No. 1 on new GM's to-do list: Decide Caldwell's fate

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Like many coaches and players at the end of the season, Lions coach Jim Caldwell left Metro Detroit.

The Lions gave most of their employees Friday and Monday off, but on Friday night, the team agreed to hire Bob Quinn as its new general manager.

One of the first tasks for Quinn, the former director of pro scouting for the New England Patriots, is to determine the status of Caldwell, who has two years left on the contract he signed in January 2014.

Caldwell was still out of town as of Saturday afternoon, but the expectation is he’ll meet with Quinn soon. In his first two years, Caldwell won more games than any other Lions coach, but the 18-14 record included a 1-7 start in 2015, one that led to the dismissal of GM Martin Mayhew.

Now, Quinn will have to decide if Caldwell will be the first coach during his tenure in Detroit. And Caldwell said multiple times he won’t defend his work from the past two years.

“I don’t defend myself in any way, shape or form,” he said on Jan. 1. “I don’t believe in it. It’s not a matter of fighting for my job. When you take a look at it, the record speaks for itself.”

At the end of the season, Caldwell said he would “certainly” meet with the GM candidates if asked to do so, but “that’s not in place right now.” Now, he should have the chance to meet with Quinn.

Accorsi's Lions GM search: Short and succinct

If the Lions do fire Caldwell, there would be several candidates available. Assistant coaches on playoff teams without a bye were not available to talk this week, so some of the top candidates have yet to interview.

Quinn also has ties to two of the top candidates, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

Patricia reportedly was set to interview with the Browns on Saturday, but if the Lions want to interview either of them, they’d have to do so before the conclusion of Sunday’s wild-card games or wait until the Patriots’ postseason is over.

Teams have had success targeting good coaches late in the hiring cycle. The Arizona Cardinals hired Steve Keim as GM on Jan. 8, 2013; they didn’t hire coach Bruce Arians until Jan. 17. Arizona has won at least 10 games each of the last three years.

The Vikings hired Mike Zimmer on Jan. 15, 2014, and Minnesota won the NFC North this season for the first time since 2009. Chip Kelly was fired last month, but the Eagles hired him on Jan. 16, 2013 when he was one of the marquee candidates available.

For many reasons, it would be prudent for Quinn to make a decision — either way — as soon as possible as Caldwell’s status will likely determine the employment of many assistant coaches.

Of course, when the Colts hired GM Ryan Grigson in 2012, he waited six days to fire Caldwell. Indianapolis didn’t hire coach Chuck Pagano for another eight days on Jan. 25.

Although the Lions want to make their decisions as soon as possible, choosing correctly would be better than rushing.

Meanwhile, players await a decision about a coach they’ve praised for the duration of his time in Detroit.

“I think he’s a great coach and a really good man,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “You don’t go 1-7 and comeback and go 6-2 if your team doesn’t believe in your coach. So, we definitely do.”