Lions general manager Bob Quinn said during his introductory press conference that he needed to get to know Jim Caldwell before making a determination on the coach’s future with the franchise.
“It’s going to be my feeling about if I can work with coach Caldwell, his philosophy, his beliefs, will they mesh with mine,” Quinn said.
That vetting out process is now complete and Quinn has decided he and Caldwell are a good fit. Caldwell will remain the head coach for the 2016 season.
“As I stated Monday, I was looking forward to the opportunity to get to know Jim,” Quinn said in a statement released by the team. “After spending a significant amount of time together, it is clear that our football philosophies are very similar. Consequently, I am convinced he is the right man to lead our football team moving forward.”
“Jim’s entire body of work is impressive. Not only did he lead the Lions to the playoffs his first season here, but when you look at how the players responded the second half of last season, under difficult circumstances, it’s clear to me that this team believes in him and responds positively to his leadership.
“Our entire focus now is on the offseason and all that it entails.”
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford said Monday she loved coach Caldwell, but declined to answer last week if she preferred Caldwell stay. The Lions have said all along that it would be up to the general manager to decide Caldwell’s future, something Quinn reiterated his first day on the job.
“No pre-conceived notions, no recommendations from ownership,” he said. “This decision will be mine and mine alone.”
Caldwell is 18-14 in two seasons with Detroit, making him the first Lions coach in the Super Bowl era to garner a winning record in his first two seasons with the franchise.
He led the Lions to the playoffs in his first season in 2014 with an 11-5 record, but the team missed the playoffs this past season after starting 1-7 and finishing 7-9. Caldwell was able to keep the team together despite the terrible start to the season and finished the last eight games 6-2.
Many Lions players backed Caldwell publicly at the end of the season, including Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Rashean Mathis and others.
“The biggest thing for me is knowing what kind of person he (Caldwell) is and what kind of coach he is,” Stafford told the Albom Show on WJR Tuesday. “To me, he’s as good as I have ever played for. He’s a really good coach.
“Obviously, it’s not my decision, and I understand the idea of meshing out -- make sure the front office meshes with the coaching staff. I understand that. I just know that I really do enjoy playing for coach Caldwell.”
That was echoed throughout the locker room as the players cleaned out their lockers the day after beating Chicago to end the regular season.
“I’m the biggest Jim Caldwell fan there is,” veteran Lance Moore said. “I’ve been around enough coaches to know a great one when I finally get a chance to work with one.
“I’ve never been around a coach that knows the pulse of the locker room or has the constant communication with his players the way coach Caldwell does.”
Now that Caldwell is back, the focus shifts to his staff.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has already interviewed for some head-coaching vacancies, but if he doesn't get any of those positions, he’ll likely be back for a third season as the team’s defensive coordinator.
Caldwell said he does have a plan in place if Austin is hired to take over his own team. Two potential in-house candidates could be secondary coach Alan Williams and linebacker coach Bill Sheridan, both of whom have been defensive coordinators in the NFL in prior stops.
Jim Bob Cooter did a terrific job with Matthew Stafford and the offense after taking over as offensive coordinator halfway through the season. Stafford threw 19 touchdowns vs. only two interceptions the last eight games of the season and had a 110.1 passer rating over that stretch. Stafford has been Cooter’s biggest and most public supporter.
“Jim Bob and I see the game the same way,” Stafford said after the win over Chicago. “It’s fun when you’re playing this way and have a good thing going with your coach. It’s a lot of fun.”
Caldwell would no-doubt like to retain Cooter after the job he did the second half, but Cooter will likely have opportunities to run other offenses around the league.
“He’s been with us a long time,” Caldwell said back in December of Cooter. “We hired him at Indianapolis, it took me all of about three months or so to see this is a very unusual guy.
“We know he’s smart, we know he’s a very, very good football coach and he’ll be outstanding in this league before it’s all said and done with.”
Caldwell’s staff should fall into place in the coming weeks when the final head coaching vacancies are filled.