ALLEN PARK, Mich. – His bosses are gone. So are some of his offensive assistants. But after the mass firings the Detroit Lions made over the past two weeks, head coach Jim Caldwell remains.
This might seem somewhat confusing, mostly because Caldwell is the one who coached the Lions to the 1-7 record that owner Martha Ford and her family are disappointed in. But in understanding all the other moves that have been made, it is also not surprising to see Caldwell stick around for the rest of the season.
The most obvious reason is what goes on during a week on the field. The Lions are already down three offensive staffers. If the team ditched Caldwell, the most likely promotion would have been one of the defensive coaches – probably Teryl Austin – to interim head coach. That would leave both the offensive and defensive staffs shorthanded, and it isn’t like Austin has put together a sparkling unit this season, anyway.
So the Lions need Caldwell here from a numbers game as much as anything else – plus, he still has the respect of the locker room and as long as he has that, there’s no reason to make that move in a lost season. Also, the Lions have no one above him on a permanent basis to handle the evaluation of potential head coaches, so there is little-to-no reason to make that move now.
There’s also the relationship Ford appears to have with Caldwell. When she spoke with reporters in June – the only time in her tenure she has taken questions from the media covering the Lions – she said Caldwell was “the most wonderful coach” and a “great guy.” She also clearly had conversations with Caldwell throughout the season, as Caldwell was the one who initially said Ford spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell following the batted-ball controversy in Week 4, and he was the one who said she expressed how disappointed she was in the team’s start.
So she clearly has some trust and belief in the head coach.
But she also showed Thursday that loyalty only goes to a point with her, as Lewand had been with the Lions in various roles for 21 years and Mayhew for 15 years.
So after the season? That’s something else.
That’s when she won’t need Caldwell to coach her Lions anymore unless there is a dramatic turnaround the second half of the season. She’ll already be looking for a new team president and new general manager. Very few personnel folks would want to step into an organization where they can’t put their own head coach in place.
So there are only a few people in the NFL – most of them with the last name Polian – who have worked with Caldwell before and would probably feel comfortable enough as their head coach.
While Jim Caldwell is the Detroit Lions coach and likely for the rest of the season, Thursday’s firings likely mean that barring a turnaround, the next person to go will be Caldwell.