Caldwell earns kudos for handling uncertainty

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

As it was for a week this year when the Lions hired Bob Quinn as general manager, coach Jim Caldwell’s job has been in limbo after a regime change.

After the 2011 season, when the Colts fired Bill Polian and hired Ryan Grigson, Caldwell had to wait nearly a week before he was fired. Quinn and the Lions chose to keep him, but Polian believes Caldwell handled the trying time well on both occasions.

“It’s very hard, but I can’t think of anyone who could handle it better than Jim,” Polian said during a media event with ESPN NFL analysts. “He’s right straight down the middle. He doesn’t worry about things he can’t control. I thought he did a terrific job during that period of time in Indy and a terrific job this time around.”

Now, Lions fans will wait to see the results in 2016 — and beyond — to determine if Quinn made the right decision. Several Lions players have announced their support for Caldwell publicly, and one Lions legend believes the team made the right call.

“I’m happy to see him come back because I think he certainly came in there and proved he’s a good coach,” Barry Sanders said last week. “They finished great this year and so I think he’s certainly someone who deserves to continue to be there.”

The Lions went 11-5 in Caldwell’s first season, reaching the postseason before losing in the wild-card round. In Caldwell’s second season, the Lions went 7-9, but a 1-7 start led to significant changes. After a 1-6 start, Caldwell fired three assistants, including offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Then, after another loss, owner Martha Firestone Ford dismissed general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand.

After the upheaval, the Lions played well and finished 6-2. And under new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, the offense thrived.

“I think when you saw what he did with them two years ago when they were healthy and they had (Ndamukong) Suh and a complete cast on defense, there’s no question (that) the players responded to him,” Polian said.

“If you talk to the players, even today, they’re 100 percent in his corner. They believe he takes them in the right direction, that he takes care of them, that he gets them to the game in good shape physically, mentally and strategically.

“They had a bunch of bad luck last year. They didn’t adjust until about midseason to the loss of Suh from a strategic standpoint, but they got it righted. So, I think the way they played down the stretch is indicative of what (Caldwell) can do, and I’m glad that the new administration kept him. And I think he’ll justify their faith in him.”

Continuity with coaches has become a rarity in the NFL. The Steelers are among the most loyal teams to their coaches — Chuck Noll led the team from 1969-91, followed by Bill Cowher (1992-2006) and Mike Tomlin (2007-present).

“I think there’s nothing more evident than watching this team, the Carolina Panthers, evolve year to year to year,” Cowher said of the importance of continuity.

Cowher said he believes Caldwell has done well and made the necessary changes, including promoting Cooter. Now, the Lions will see if keeping Caldwell and staff can have the same effect as it did with Ron Rivera and the Panthers, who lost the Super Bowl last weekend.

“It helps the quarterback evolve, it helps the team evolve, but when you’re constantly making changes, you take steps back and it’s very hard to get over the hump,” Cowher said.