The Detroit Lions have fired Jim Caldwell after he posted the highest winning percentage (.563) of any Lions coach in the Super Bowl era. Caldwell led winning campaigns in three of his four years and reached the playoffs twice. By Motor City standards, this is exceptional, job-retaining work.
Or at least it would have been in years past. But today’s controversial dismissal is a signal flare shooting through the sky, showing that the organization is finally ready to start acting like a, well, a real organization.
There’s a large faction of fans who believe Caldwell is getting an unfair shake. After all, participating in the postseason every other year is a vast improvement for the Lions historically. They are content to play meaningful football in December and see the hometown team in those “playoff hunt” graphics.
This is what happens when one is in a toxic relationship. One party treats the other like garbage and lets them down time after time. Then any slight improvement is seen as monumental. A temporary Band-Aid is viewed as a cure-all when, deep down, the aggrieved party knows they’re unhappy and could do better.
And the Lions could do better. They could do better than losing on the opening weekend of the playoffs. They could do better than fumbling in the dark for their second postseason win since 1957. They could do better than blowing the division while Aaron Rodgers sits out with injury. They could do better than see any hope extinguished by the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.
Caldwell had success but it was hollow. Lions fans are too often blind to the low bar they’ve set for the team.
Matthew Stafford, currently the highest-paid player in the sport, is the best quarterback to put on Honolulu blue and silver in the past 60 years. Darius Slay takes away half the field on defense. Matt Prater is the ultimate crunch-time weapon.
The point: in the cyclical NFL, there’s absolutely no reason a franchise should be so underwhelming for so long. Caldwell got them to the hump a few times, but it’s clear he’s not the guy to get them over it.
His terrible in-game management was obvious. The Lions repeatedly failed to field a full team on defense and special teams. They kicked deep when an onside was in order. They allowed Green Bay to win on a Hail Mary because Caldwell didn’t think Rodgers could throw the ball 60 yards.
He was often conservative when he should have been aggressive and vice versa. And he did all this while showing zero emotion. Once, just once, it would have been great to see someone on the sidelines who appeared emotionally invested in the outcome.
Maybe the next guy will be. Maybe, just maybe, the Lions are going to start acting like a real organization with real goals.
Anything feels possible on New Year’s Day.