Caldwell shrugs off how season finale affects his job
Allen Park — Jim Caldwell is a disciple of Joe Paterno, but when the Detroit Lions coach was asked about his job security heading into the season finale against the Green Bay Packers, he opted to channel Bo Schembechler.
“I think it’s all about the team. It’s the team, the team, the team, period,” Caldwell said. “My future doesn’t matter; I’m coaching you know? This is an important game for us. That’s where our focus is.”
It’s been a strange season for Caldwell. When the Lions started the year 1-3 — lowlighted by two losses in games the team was favored — many fans were clamoring for general manager Bob Quinn to show the coach the door. But when the Lions rallied to win eight of their next nine, Caldwell suddenly found himself being mentioned in the Coach of the Year conversation by national pundits.
Two weeks later, after back-to-back losses to the playoff-bound Giants and Cowboys, the questions about his job security are percolating once again. As far as Caldwell is concerned, it comes with the territory.
“You know, I think the job questions come no matter what in our business,” Caldwell said. “That’s just kind of the way it is. They happen to you when you’re winning it all and they happen to you when you’re struggling. That’s kind of the nature of the business. You have to understand that they’re going to come.”
No one has a grasp on what Quinn is thinking or the standard he will hold Caldwell to at season’s end. The general manager did go on record during training camp, saying there wasn’t a playoff-or-bust ultimatum for his coach. But after the team opened up a two-game lead in the division with three to go, falling short of the playoffs would seemingly increase the odds the Lions make a change.
And while Caldwell believes his job is never truly secure, toppling Green Bay for the NFC North crown next Sunday would almost certainly ensure his return next year.
“The most important thing is we have a job to do. We have a mission to complete,” Caldwell said. “We haven’t completed that mission yet. We’ve still got work to do. We’ll look at it after everything is all said done and make a determination on what kind of a job we did and those kinds of things.”
You’d think, even after four decades in coaching, the Lions’ current situation would come with added pressure or urgency for Caldwell, but he’s approaching this week like any other.
“Zero,” he said. “I’m glad to be right where we are. We’ve had a chance to control our own destiny for a number of weeks and we still do. Even in the last ballgame we still have an opportunity to control our destiny. Oftentimes, teams don’t get that opportunity. They haven’t earned that opportunity. Our guys have earned it.”
In three seasons with the Lions, Caldwell has amassed a 27-20 record. His .574 winning percentage is the best by any Lions coach in the Super Bowl era. In his first year with the team, he led them to the postseason. If they make it again this year, it will be the first time since 1999 they’ve qualified twice in a three-year stretch.
It won’t be easy. The Green Bay Packers are red hot, winners of five straight, outscoring their opponents 154-88 during the stretch. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, after some early-season struggles, has thrust himself into the MVP conversation. During the winning streak, he’s completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 1,367 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Packers are looking for their fifth division title in six years, while the Lions seek their first in 23. Caldwell is hoping some of his team’s ability to close out games will translate to finishing the season strong.
“They’ve done as good a job as anybody in the history of football, in terms of coming back when things are a little tough,” Caldwell said. “What we just have to do is transfer that to an entire ballgame at the end of the season, see if we can close it out.”