to fix a few things in order to take that next step. The other is that players have openly come out in the past to tell the press about how much respect that had for Jim. That’s something I can’t remember happening this year with Patricia.

Instead of seeing where that continuity could have gone with the improvements that needed to be made, Bob Quinn shipped Caldwell off to the XFL and hired the guy we all knew he wanted to hire all along. I think it’s fair at this point to wonder if the Lions made a mistake.

What do you think? Did the Lions make a mistake? Or are the 2018 Lions merely victims of really bad luck?


Did the Lions make a mistake firing Jim Caldwell?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    (1020 votes)
  • 51%
    (1092 votes)
2112 votes total Vote Now

Subscribe to PODD

After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.