The most consistent thing he’s seen in his career, other than the losses, is the cycle of a new coach coming in, trying to rebuild, failing and then eventually being replaced by another coach attempting to make changes in his own vision.
The reason for the failures of those coaches are many, but now in the latter stages of his career, Raiola believes one thing has been fixed with the Lions when it comes to his sixth NFL head coach.
“The expectation is always to win, but this might be, not might -- this is the best chance for any of the head coaches that’s come in in their first year, the best chance for them to win right now,” Raiola said. “With the collection of talent in the room, the collection of coaches on the staff, the attitude of the building, the culture of the building and what it is right now, what it went through in the offseason, this is the best chance since I’ve been here.”
Raiola has been steadfast in his support of Jim Caldwell since his hiring in January and has consistently lauded how Caldwell has treated his players. Raiola has praised the accountability Caldwell has forced Detroit’s players to take and how he treats every player, from the top-end guys down, the same.
He’s seen the maturity from the players who were young when Jim Schwartz took over a 0-16 team with rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009. It is that leadership combined with Caldwell that gives Raiola the faith that this time it will be different.
That this staff and this collection of players will do what no Lions team other than the Barry Sanders-led group in the early 1990s has been able to do with consistency: win.
“We’re at a point now where we’re no longer a young team in the NFL,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “We have players who have experience, that have been to the Super Bowl, won the Super Bowl and know what it takes to get to that next step.
“Bringing in coach Caldwell helps us achieve and see things from a different view. Players are excited about the future here and what we have in front of us. We have a lot of ability in this locker room, in this room, probably the most ability I’ve been around in my career, top to bottom.”
In past years, as Schwartz said after his dismissal, Detroit was a top-heavy franchise without much depth toward the bottom of the roster. The Lions tried to remedy that in the offseason, making some moves on offense but leaving some questions -- particularly at cornerback and receiver.
Caldwell, though, appears to believe in the talent Detroit has. When asked bluntly why he can be the coach to win in Detroit when so many others have not, he pointed to the players on the roster.
“Number one, that we have a good nucleus,” Caldwell said. “If I felt we didn’t have talent here, I’d tell you, you know what, we’re lacking a little bit. We’ve got a long way to go, et cetera. We’ve got a chance.
“... When I had a chance to coach against this particular team, I had a real good bird’s-eye view of what was here. That was one of the reasons why I was so interested in this job. It’s a great job, great situation, great ownership. We have a talented group. Now it’s our job to get those guys in position to win and win consistently, but I do think that nucleus is here to get that done.”
To focus that nucleus, Caldwell is attempting to transform a team that was careless with turnovers and penalties into a disciplined group that no longer turns the ball over with frequency or commits penalties at inopportune times.
“We’re going to field a team that has the right kind of Lions DNA, and that’s a smart, a fast and a physical team,” Caldwell said. “We expect you to see that on the field.”
With the talent on the roster and many of those top players in the best years of their careers, the Lions should be able to produce that on the field. However, the question, as is always the case with Detroit, is whether it will or not.