By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions have hired former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell as their new head coach, replacing Jim Schwartz after the Lions missed the playoffs again in 2013.
Caldwell’s previous NFL head coach experience came with the Indianapolis Colts. With that team he went 26-22 over a three-year span, including a 2-14 season that resulted from future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning missing the entire season with neck problems for which he had undergone off-season surgery.
Working with quarterbacks has been Caldwell’s forte. He worked for years with Manning in Indianapolis, and the Ravens brought him in to work with Joe Flacco, who in his first year working with Caldwell helped guide the Ravens to a Super Bowl, where Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP.
In 2013, Caldwell’s first full season as offensive coordinator, the Ravens offense did not fare so well. Flacco threw 22 interceptions, among the worst in the league, while running back Ray Rice rushed for just 660 yards after amassing 1,100 yards or more in four straight seasons.
The Lions fired Schwartz on Dec. 30, the Monday after Detroit’s final game of the season. Schwartz went 29-51 in his five-year tenure in Detroit, and despite loads of talent in 2013, the Lions committed turnover after turnover, blew fourth-quarter lead after fourth-quarter lead and ultimately finished the season on a 1-6 skid.
Players liked Schwartz, and many criticized the decision to fire him. Those comments, though, certainly seem to be rooted in loyalty rather than logic. After the Lions started the season 6-3 and then failed to make the playoffs, it seemed a given that Schwartz would not be back.
The beneficiaries of an injury-ravaged division, the Lions should have easily clinched the NFC North, but they bumbled away their lead. By the time of their final home game, they needed to defeat the five-win New York Giants to stay alive, but they could not even do that. The Lions lost in overtime to the only team in the NFL that committed more turnovers (44) than the Lions themselves (34).
In addition to giving up possession throughout the season, the Lions could not force opponents into mistakes. Their -12 turnover differential was also second-worst in the NFL.
A key perpetrator of such mistakes, naturally, was quarterback Matthew Stafford, who tossed 19 interceptions. As the coaching search progressed, many expected that whoever the Lions chose as their new coach would be equipped to either work with Stafford or bring in a respected offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach to do so. With Caldwell, it appears the Lions got a coach who fits that criteria.