To say that Jim Caldwell’s personality is the opposite of former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz’s isn’t doing the contrast justice. On the sidelines, Schwartz was always a fiery coach. Nothing epitomized that more than his postgame run in with Jim Harbaugh following a 49ers win over the Lions. The now infamous handshake nearly sparked a fight between the two head coaches. You’ll never see that from Jim Caldwell.
In fact, Caldwell is probably one of the most stoic coaches in the league. His reaction after a touchdown pass by his quarterback is virtually identical to his reaction following an interception taken back for a score the other way.
That contrast between the old and the new may pose some problems for the Lions players, many of whom have made their love of playing for Schwartz known. Those issues will be addressed in the offseason, but the Lions have greater issues than just adjusting to a different style. The team lacks discipline on both sides of the ball, and offensively, there’s little consistency to speak of.
The good news is this isn’t the complete rebuild the Lions started back in 2009 when Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew began picking up the pieces following the disastrous Matt Millen era. Now the Lions have a franchise quarterback, the top receiver in the league and a terrifying front four on defense. The pillars of a good team are already in place. Now it’s about translating that talent into results on game day.
If there’s any legitimate indictment of the Lions under Schwartz, it’s that they were never able to put complete games together, much less complete seasons. After week ten of the 2013 season, the Lions sat at 6-3 and in complete control of the NFC North. The Vikings were never a factor, and the Bears and Packers were both without their starting quarterbacks. It seemed the stars had aligned for a Lions divisional title. Then, Detroit dropped six of its last seven games and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in Schwartz’s five seasons.
Caldwell’s personality lends itself to cleaning up some of the discipline problems the Lions have experienced in the past. Those issues have prevented Detroit from rising to the top of their division, but a more businesslike approach may help them get on track. Caldwell stays calm and cool regardless of the situation, something the Lions haven’t been able to do for years. Instead of looking down the road, Detroit will be far better at taking the season one game at a time under Caldwell.
In fact, the term “stay the course” seems to have been designed to describe Caldwell’s approach. In that way, however, a weakness can also be found. If things turn sour, Caldwell is unable or unwilling to adjust quickly enough to make necessary adjustments. In his last season with the Colts, he did little to help Indianapolis function without Peyton Manning leading the team, but then again, he also didn’t have much talent to actually work with.
The Lions’ chief concern following Schwartz’s tenure has to be Matthew Stafford’s regression as quarterback, and that’s largely why hiring Caldwell makes so much sense. Caldwell has worked with some of the better quarterbacks in the league, and there’s no denying his impact with Joe Flacco after taking over for Cam Cameron as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator. He knows how to tailor an offense to a quarterback’s ability, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a big leap back forward by Stafford next season.
Caldwell may not have been a glamorous hire by the Lions, but he brings with him the potential to fix the Lions’ biggest problem areas in short order. Under him, the Lions are likely to shed their inconsistent nature for a businesslike approach that puts W’s on the record. Detroit will be going through some growing pains as they adjust to a completely new style, but they stand to benefit in the long run if they stick with Caldwell.