By: Martin Weiss
After the Chargers lost to the Broncos over the weekend, it was a waiting game until Ken Whisenhunt was named as the Lions’ 26th head coach. Then, suddenly Whisenhunt is named Tennessee’s next head coach, and less than 24 hours later, reports surface that Jim Caldwell will be Detroit’s leader for next season. Many fans feel like the Lions were spurned by their first choice, which could be true. Either way, Caldwell presents the best chance for the Lions to win now, and was the better choice of the two.
Whisenhunt wants to run a 3-4 defense. The Lions have invested multiple first round picks and millions of dollars on their defensive line in Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Ziggy Ansah. Switching to a 3-4 would mitigate their effectiveness, especially in the case of Suh and Ansah. Fairley could potentially play an undersized nose tackle, but this unit is at their best when one of the tackles is drawing double teams, leaving the ends with one on one matchups.
Look at their previous head coaching experience. Both have Super Bowl appearances to their credit, and both lost in the playoffs in the following year. Whisenhunt posted an 18-30 record in the next 3 years. Caldwell went 2-14, but without one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football, Peyton Manning, after a neck injury late in the summer sidelined him for the 2011 season. Before Manning’s injury, Caldwell lost 8 regular season games and made the playoffs in both seasons. Injuries are a part of the game, but getting fired after one bad season without arguably the best quarterback of all time is a raw deal, especially when contrasted with Whisenhunt getting three seasons to turn it around.
Both of these coaches are touted as “quarterback guys”, which is important considering the Lions’ struggles with Matthew Stafford. Whisenhunt can surely take some credit in revitalizing Kurt Warner in Arizona but he wasn’t able to develop Matt Leinart, nor find a suitable replacement in 3 seasons. Caldwell, on Tony Dungy’s staff in Indianapolis as a quarterback coach/assistant head coach for 6 seasons prior to taking over as head coach, worked with Peyton Manning on a daily basis. With Caldwell on staff through 9 seasons, Manning threw 288 touchdowns to 117 interceptions with a completion percentage of 66.7 percent and a 109-35 win-loss record. In the four seasons before, Manning threw 111 touchdowns to 81 interceptions with a completion percentage of 61 percent and a 32-32 win-loss record. Conversely, Stafford has thrown 109 touchdowns to 73 interceptions with a 59.9 percent completion percentage and a 24-37 win-loss record. At minimum, to say Stafford could become Manning 2.0 with the Caldwell hire is a stretch. But the notion that Caldwell can guide Stafford in becoming a better quarterback should be taken seriously given his track record.
I understand that the Lions didn’t get the sexy name out of college in Bill O’Brien, or the proven winner in Lovie Smith. Maybe Whisenhunt left the Lions at the altar when he signed with Tennessee, maybe Caldwell was the guy all along. At the end of the day, the Lions have the guy who fits their personnel the best and gives them the best chance for immediate success.