Tony Dungy: It's 'disappointing' Lions fired Jim Caldwell

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Bloomington, Minn. – Before the Detroit Lions hired Jim Caldwell in 2014, they checked to see if Tony Dungy was interested in coaching the team.

When he politely declined, he strongly recommended his former assistant and the man who replaced had replaced him in Indianapolis.

It should come as no surprise that Dungy, who currently works as an analyst for NBC Sports, wasn’t a fan of Detroit’s decision to fire Caldwell at the end of the season.

“Well, it’s disappointing,” Dungy said. “They didn’t win enough, I guess. I went through that in Tampa and you always feel like you can bring someone else in who can win more. But Jim Caldwell, I think, turned that team around. He brought a class to the organization. They’re doing things the right way. I think they’re close. It’s always disappointing to me when any coach loses their job.”

The Lions posted three winning seasons in four years under Caldwell and made two trips to the postseason, but failed to advance beyond the opening round. Dungy reiterated multiple times he feels the Lions weren’t far off from taking the next step.

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He also suggested perceptions might have been different for Caldwell and his staff had the team had a few more bounces gone his way.

"You guys know all the stats, you know what happened,” Dungy said. “They’re playing a playoff game in Dallas and the referee picks up a flag in a game that they would win. They’re playing against Green Bay and there’s a phantom face-mask call, so you don’t win and you don’t get in the playoffs.

"Could you coach better to not have those calls go against you? That’s how close it is and how fine the line is between winning Super Bowls and not. We went to our Super Bowl in 2006 because the Patriots had 12 men on the field. And if that doesn’t happen, maybe we don’t go. Does that make you a worse coach? I don’t know.”

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Both those instances happened before the Lions hired Bob Quinn as general manager in 2016. Quinn retained Caldwell as coach for two seasons, before firing him after this campaign. Quinn cited the team’s struggles to beat quality competition as one of the primary reasons for the change.

As for what’s next for Caldwell, he’s maintained a low profile since he was let go by Detroit. He’s been spotted in his hometown of Beloit, Wisc., and skipped out on appearing at the Senior Bowl, where many unemployed coaches go fishing for their next opportunity.

Dungy said the two have talked in recent weeks and Caldwell is content to survey the landscape while enjoying time with his family.

“The last I spoke to coach Caldwell he said he’s going to take good care of his wife and his grandkids and he’s going to enjoy life,” Dungy said. “If someone wants him to coach their team, he’d love to do it. But he’s not going to seek out anything. We’ll see what happens. He’s going to leave it in the Lord’s hand and we’ll see where it goes.“

If Caldwell, 63, doesn’t catch on with a team in 2018, it would be his first season without a coaching job in more than four decades.