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Stop apologizing to Jim Caldwell

I’m sure he appreciates it, but it’s misguided.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

“9-7 isn’t good enough.”

That quote has been thrown around haphazardly since the Detroit Lions canned head coach Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 season.

The quote is attributed to Lions general manager Bob Quinn for the crime of trying to take this team to the next step beyond intermittent playoff appearances without a postseason win.

Nevermind that Quinn never actually said this directly, but it’s now being thrown around as an indictment of current head coach Matt Patricia, and for some, a reason to look back on the Caldwell era as something we should have appreciated, not discarded.

3-6-1 following a 6-10 season is unacceptable. No one will argue that, and I’m pretty sure Bob Quinn knows that 3-6-1 is worse than 9-7. But harkening back to the Jim Caldwell days and even apologizing to the fired head coach is just being disingenuous to yourself.

9-7, to be honest, isn’t good enough. It shouldn’t be good enough to you. It isn’t good enough for me. Sure, there was a time when I pleaded to the football gods that, “All I want to be is competitive.” But we have outgrown that as a franchise. We’re beyond the Matt Millen era. We’re long overdue to expect more from this team.

You can pretend that you’d be a lot happier if this team was 9-7, but you truly wouldn’t be. Case in point: If the Lions win four or five of their last six against some pretty bad opponents and finish 8-7-1, are you really going to feel any better? Are wins over Washington, Chicago, Tampa, Denver and, let’s say, a Green Bay team prepping for the playoffs going to bring you more faith in the franchise? Of course not. Mediocrity is mediocrity, whether it takes the form of 9-7 or 6-10. The difference truly isn’t that big.

The problem doesn’t lie with firing Jim Caldwell and declaring 9-7 isn’t enough, it’s with hiring Matt Patricia. And you’d be right in directing your anger towards that decision. Patricia has blown up the culture in Detroit, shipped off some of the most loved players in that locker room, and currently has nothing to show for it.

But Quinn won’t fire him after two failed seasons. Not because they’re best friends, not because he suddenly thinks 3-6-1 is good enough. He’s going to keep Patricia around because it’s Year 2.

Jim Caldwell was in Year 4, and while the record was okay, the team was stuck. It wasn’t making any visible progress, and you could argue that given the roster, the team was underperforming. Back-to-back winning seasons may seem like progress for a franchise that hadn’t done it in over 20 years, but outside the purview of Detroit, we call that stagnation if it doesn’t come with any postseason success.

We can harp on the “9-7 isn’t good enough” non-quote from Quinn, but this is the more salient one from the Lions GM.

“I just think that when you look at our record over the last couple years, since I’ve been here we didn’t beat the really good teams,” Quinn said. “Our record was above average. We’re 9-7 the last two years, but our record against the better teams in the league has not been that good.”

Quinn is being generous here. The Lions went 4-23 against teams with winning records. Under Jim Caldwell, the Lions were an average team masquerading as a competitive one.

Under Matt Patricia they’re an average team masquerading as a bad one. They’re going toe-to-toe with every opponent—good or bad—but failing to finish the job. They’re 13th in team efficiency, but 10th in draft order.

Again, though, we’re only in Year 2 under Patricia. Sure, there are plenty of examples of a second-year head coach making a big jump in progress, and this column is in no way excusing Patricia of where the team is at. But the reason 3-6-1 isn’t going to get Patricia fired this year and 9-7 got Caldwell terminated is simply time.

That time is certainly running low. If Detroit isn’t competitive—and truly competitive, not just beating up on bad teams—by this time next year, then by all means, throw around the 9-7 quote all you want. But let’s not pretend this franchise was in a good spot under Caldwell. 9-7 truly isn’t good enough if that’s the ceiling. It was time to take a risk with this franchise, it just hasn’t paid off.