SBD/January 15, 2014/Franchises

Lions' Hiring Of Caldwell Met With Skepticism, Some Team Execs Wanted Bigger Splash

Caldwell was not the Lions' first choice to fill their coaching vacancy
While the Lions' decision to name Jim Caldwell the team's new head coach "was met with skepticism by a large portion of the fan base," Caldwell "checks off much of what the Lions were looking for," according to Dave Birkett of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. NBC's Tony Dungy, who was the Colts' coach while Caldwell was an assistant from '02-08, said that in addition to Caldwell's experience on championship teams with the Colts and Ravens, he "was a fit in Detroit because of the leadership qualities he'll bring to the position." Lions GM Martin Mayhew said that leadership "was the foremost trait he was looking for in this hire" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/15). In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes Mayhew "wasn't concerned about a public-relations battle he couldn't win," so the question is "whether you believe in the judgment of those who pushed for [Caldwell], and risked their reputations to do it." Others in the Lions organization "craved a bigger splash." A league source said that one name "was high on the list -- Jon Gruden." The Lions "explored the possibility right up until Monday night, when they got indications Gruden was intrigued, but not enough to leave the broadcast booth." Mayhew and Dungy "ratcheted their push for Caldwell with William Clay Ford and Bill Ford Jr., and in the process, Mayhew put his standing as the Lions' leader to the toughest test." Wojnowski: "It looks like an underwhelming hire. ... But I'd be careful making rash judgments or underestimating a coach who may be mild-mannered and soft-spoken -- like Dungy -- but is highly respected around the NFL for his meticulous work with quarterbacks" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/15).

NEED A LITTLE EXCITEMENT? In Detroit, Drew Sharp writes the Lions "think they've found the steady hand to smoothly steer a shaky ship." Caldwell "wasn't the Lions' first choice, but he could be the right fit." That is "hardly a ringing endorsement, but that's all this decision merits" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/15). The FREE PRESS' Mitch Albom writes there "is not much to excite fans" over the hiring. Caldwell has had "one other stint as an NFL skipper," three years with the Colts, which "started well and ended horribly." The Lions will "no doubt say that Caldwell was their top guy, that they love everything about him." But if Caldwell "so impressed them, they could have hired him weeks ago when they first interviewed him" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/15).'s Michael Rothstein wrote the Lions "whiffed in the realm of public opinion." This "isn't saying Jim Caldwell won't end up being a good coach or maybe even a great coach." But he was "apparently not the top option." The hire will "almost certainly raise questions" (, 1/14). In Detroit, Anthony Kuehn wrote the "best reactions to the arrival of Jim Caldwell are akin to the fanfare of the mailman arriving, while the worst reactions are akin to the mailman arriving a week late." Whether it is "disinterest or venom, most fans are not pleased." Ken Whisenhunt, who agreed to a deal with the Titans on Monday, "seemed to be a perfect fit on many levels for the Lions." But hiring Caldwell "makes a lot of sense when you look at the facts and remove some of the bogus narratives" (, 1/14). The DETROIT NEWS' John Niyo writes, "Only the Lions could pull a switcheroo like that, promising a culture change and proudly delivering a public-relations fiasco, at least based on the initial reactions" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/15).

DIVERSITY EFFORTS:'s Rothstein noted Caldwell "became the second minority candidate to land a head-coaching job this month," joining Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith. Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation Chair John Wooten said, "We felt that he should be the guy. We really wanted him in that particular team. Thought it was an excellent fit" (, 1/14). Wooten: "It's not so much the numbers. It's the process. We were very disappointed in the way the process went last year. We felt in many cases last year it was complying with the rule, rather than going through the process and really doing what the rule is there for. ... This year is totally different. We give a great deal of credit to the NFL for the approach they have taken" (, 1/14).
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