Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford talks about the impact Jim Caldwell had on the franchise during his four seasons. Max Ortiz, Detroit News
Allen Park — Detroit Lions players didn’t express surprise at the firing of coach Jim Caldwell, but many conveyed sadness at their coach’s exit.
Tight end Eric Ebron praised Caldwell’s character.
“That was the best coach you could have coming into the league," Ebron said. "I've heard stories about some horrible people, so Caldwell was a good guy to all of us. It just hurts for what kind of person he is, and you know what kind of person he is. I think everyone does. For someone to not have a job, it's kind of hard to think about it."
Caldwell helped Ebron get through the early part of the season when he was struggling with drops.
“Caldwell was just a positive through all the negative with what he helped me get through," the tight end said. "There’s too much negative, and he was just a positive guy, so he helped me understand the bright spots through the struggle.”
Rookie running back Tion Green opened up about his relationship with Caldwell, especially the trusting bond that had formed between the two.
“I told him when I hugged him yesterday, I said, ‘Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.’ I can't thank him enough," Green said. "He pretty much jump-started my career for me. Keeping me and trusting me and knowing this is the potential that I have. From the minute I met him he told me, ‘I'm going to take care of you. Just trust me.’
"He said it was a blind leap of faith. He said, ‘Trust that I'm going to take care of you.’ He told me the plan and it worked. I wish the best for Coach Caldwell. On and off the field he was a great guy,” Green said.
Fifth-year defensive tackle Akeem Spence was hopeful about Caldwell’s coaching prospects outside of the Lions organization.
“He's just a great dude," Spence said. "He's obviously a winner, he just didn’t win some of the games to get us over the hump. It's just business, and that's the part I hate the most. A guy like that, he'll get a job in no time.
"People love him. People love to play for him. I love to play for him, so it just sucks, this part.”
Caldwell steered the Lions to their first consecutive winning seasons since 1994-95. Their 9-7 record this year was identical to last year’s, but this time it wasn’t enough to clinch a playoff berth.
While Caldwell had success, his firing was a clear message that mediocrity is not acceptable to Lions management, something the players are aware of.
“I think the standard is high. That's something you want in the organization," veteran safety Glover Quin said. "Coach Caldwell did a great job of setting the standard really high. Regardless of who's at the top, the standard shouldn't change. If the organization is going to be a top organization, you've got to have high standards.”
Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay said his time under Caldwell was valuable.
“I told him I appreciated playing for him," Slay said. "This is a business. Enjoy it, because you can be here today and you won't be here tomorrow, so you never know. Enjoy your time while you're here, and appreciate everyone you meet."
Receiver Marvin Jones dismissed the idea that a new coach will automatically put the Lions over the top.
“It's more what we could do individually," Jones said. "We need to worry about ourselves being as perfect as we can, getting to where we need to be, where we make the plays we need to make. That's all I can speak of."
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.