Caldwell: Jim Harbaugh 'great for everybody' in Michigan

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are a 3 1/2-point underdog to the Spartans.

Phoenix — Jim Caldwell had a historical first season as Lions head coach by the franchise's standards. He became the third coach to lead the team to the playoffs in his first season, joining Bobby Ross (1997) and George Wilson (1957), and the 11-5 finish in 2014 was the best since 1991.

Despite that success, Caldwell seemingly pales in popularity right now to another football coach in the state. And it's not Rose Bowl-winning Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.

New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has taken the state by storm since his hiring in late December. He's helped people escape a car wreck, flaunted his all-American love of Cracker Barrel, and made inroads at high schools across the country in recruiting.

Caldwell, though, isn't worried about Harbaugh stealing his thunder.

"Absolutely not. I don't have any thunder," Caldwell said Wednesday during the NFL annual meeting. "I just think that he's great for everybody in the entire state — what enthusiasm. He's able to show up everywhere. He's rescuing people on the highway.

"I think it's going to be great. I think he's a big plus for the entire state."

The Lions, Michigan and Michigan State have only had a winning record the same year once since the turn of the century (2011), so the trio of Caldwell, Harbaugh and Dantonio will try to make that happen again in 2015.

Caldwell has a strong bond with the Harbaugh family after working with Jim's older brother John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. During Caldwell's two seasons as an assistant in Baltimore, Jim's son Jay was a fellow assistant. Jay now works at Michigan as a tight ends coach, and Caldwell called him a "great guy."

Caldwell also praised John, the coach with whom he won a Super Bowl after the 2012 season. Caldwell was the Ravens' offensive coordinator during the championship run.

"A number of things, I think, that John does are things that he got from his dad, Jack, who was the ultimate coach," Caldwell said when asked why the Harbaughs are successful coaches. "Jack's tough and smart and engaging, and John and Jim are both obviously a chip off the old block. Both guys can captivate you just in terms of their commitment to the game. They do an excellent job in terms of teaching."