Generally, during head coach hiring season new employment comes from one of three places: highly touted offensive or defensive coordinators, whizz-kid college minds, or former head coaches, some of whom spent a year or so doing good things as a coordinator (and some, like Jeff Fisher a few years back and Lovie Smith this year, spent a year on their sofa).
The thing about door No. 3 is that it often comes with another step, or something else required to make the hiring work. For example, Ken Whisenhunt signed on with the Titans yesterday, and as we’ve seen in the past with first Ben Roethlisberger, then Kurt Warner, and now Philip Rivers, Whisenhunt is a great offensive mind and a fine quarterback tutor who can develop both a young arm, and rejuvenate a veteran. All that’s required of you, the general manager who oversees a Whisenhunt team, is to provide a quarterback who can at least breathe properly, and if he can even meet league average standards, that’s great too.
Jake Locker has yet to meet that standard, but if he can or if someone else can, the Whisenhunt hire will be a fine one. Similarly, Smith down in Tampa is an elite defensive mind, though he needs his equal to manage the offense, and that may or may not be Jeff Tedford.
But what, exactly, attracted the Lions to Jim Caldwell?
After whiffing on Whisenunt (quick aside: why the hell did Whiz choose a team without a quarterback over a team that, you know, has a quarterback?), the Lions continued to pursue the retread path. They’ve finally and reportedly settled on Cadwell after also entertaining Mike Munchak, two options which inspired equal amounts of blah-ness.
The retread hiring path is well worn by those who enjoy risk as much as a normal person enjoys sardines. To the owners and general managers of certain teams, risk is something to be burned with fury, even though the two best hires a year ago came in the form of Chip Kelly and Marc Trestman. One of those guys hailed from a foreign land, and the other had a unique and innovative offensive system that, at the time, wasn’t assured of success in the NFL.
So here the Lions sit with Caldwell now, and a year ago he was rightfully praised for being the mind behind Joe Flacco, and his incredible playoff run highlighted by 11 touchdowns with zero interceptions, and a yards per attempt average of 9.0 to pace the Ravens to their Super Bowl win. If we isolate just that tiny sample size with a dramatic turnaround, Caldwell makes a lot of sense for a Lions offense in need of a coach who can do the same with Matthew Stafford, their still young quarterback who’s high on talent, but he takes far too many risks.
But it doesn’t work that way. We can’t just look at the good Caldwell in Baltimore, and then entirely ignore the atrocity that was this past season. In 2013 the Ravens’ offense consistently sputtered, ranking 29th in average yards per game (307.4) and 25th in points per game (20.0). They also scored only 29 touchdowns all season (29th), and for the proper perspective on that suck, please note that the last place Jaguars weren’t far behind with 25 touchdowns.
As a passing offense, the man now tasked with that Stafford tutoring had the 18th ranked unit, well behind the Lions’ current ranking of third. Worse, a coordinator who guarded and managed Flacco effectively loosened those chains, and the result was 22 interceptions. Prior to this year, Flacco’s career single-season high was only 12. And as a running offense the Ravens nearly made the worst kind of history, finishing last with only 3.1 yards per carry, and nearly becoming the first team since the merger to average fewer than three yards over a full season. He’s also a poor in-game manager with a history of perplexing decisions, to be kind.
Past success does not equal future success, but yet the shine of Caldwell’s Indianapolis days is still exceedingly bright. He feels safe and risk free (that word again) after a Super Bowl appearance in the not-so distant past, and two division wins.
Say, which team does Peyton Manning play for again?
Jim Caldwell is 24-8 when he has Peyton Manning, 28-77 (counting college coaching career) when he doesn’t.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 14, 2014