Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers talk about the Lions' 2-0 start and this weekend's showdown against the Atlanta Falcons. Detroit News
Allen Park — There’s a popular saying among Lions fans, particularly on social media: “In Quinn We Trust.”
I’m not here to suggest general manager Bob Quinn is some sort of football deity, at least not until he brings a Super Bowl to this city, but he’s earned some early adulation from the fan base for savvy drafting, quality free-agent additions and prudent cap management.
But Quinn has doubled down on the most-debated decision of his still-young tenure captaining Detroit’s front office, awarding coach Jim Caldwell a multiyear extension, a little more than a year and a half after opting to retain the veteran coach he inherited after joining the organization last year.
It’s the one thing that’s shaken the otherwise unwavering support Quinn has garnered from the majority of Lions faithful. But is that fair?
Here’s what Caldwell has accomplished in his three-plus years in Detroit: A 29-21 record, two playoff appearances and the undeniable elevation of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s play. Caldwell has maintained unparalleled respect from his locker room, surrounded himself with a well-regarded staff, including two coordinators who continue to get mentioned as potential future head coaches, and shown an ability to use and develop the young players Quinn has added to the roster.
The two clearly communicate well. There’s a symbiosis between coach and general manager when it comes to roster construction, which especially shines through in the draft — not just in the day one starters added early in the process, but late round gems — guys like Miles Killebrew, Jamal Agnew and Anthony Zettel — who have played meaningful snaps early and project to bigger roles in the future.
“It’s one of the things I think that Bob and his group, they do a tremendous job of getting everyone’s viewpoint as part of the evaluation process,” Caldwell said this week. “That whole process, how it goes, you start with 10,000 guys, whittle it down, and the process has been very good. It’s been very open and we’ve been able to identify some guys that can come in to help up.”
Going forward together
So why the doubt?
Initially, there was a perception, based on a sound byte from Martha Ford, that Quinn retained Caldwell out of obligation — that the general manager’s autonomy was usurped by the desires of ownership. But after thorough investigation into the possibility, I found no evidence to validate it. Caldwell has always been Quinn’s man.
And for the holdouts on this theory, it’s time to drop it. Giving Caldwell an extension is Quinn tying his own professional future to that wagon. The window to achieve success is small for a general manager. If Caldwell bombs from here on out, Quinn bombs, and for many, they only get one shot to run the show.
The more reasonable case for doubt is whether Caldwell is the man who can get this team over the top. His leadership skills are unquestioned, his calm demeanor sets the tone for a team that consistently thrives under pressure, but there are still lingering concerns about his ability as a tactician.
Close to the vest
I’m paraphrasing, but Caldwell often says his team is trying to score 1,000 points and shut out the opponent each week. But too often, his conservative nature shines through in his love of complementary football. He’s content to coach a close game, whether with a defensive game plan predicated around conceding short passes and forcing opponents into long, sustained drives last year, or neutering his offense with low-risk play-calling and leaning on the dominant defense to carry the team in 2014.
Under Caldwell, even when his teams have had the pieces, especially in 2014, they’ve lacked a killer instinct — the ability to consistently jump on an opponent early and step on their throat until the final whistle.
Maybe that’s finally changing. Through two games, every unit is showing promise and it’s led to a pair of double-digit victories, a feat only two other teams can claim. Maybe Quinn, who knew nothing but winning and success in New England, has read the tea leaves. Maybe he sees something in this team, and the way they’re coached, which foreshadows success to come.
At this point, you have no other option but to trust him.