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Former Lions coach Jim Caldwell gives health update, finally explains two watches

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

In an interview on Glover Quin's podcast "The DB Room," former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell provided an optimistic update on his health, revealed the mystery behind why he wore two watches during games and gave credence to two long-held fan beliefs regarding his employment with the Lions. 

Caldwell, who coached the Lions from 2014-17, joined the Miami Dolphins as a quarterbacks coach in 2019, but abruptly left the position a few months later to address a health issue. 

Jim Caldwell

A year later, Caldwell confirmed his health was in a good place after implementing some lifestyle changes. 

"Feeling great actually," Caldwell said. "Almost back to fighting weight, you know. I feel good. I had an issue that popped up that really was something that could be corrected without surgery and just a matter of getting a little more rest and watching my diet, that kind of thing, and exercise.

"The interest thing was I had to change my diet quite a bit," Caldwell said. "I’ve been on strictly a plant-based diet for well over a year now. I’ve lost, since you’ve seen me, I’ve lost 32 pounds. It’s a little different body type than you’re used to seeing."

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Caldwell has kept his circle of social interactions tight while living close his children in North Carolina, but the 65-year-old coach has got a hearty exercise routine that involves running, biking, lifting, and, his personal favorite, golf. 

More: Lions take 'next-man-up mentality' over coaches and coronavirus

Quin and Caldwell reminisced about their time with the Lions organization, and during the exchange, Caldwell shared feelings on two issues that confirmed fan perceptions of the events. 

First, with his hiring, Caldwell doesn't believe he was Detroit's first choice. 

"I really don’t," Caldwell said. "I think that oftentimes happens, but I think it ended up being the right one for me. I think Ken Whisenhunt, I believe, turned that job down. They may have offered it to him. That’s kind of what I understand. But nevertheless, it worked well for me.

"From what I heard, he thought it was easier to get to the playoffs from Tennessee than it would have been from Detroit because Green Bay, Minnesota were tough to overcome."

Of course, the Lions went to the playoffs in Caldwell's first season, and again in 2016. Whisenhunt, on the other hand, bombed in Tennessee. He was fired in the middle of his second season after going 3-20. 

Caldwell also strongly suggested that ownership played a strong role in him keeping his job after Bob Quinn was hired as general manager in 2016. 

"I’m appreciative of the Ford family giving me an opportunity, first of all," Caldwell said. "Mrs. (Martha) Ford was great to me. Bill and the rest of the group, they were outstanding. I really enjoyed that. But Bob came in and I think, without question, if he had been left to his own devices, I probably would have been gone the day he came in. Just kind of the feeling I got.

Jim Caldwell talks with former Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford before a game in 2015.

"I think he wanted to get his own guy in there," Caldwell continued. "I think he wanted to get someone that spoke the same language he speaks. He wanted someone he was comfortable with and that’s what he got. Obviously, that’s the way I think things go."

The Lions would manage to get back to the playoffs in Caldwell's and Quinn's first season together, but after the team faltered down the stretch and missed the postseason in 2017, Caldwell was fired and replaced by Quinn's former New England colleague Matt Patricia. 

Only Gary Moeller, in a seven-game run as an interim coach, posted a better winning percentage with the Lions during the Super Bowl era than Caldwell. Meanwhile, Patricia has posted a 9-22-1 mark since taking over. 

Speaking of Detroit's ownership, Caldwell also finally revealed the mystery about why he wore two watches on game day. 

More: New Lions LB Jamie Collins never considered opting out: 'For me, it's just deal with it'

"OK, I’ll let the cat out of the bag," Caldwell said. "The only people that know this are my family, for the most part. Here’s the situation. I had a watch that I wore all the time because it gave me all the information I needed, in terms of coaching on the field. It had a barometer to tell when it was going to start raining, it just had all kinds of bells and whistles I’d wear on the practice field, always wore for games, and I’d done that for years and years and years.

"Mrs. Ford had a watch that was made for certain individuals and one she had made for me," Caldwell continued. "I think (late owner) William Clay Ford had a similar watch and so on game day, I always wore that watch in honor of her and what it meant to her. That’s why I wore two watches."

You can listen to the full conversation with Caldwell on Quin's YouTube channel