Caldwell doesn’t take his return to Lions for granted

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell answers questions during a press conference on the player arrival day of training camp.

Allen Park — Lions coach Jim Caldwell is grateful for the opportunity and eager to prove his new boss made the right decision.

Instead of relieving the coach of his duties and installing his own man to head the ship, rookie general manager Bob Quinn opted to retain Caldwell for the 2016 season.

“After spending a significant amount of time together, it is clear that our football philosophies are very similar,” Quinn said in a statement at the time of the decision. “Consequently, I am convinced he is the right man to lead our football team moving forward.”

The uniqueness of being able to stay with the team despite the transition at the top wasn’t lost on Caldwell.

“I don’t take it for granted, because more often than not, a change occurs in that situation,” Caldwell said. “I’m appreciative of it, but I’m also going to earn it, take advantage of it. We’re excited about the opportunity to keep going.”

In two seasons with Detroit, Caldwell has amassed an 18-15 record with a playoff appearance in 2014. His .545 winning percentage is the best for a Lions coach since Joe Schmidt, who registered a .547 mark from 1967-72.

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Asked what he’s been told about his job security going forward, Caldwell claimed to be blissfully unaware. He also made it clear he doesn’t feel any more pressure this season compared to others.

“1978, when I first started coaching, coaches only had a one-year contract,” Caldwell said. “That’s what I worked on for 24 years. I’ve been trained to look at your job is as secure as the last game and I’m not going to change that philosophy. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. It doesn’t matter what’s been said, what you think, or that whole process. My focus is strictly on our football team, I’m not worried about that other stuff.”

Caldwell’s position with the Lions was largely in question, not only because of the changes in the front office, but also because the team stumbled out of the gate last season, losing their first five games and seven of their first eight.

But the way the team finished, going 6-2 down the stretch following a midseason shakeup to the coaching staff, which saw the dismissal of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and offensive line assistants Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan, showed Quinn the team didn’t quit on Caldwell.

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“Not only did he lead the Lions to the playoffs his first season here, but when you look at how the players responded the second half of last season, under difficult circumstances, it’s clear to me that this team believes in him and responds positively to his leadership,” Quinn said in the statement.

And as the Lions veteran players reported for training camp Thursday, Caldwell’s expectations for this season are simple.

“We’re going to be better,” he said. “That’s the realistic expectation. We’re going to be a better football team. We have to be.”

Caldwell cited added talent and depth, as well as strong leadership throughout the coaching staff and the locker room as the reasons for his optimism.

“I’m a young man,” Caldwell, 61, said with a smile. “In my particular case, let’s not count me out too soon. I’ve got some good years ahead of me. “