Wooten backs Caldwell to keep Lions’ job

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

The Fritz Pollard Alliance honored the Lions last year with its Game Ball Award, recognizing the team’s commitment to providing opportunities to minority coaches and executives.

By hiring Jim Caldwell as coach in 2014, the Lions became the first team in NFL history with a black head coach and general manager, Martin Mayhew.

But the Lions fired Mayhew in November, and with Bob Quinn hired Friday as the new GM, Caldwell’s future is unclear.

John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, is making a push for Quinn and the Lions to retain Caldwell.

“Jim Caldwell has earned the right to continue coaching the team,” Wooten said Sunday. “It’s not a position of black and white. It’s a position of what is right. In other words, if the man had not done the job that he did, he would not be here.”

Wooten said Caldwell, who was out of town at least through Saturday afternoon, planned to meet with Quinn, but it’s unclear when that sit-down would occur.

The Lions went 11-5 in 2014 as Caldwell became just the third coach in franchise history to reach the postseason in his first year. Then, as Wooten notes, the Lions had a chance to beat the Cowboys in the wild-card round, but an officiating error helped keep Dallas in the game.

In 2015, the Lions opened 1-7, a devastating start that led to the dismissal of three assistant coaches, Mayhew and president Tom Lewand. Yet, Caldwell stayed, and the Lions went 6-2 in the second half of the year to finish 7-9.

Although Caldwell has made some questionable in-game decisions, Lions players have credited him for keeping the team together, and many of them are surprised that his job is even in jeopardy.

“It’s tough for me to hear people constantly bashing him when he’s not taking a single snap,” wide receiver Lance Moore said after the season ended. “It’s hard for me to ever be in (agreement) with somebody that is basically calling for his head the moment we’re 0-5. ‘It’s all his fault, it’s all his fault.’

“It’s not all his fault. A head coach can only do so much. Obviously, if you’ve got years and years and years of unsuccessful seasons, the change has to be made. But you’ve got a coach with a track record of winning.”

Before Caldwell joined the Lions, he won a Super Bowl with the Colts and Ravens as an assistant and lost another as head coach of the Colts. His overall record as a head coach in three years with Indianapolis and two with Detroit is 44-36.

Wooten also mentioned the Lions having to overcome losing their starting defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, before Caldwell’s second season.

In Caldwell’s second season, quarterback Matthew Stafford had the best stretch of his career in the second half, completing 70 percent of his passes and posting a passer rating of 110.1 in the final eight games.

Plus, even though the Lions fell short of the playoffs, they broke one of the ugliest streaks in NFL history by beating the Packers at Lambeau Field for the first time since 1991.

“He’s done the things he needs to do to move this team forward,” Wooten said.