Column: Why parting ways with Caldwell was the right decision for the Detroit Lions
January is finally upon us, which usually marks the time of year when the Detroit Lions have stopped playing football and have started looking toward the draft. And this year was just like any other, as the Lions’ week 17 season finale with the Green Bay Packers meant absolutely nothing, wrapping up yet another disappointing Lions season.
However, this season, which resulted with a 9-7 overall record, seemed to be a little more disappointing than any other in recent memory. Maybe because this team had high expectations from making the playoffs in 2016. Or maybe because the Lions started the season 3-1 and had periods where they looked like a team that could actually do some damage in the playoffs.
Matthew Stafford had another solid season, living up to most of the hype of his new $135 million deal. He led a high-quality passing attack, along with Marvin Jones Jr., who had his first 1,000-yard season and objectively the best season of his career.
And for the first time in recent memory, the Lions' secondary was actually more than competent. Glover Quin had another solid season, logging three interceptions and forcing four fumbles. Darius Slay looked like one of the best corners in football, leading the league with eight interceptions and earning the Pro Bowl spot he rightfully deserved.
But ultimately, what did the Lions in was the same key weaknesses that have plagued them for the past decade: They couldn’t fix their offensive line; the front seven was inconsistent; and the running game once again ranked amongst the worst in the league in almost every single statistical category.
These were all factors in the decision for the Lions to part ways with head coach Jim Caldwell. Yes, during his four seasons at the helm, Caldwell did have an overall winning record for the Lions (36-28) and led Detroit to two playoff appearances (2014 and 2016), but he didn’t improve the problems he was originally brought in to fix. This includes the Lions' inability to beat teams with winning records. So, it was time for a change in leadership.
Caldwell did do a decent job of beating the NFC North rivals (16-8, including 5-1 this past season). But in four years with the team, Caldwell finished just 4-23 against teams with a winning record, with a pitiful 1-7 record against teams over .500 this past season. Ultimately, he couldn’t beat the teams that playoff contenders are supposed to beat.
The Lions did finish 11-5 in Caldwell's first season with the team, but Detroit hasn’t shown significant improvement since then. The expectations are higher under general manager Bob Quinn, as they rightfully should be. Being average is a mindset that Quinn can’t tolerate—an attitude any Lions fan can get behind.
Quinn spoke with MLive earlier in 2018 on his championship-or-bust mentality, saying, “We’re just a little bit above average. And a little bit above average is not good enough.”
That is the main reason why it was the right decision for the Lions to fire Jim Caldwell. He was always really good at getting the Lions to destroy bad teams, win somewhere between seven and nine games and underperform against the legit teams. That is the NFL’s quintessential definition of mediocre, and Quinn is justified to want better for Motor City.
These aren’t the same old Lions anymore. These aren’t the same Lions that were an embarrassment to the NFL, got top 10 draft picks every year, and were the main reason why our dads and granddads were angry most Sunday nights.
These Lions have the potential to be really good in the next couple years. Many key contributors on both sides of the ball are just hitting their prime, and Stafford isn’t getting any younger. The time is now for the Detroit Lions, and Caldwell wasn’t going to help much with that.
It should be interesting to see what the Lions do with this offseason. Expect to see the Lions hire one of the former Patriots coaches (Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels both have proven to be high-quality coordinators ready for the next step), draft some more playmakers in the front seven and in the backfield, and groom the young players they have into even better football players.
Bottom line, don’t be distressed, Lions fans. This season did end in a rather disappointing fashion, but this team finally has the pieces to not only make the playoffs but to do some damage once they get there, too. Some new faces in the coaching staff should have the ability to put these pieces together.