Lions’ Calvin Johnson on Caldwell: ‘I love him’

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Calvin Johnson’s future with the Lions is as unclear as it’s ever been, but assuming he’s on the team in 2016, he wants to play for coach Jim Caldwell.

“Yeah, man, I love him,” Johnson said of the coach. “I think everybody in the locker room would probably say the same thing. He commands respect, but he doesn’t have to do much.

“It’s just his character, guys gravitate towards him. He’s easily one of my favorite coaches I’ve had.”

Caldwell is about to finish his second season as Lions coach, but with the franchise searching for a new general manager, his future is in doubt.

Johnson and several of his teammates have praised Caldwell the past two years for how he treats players, and they don’t want to think about the possibility of him being fired.

In nearly two seasons, Caldwell’s regular-season record is 17-14. The Lions started 1-7 this year, but have rebounded to go 5-2 in the second half.

“It’s just him being him and his character,” Johnson said. “Guys see that he’s a great person, he’s a great coach and guys are going to fight for that. Yeah, we didn’t start like we wanted to, but we’re doing our best to finish the best that we can. And it’s just him being him.

“He doesn’t have to do anything extraordinary. He’s a great coach, just the way he communicates to you, and not that he demands respect, but he gets respect.”

Lions safety James Ihedigbo said recently that Caldwell changed the culture within the locker room, and players would prefer not to go through another culture change.

Although it surely doesn’t hurt, players supporting Caldwell won’t be enough to ensure he returns for a third season.

In the NFL, teams often fire coaches shortly into their tenure. Tennessee fired Ken Whisenhunt seven games into his second season, and Philadelphia fired Chip Kelly on Tuesday after he had a 26-21 record in three seasons.

“It’s tough,” Johnson said. “It’s win or go home. There’s not a lot of leeway. You’ve got to get in, you’ve got to win right away and if you don’t, they’ll send you packing.”

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford noted that coaches can have a short tenure on both the college and pro level, and the impact of the firing extends beyond the head coach.

“Obviously, families are uprooted and all that kind of stuff, so that’s the real downer part about all that kind of stuff,” Stafford said.