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Lions players defend Jim Caldwell with his job status in question

DETROIT -- Ezekiel Ansah usually doesn’t say much. He keeps his sentences short. He doesn’t often give much more than the company line and maybe a quip here or there.

But then the defensive end was asked about Jim Caldwell, the coach for four of his five years in Detroit, and what he has meant to him. All of a sudden, Ansah kept talking and talking.

“I love Jim Caldwell. You know, no doubt about that,” Ansah said. “He’s a great coach. He doesn’t only teach us how to be football players, he teaches us how to be responsible men. It’s not all about football. He made us understand that people go through tough times, tougher than this, you know. People that have been through and have problems that are battling and fighting, that is tough.

“... Jim, Jim is a great guy and I wouldn’t trade him for nobody else.”

This was much of the sentiment throughout the Detroit Lions' locker room Sunday afternoon, after their season ended with a 35-11 win over the Green Bay Packers -- ensuring the club’s first consecutive winning seasons since 1993-1995 and its first sweep of Green Bay since 1991.

But the Lions also missed the playoffs because of a performance a week earlier that looked as listless as the Lions looked motivated Sunday against the Packers. And it’s part of how Detroit reached this position, with Caldwell's return for a fifth season still an unknown.

Players said Caldwell didn’t discuss his lack of job security throughout the final week of the season. They said he didn’t change his tone at all throughout the week, and even in his postgame news conference Sunday, he made it mostly about his players -- not his own job.

“Me personally, the only person I can speak for, I love Coach Caldwell,” receiver Golden Tate said. “I love his coaching style. I love what he brings to this community, so I hope that I have to play with him here for a long time.

“But that’s not my decision. My job is to play football and try to give this organization the best chance to win when I’m on the field, so that’s what I’m going to do and whatever happens, my job is to not to necessarily criticize it. My job is to make plays and ride with it.”

Tate also clarified comments he made earlier this year, when he said he felt he knew the one thing missing from the Lions to make the team a championship contender. At the time, he didn’t mention coaching among the things that didn’t need to change.

On Sunday, though, he made clear that he was not referring to coaching as an issue, saying, “I don’t think, personally, that he’s been the problem or ever has been. I’m ‘Team Coach Caldwell’ until I can’t anymore.”

He wouldn’t say what he believes the issue is, but noted that coaching isn’t the problem. Tate said Sunday he does believe the Lions are “moving in the right direction.”

Tate said if Caldwell is let go, he wasn’t sure what it would do the Lions' locker room.

“I don’t know what it’s like not to have Coach Caldwell and I don’t know what the plan [is],” Tate said. “I don’t know. I know the connection that he has with all of us is special. I think we all respect him, how he handles business. I think we all trust him.

“And for us to be in a situation to the point where our head coach, we don’t know if he’s going to have a job, kind of digs at me. You see Coach Caldwell as that mentor and that kind of next dad you have. You don’t want to upset him or disappoint him and a few plays that [if] we did better this year, maybe this isn’t even a topic of discussion.”

But those plays did happen and the Lions did fail in critical junctures, so Caldwell’s job is in question. If Sunday was it for Caldwell, though, he approached it just like everything he does. He was even-keeled.

He treated his players the same. He planned on going about his job the same -- at least until he’s told the Detroit Lions' coaching job isn’t his anymore, if that happens. And while it isn’t up to the Lions' players, they don’t believe he should be gone -- and didn’t think that Sunday was his last game with the Lions.

“No, not for a minute,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “I don’t see any reason as to why he shouldn’t be back. Two playoff appearances in four years, winning record. Other guys have gone longer. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be back.”