Monday, February 10, 2014

5 comments David Steele Keeps Talking Jim Caldwell Up

About a year ago David Steele wrote an article championing Jim Caldwell to get another chance as an NFL head coach. I wrote that he (Caldwell, not Steele...though Steele should be ignored too in this case) should continue to be ignored, based off Steele's column that stated Caldwell deserves another shot to be an NFL head coach. It turns out Caldwell did end up getting another NFL job, he's now the head coach for the Detroit Lions. So David Steele now writes that Caldwell should not be viewed as a leftover pick, even though the Lions did have Ken Whisenhunt (who really isn't the cream of the crop either if you ask me) as their first choice. The Lions even sent a plane to pick up Whisenhunt, which he did not choose to board, so the Lions' plane sat sadly at the airport probably with a sad look on it's face like this one.

I'm not down on Jim Caldwell as much as I don't understand why David Steele thinks Caldwell really, really deserves another chance to be a head coach in the NFL. I understand head coaches get a second chance in the NFL all the time and I understand they work sometimes (Belichick, Carroll, Coughlin) and they don't work out sometimes (Jeff Fis---I'm just kidding, Mike Shanahan, Joe Gibbs, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini). It all depends on the coach. I've seen some sportswriters try to get fancy in defending the selection of Whisenhunt and Caldwell by pointing out three of the head coaches in the AFC and NFC Championship games were so-called retread hires. It's not really the same thing. Bill Belichick I will grant you, but John Fox was successful in Carolina, but was let go for philosophical reasons (mainly Jerry Richardson didn't believe in paying a coach who hasn't made back-to-back playoff appearances $7 million per year...which of course led to Fox making back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances in Denver) and Pete Carroll wasn't overly-successful in New England, but he was very successful at USC. Jim Caldwell hasn't had the previous success outside of two seasons in his coaching career and he was a horrendous college coach, unless you don't count win-loss record as part of whether a head coach was successful or not.

I will list Caldwell's record as a head coach again to show you he isn't a successful head coach who was done in by a bad season in Indianapolis. Those two seasons of success in Indianapolis are the outlier in his coaching record.

1993-2000 Head Coach for Wake Forest University:

1993: 2-9
1994: 3-8
1995: 1-10
1996: 3-8
1997: 5-6
1998: 3-8
1999: 7-5
2000: 2-9

2009-2011 Head Coach for the Indianapolis Colts:

2009: 14-2
2010: 10-6
2011: 2-14

Again, Caldwell is 28-77 when Peyton Manning isn't his quarterback. He's 24-8 with Manning as his quarterback. I'm pretty sure Peyton Manning doesn't play for the Detroit Lions. I want to be fair to Jim Caldwell and I don't think the Ken Whisenhunt hire was the greatest hire either. His record in Arizona shows you he is a quarterback-whisperer who couldn't develop a quarterback and constantly switched the quarterback and running back positions around, pulling guys in and out of the starting lineup. Jay Gruden, well he has no coaching record at the college or NFL level, so I will bite my tongue for now. I feel like Caldwell's hire by the Lions is a bizarre version of the NFL good ol' boys network. Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning gave Caldwell good references, as did Joe Flacco. It almost feels like Caldwell got the job based on his references as opposed to his coaching record.

I can't deny that Caldwell may be great for Matthew Stafford and he may help him take the next step (cliche alert) as a quarterback, but I feel like Caldwell is more offensive coordinator material and I think his time in Indianapolis backs that up. The Colts during his tenure has head coach went from making the Super Bowl to losing a home wild card game to going 2-14 without Peyton Manning. I could be wrong about Jim Caldwell. I'm not vehemently against him, but I also don't think his resume screams for another NFL head coaching job. I feel Whisenhunt rode Kurt Warner's coattails a little bit as well, but David Steele didn't write about Ken Whisenhunt in this column.

The job considered the best, most potential-laden opening in this NFL offseason went to a coach who has made the most out of a similar situation before.

But did (a) Jim Caldwell make the best of a similar situation before and (b) was it a similar situation? When Caldwell took over the Colts in 2009 they were a team coming off a 12-4 season and they had not had fewer than 11 wins since 2002. The Colts had made the playoffs 9 of the last 10 seasons. Oh, and they had a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm.

The Detroit Lions are coming off a 7-9 year and they haven't had 11 or more wins since 1991. The Lions have made the playoffs 9 times since 1982 and the last time they won a playoff game was 1991.

I don't believe these two situations are similar at all. Both teams had good offenses and quarterbacks who were good at their job, but I really think that is where the similarity ends. The Colts are a successful franchise where Caldwell only had to make sure he didn't screw up as the head coach. The Lions want to keep the status quo on offense, but they are 11-21 over the last two seasons, so Caldwell is expected to improve the team, not just keep the boat afloat.

The Detroit Lions did not win in recent years despite their wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, including a former first-overall pick at quarterback—which is why Jim Schwartz is no longer there.

But, but, but...the Colts had experienced success when Tony Dungy retired and Caldwell took over the team. The Lions haven't experienced near the type of success the Colts had when Caldwell took over in 2009. So how is this a similar situation again? 

His first was inherited from Tony Dungy in 2009, three seasons after the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl, and with Peyton Manning still in his prime.


Caldwell, Dungy’s top assistant and closest confidant, took the Colts to a 14-0 start and threatened a perfect regular season until an organizational decision to rest the starters cost them the final two games. The Colts went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Saints.

Notice how it was an organizational decision to rest the starters in those last two games, so the fact the Colts didn't win the last two games at all shouldn't reflect on him. Also, if David Steele took the time to look at the box score for this game then he would see Peyton Manning and the Colts starters seemed to play a significant portion of the Week 16 game and in the Week 17 game the only offensive starters who seemed to sit where Peyton Manning (and not even for the full game) and Donald Brown. Maybe the lesson is a team can't win games with Curtis Painter as the quarterback or maybe this is a lesson about Jim Caldwell's head coaching ability when Peyton Manning isn't his quarterback for an entire game.

Caldwell was fired two seasons later, after it was proven that Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins were inadequate replacements for the injured Manning—and after owner Jim Irsay completely overhauled the organization after releasing Manning and the balloon contract payment he was owed.

To be fair, it's nearly impossible to replace Peyton Manning. On the other hand, if Caldwell was such an offensive mastermind and capable of working with quarterbacks to make them successful then how come he wasn't able to turn Painter into at least a somewhat functional quarterback after having worked with him over the prior two seasons? I get that he can't make Painter a good quarterback and much of the issue with not having a good backup in place lands on the front office, but for a guy who is known for his offensive prowess the Colts offense fell apart badly without Manning.

The lukewarm reaction to Caldwell’s candidacy has stemmed largely from that final 2-14 mark in 2011.

Plus, he was an absolute failure at Wake Forest and made only one bowl game from 1993-2000. I figure that has to in some way figure into the decision-making process. When considering Caldwell as a head coach, even though college football is different from NFL football, his college record has to be taken into account. Not too many college coaches with a 26-63 record are receiving NFL head coaching jobs. So I would argue Caldwell's candidacy stems positively stems from his two good seasons with the Colts as their head coach, as opposed to the rest of his resume which reads as saying Caldwell is not head coaching material.

His work before that in all of his years in Indianapolis—and afterward, with his two seasons with the Ravens, including his elevation to offensive coordinator in time to jump-start their run to the Super Bowl—apparently weighed more to the NFL teams that were interested in him.

I realize the Ravens lost a lot of key free agents and had injuries as well, but the Ravens were 29th in total yards per game on offense and Joe Flacco has his worst year as a professional. It seems like when judging Caldwell's ability as a head coach there a lot of talk like "Well, ignore that because of Problem X and Problem Y." It's as of I am supposed to ignore Caldwell's record when injuries occur or he doesn't have Peyton Manning as his quarterback, which is fine, but it leads me to ask how good of a head coach Caldwell will be if injuries occur (which they do) and Manning isn't his quarterback while coaching the Lions?

Caldwell’s Colts hardly underachieved with Manning;

I wouldn't say the Colts underachieved, but under Caldwell the Colts won two games one season without Manning and won fewer than 11 games with Manning as the quarterback for the first time since 2002. So relative to what the Colts were used to, in two of Caldwell's three seasons as the Colts head coach they did underachieve.

during the Dungy years Caldwell’s role in Manning’s separation from the rest of the quarterback pack has been almost criminally understated.

Caldwell was the Colts quarterbacks coach from 2002-2008 and I have no idea how crucial he was to Manning's development. Most of the praise I read was for Howard Mudd and Tom Moore, but I'm sure Jim Caldwell had something to do with Manning being the type of quarterback he is today. If Caldwell had never been an NFL head coach on any level then I would say his work with Flacco during the 2012 season and his affiliation with Manning may be enough to get him a head coaching job. Unfortunately, the Lions haven't hired Caldwell to be Stafford's quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. They have hired him to be the head coach of the team, which is where I question the hire in some aspects. I just feel like he's not a head coach.

Not to mention the title of this column is that Jim Caldwell shouldn't be perceived as Lions' leftover pick, but that's exactly what he is, so that's how he is going to be perceived. The Lions very clearly wanted to hire Ken Whisenhunt as their head coach, but he ignored them and took the job with the Titans before the Lions could even interview him. I know David Steele doesn't want Caldwell to be perceived as the Lions' backup plan, but from all appearances that's what he is. Steele can't just prevent this perception by wishing it away.

The praise he received for how he tapped the potential of the Joe Flacco-led offense for Baltimore during their playoff run, was a belated recognition of his abilities.

Okay, so what happened during the 2013 season then? I know the Ravens had injuries and other extenuating circumstances, but why wasn't Flacco tapped into his potential during the 2013 season? Was it his supporting cast and injuries that were the problem? How come Jim Caldwell couldn't get Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on track and rushing the ball well? Was it the offensive line issues that got in the way? It's all well and good, but it feels like Caldwell got the Lions job based on his references (Dungy, Manning) and the fact Matthew Stafford seemed to like him, more than his record as a head coach and offensive coordinator.

Dungy gave him a strong endorsement for the Lions job, according to multiple reports,

Of course he did. They are good friends and Dungry was Caldwell's biggest supporter for the Lions job and Dungy basically hand-picked Caldwell as his successor when he retired from head coaching in 2008. The fact that Tony Dungy gave Caldwell strong endorsement only serves to show that Dungy still has faith in Caldwell to do the job of an NFL head coach. So if the Lions and David Steele thinks Jim Caldwell deserves another shot to be a head coach based on Dungy's endorsement, that's fine. This wouldn't be the first time a well-respected head coach was wrong about one of his assistant coach's ability to be a successful head coach himself though.

Basically, I don't care what Tony Dungy thinks and if the Lions decided to hire Caldwell based mostly on what Tony Dungy states about Caldwell then that is fine. The Lions aren't Dungy's organization and he has no stake in whether the Lions continue to succeed or not. Dungy is warm and happy working in the NBC studio. He has no reason not to support his friend for the Lions' head coaching job. If the Lions decided to hire Caldwell based partly on Peyton Manning's endorsement then they had better hope Matthew Stafford is willing to listen and run with Caldwell's advice like a Hall of Fame quarterback was able to. I understand Caldwell helped Flacco become successful in the playoffs last year, but Flacco took a step back (for whatever reason) this past season.

and he took to Twitter to immediately predict a playoff trip in his first season.

Which essentially means absolutely nothing. Tony Dungy is of course going to predict good things for the guy he recommended and championed to get the Detroit Lions job. I know David Steele can't be stupid enough to think Dungy would recommend Caldwell for the job and then not be confident in Caldwell's abilities to lead the Lions to the playoffs.

However, it’s likely that the more pivotal endorsement came from Matthew Stafford, the aforementioned former No. 1 pick who has hardly reached Manning levels in his five years.

And that's great, but it still doesn't mean Caldwell wasn't the Lions second choice.

By all accounts, Stafford and Caldwell meshed when the quarterback took part in the Lions’ interviews with the coaching candidate. Caldwell’s preparation, in which he broke down every throw Stafford made this past season, also made an impact on the team and player.

I understand the Lions want a head coach that is going to work well with Matthew Stafford and turn him into the quarterback they believe that he can be, but Stafford is going to be working with the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on a daily basis while Caldwell has to deal with the head coaching duties.

Caldwell likely was at least the second choice, behind Ken Whisenhunt, who jumped from the Chargers’ staff to the Titans before the Lions could make an offer.

Hence, he was the leftover choice.

Whisenhunt also has one spectacular season with a veteran Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner, who took his previous team to a Super Bowl, and had a losing record otherwise without him. Yet the perception was that whoever got Whisenhunt was striking gold, and whoever got Caldwell was settling for leftovers.

I think this perception is entirely in Steele's head because that's a lazier way to frame his argument that Jim Caldwell is this overlooked gem. I don't think the Whisenhunt hire was a great one for the Titans. Whisenhunt has made quite a few questionable decisions on the offensive end of the ball for me to trust him to build Jake Locker's confidence and get the most out of him. In Arizona, Whisenhunt went from Matt Leinart to Kurt Warner to Derek Anderson to John Skelton to Kevin Kolb to Max Hall to Ryan Lindley to Brian Hoyer with a little bit of Richard Bartel mixed in during his six seasons as a head coach for the Cardinals. The running back position was near the same story. Running backs were drafted high and never panned out, which may or may not be Whisenhunt's fault, but it's part of his legacy as the Cardinals head coach.

So no, whoever got Whisenhunt wasn't striking gold, but honestly he has a longer history of being a successful offensive coordinator when compared to Jim Caldwell. Like Caldwell, Whisenhunt has also benefited as a head coach from strong, veteran quarterback play while not showing success working with a young quarterback as a head coach.

Caldwell’s overlooked, underappreciated track record says otherwise.

I don't think Caldwell is underappreciated. I think he is overappreciated if anything. There are two seasons on Jim Caldwell's head coaching resume that are outliers and those two years are the two seasons he was the head coach of the Colts with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. That's his track record. Outside of those two seasons, he has a long history of losing records as a head coach and limited experience (around a season and a half) as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He's calm and completely different from Jim Schwartz which I know will be looked upon favorably in Detroit. So there's that.

It tells you that he’s an ideal fit for a team too talented not to win.

It tells me he is an ideal fit for a team who is already winning and needs stability in a head coach so the established quarterback can continue winning games. When Caldwell has to coach a team that hasn't won a ton of games recently his track record isn't pretty. Maybe Jim Caldwell will succeed in Detroit as the head coach, but if I were a Lions fan I would be much more comfortable if he was working with Matthew Stafford on a daily basis as the quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator, as opposed to being the man in charge of turning the team around. Caldwell's track record says he hasn't had success at doing that. 


Ericb said...

This season's class of coaching replacements were the most dreary ever. I see little improvement for any of these teams.

Bengoodfella said...

Eric, I don't dislike the Pettine hiring in Cleveland. Of course, given the fact Mike Lombardi is the GM and it's still Cleveland I question whether he'll succeed.

Otherwise, I'm "blah" about quite a few of the hires.

Crazee said...

As a Bears fan, I fully supported the hiring of Jim Caldwell. I even let the Lions know I endorse the move.

... ulterior motive? Nahhh.

I agree this was a bad year for hires. Lovie Smith can coach, but I'm not sure he makes sense in Tampa. I thought he'd be good for Detroit.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing how everyone who works with Peyton Manning is a genius? Mike McCoy, Adam Gase, Jim Caldwell....what's the common denominator here? I get so sick of people acting like Manning needs a lot of coaching. It's the same thing in New England. As soon as they leave Belichick and Brady, guys like Weis, Crennel, Mangini and McDaniels fall flat on their faces.

We need to stop acting like Brady and Manning need a lot of coaching, and start looking at coaches that really do maximize the talent their given. Mike Zimmer did well with a Bengals' defense that was not loaded with first rounders. You could even say Jay Gruden did well to get what he did out of Andy Dalton. Pettine turned around a Bills' defense that was atrocious the previous year, escaping Rob Ryan's shadow in the process. I'm not saying these guys will be great head coaches, but they've at least proven they don't need Hall of Famers to be successful.

Bengoodfella said...

Crazee, I didn't think about Lovie Smith in Tampa. I have to say, I'm intrigued by Smith in Tampa Bay. I hope he allows Darrelle Revis to use his talent as opposed to taking away some of Revis's strengths. Wait, what I am saying? I hope Lovie Smith does nothing to help Revis and fails miserably. The NFC South needs weaker teams.

I don't hate Caldwell and I would absolutely hire him as a QB coach...just not as a head coach.

Anon, it's funny isn't it? Weird how guys around Brady look good too until Brady isn't that coach's QB anymore.

I liked the Zimmer hire. I do agree it was time for him to get recognition. I'm very interested to see if Andy Dalton takes a step back this year. Perhaps Gruden got all he could out of Dalton. I guess we'll see, though I really like Hue Jackson as an offensive coordinator so it wouldn't shock me if he ended up keeping Dalton playing at a high level.

I do like the Pettine hire a lot. I hate he went to the Browns, but from what I've heard about him I think he can be successful.