By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – With then-offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt of the San Diego Chargers projected for weeks as the favorite for the Detroit Lions head coaching vacancy, public reaction to the hiring of Jim Caldwell, previously the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, has been cautious at best.
Tony Dungy, now a Sunday Night Football analyst for NBC but better known as the Super Bowl-winning former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, remembers a similar negativity among fans when he became coach.
“I kind of go back to when I got the Buccaneers job when I came down here to Tampa – not everybody was overwhelmed either because they wanted Steve Spurrier, Jimmie Johnson,” Dungy said to Stoney and Bill of 97.1 The Ticket. “For this team, where the Lions are, I think Jim Caldwell is perfect.
“When I got the Indianapolis job, a lot of people were leery about some of the problems that they perceived we had in Tampa – we didn’t win, couldn’t get over the hump,” Dungy added later. “You can go back to Bill Belichick when he got the New England job, coming off Cleveland and only having one playoff team in five years, and people saying, ‘Maybe he’s, that’s not the answer.’ I think you have to have a blueprint, and that’s what the Lions did. They were looking for a certain type of coach for this particular team, and I think they got that. So I would tell people not to worry about what all they perceive. Wait and see the results on the field.”
Dungy said he sees in the Lions many of the same attributes that made his Colts teams so successful.
“When we got there, it was Peyton’s fifth year,” Dungy said. “His first four years, they were up and down. They made the playoffs a couple of times, they missed the playoffs a couple of times. His record was basically right at .500 when we got there. He had thrown a ton of touchdowns, thrown for a lot of yardage, very similar to Matthew. You could see all the explosiveness and the potential.
“We had a great running back, and the Lions do,” Dungy continued. “We had Edgerrin James, the Lions have a couple of real good backs. We had Marvin Harrison, they have Calvin Johnson. I think the building blocks are there. We didn’t have the defensive front in place when I got to Indianapolis. The Lions have some great rushers, some guys that should be able to protect the lead when we get it. We went out and got Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, but I think for Coach Caldwell, I think a lot of those pieces to the puzzle, [Nick] Fairley and [Ndamukong] Suh and Ziggy [Ansah], those guys are there. There’s a lot that’s there, and I think he’s going to be the right guy to put it all together.”
As far as what fans can expect as far as Caldwell’s demeanor, Dungy said the new coach will be engaging with his players, who Dungy believes will love playing for Caldwell. In front of the cameras, though, Dungy does not expect Caldwell to be a guy who gives juicy quotes or provides bulletin board fodder for opponents.
What Caldwell will try to do, Dungy said, is work to keep the Lions from beating themselves. Former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, when asked about the team’s penalties that stemmed from poor decisions and the oft-mentioned lack of discipline, often brought up that the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens committed plenty of penalties. Dungy, on the other hand, said Caldwell will not have patience for those kind of mistakes.
“I think that’s going to be the number one thing on his list,” Dungy said. “Again, he’s been around people, that’s the way we played in Tampa and Indianapolis, that’s the way Penn State played, that’s the way he tried to play when he was head coach at Wake Forest. I think that’s going to be number one on his list is not beating yourself.”
Unlike the Lions organization, Caldwell has experienced plenty of postseason games and success, and Dungy said he thinks Caldwell’s previous experiences will carry over to Detroit.
“He’s been to Super Bowls with quarterbacks very similar to this,” Dungy said. “He’ll do a great job with Matthew Stafford and that offense. They’ve got a lot of personnel in place, very much like we had in Indy, and I believe the same system could be very successful getting the most out of those guys’ talents, but more than anything, I think he’s going to lead the team in the right way.
“He worked for Joe Paterno, he worked for Bill McCartney at Colorado and Bill kind of came out of the Michigan mold with Bo Schembechler, worked for me for a long time, worked with John Harbaugh,” Dungy continued. “I think he’s been around winning. I think he’s going to give them a quiet confidence. He’s one of the most detailed guys I’ve ever been around. The preparation that he displayed with Peyton Manning and getting him ready to play, I think the whole team is going to benefit from that, and I just think the players are going to respond to his style. I would just urge the fans to be patient and look at the product on the field. I think the product is going to be very, very good.”
When the Lions first fired Schwartz more than two weeks ago, Dungy’s name was lofted from the ranks of the retired as a long-shot, wouldn’t-that-be-great possibility for the job. Dungy reiterated Wednesday that he was not offered the job and that there was no conversation about him returning to coaching.
“I made it pretty clear a long time ago I wasn’t coming back,” Dungy said. “It was not a discussion of ‘Do I want to coach the Lions?’ Team that I rooted for growing up, I want them to win, but I’m done with coaching.
“No chance,” Dungy added after one more similar query. “I’m sure it would have been fun. I love [general manager] Martin [Mayhew], he played for me, love the Lions, but no. It wasn’t going to happen.”
Dungy believes Caldwell will be a solid acquisition not just for the Lions but for the community as a whole.
“He is a very, very good person,” Dungy said. “Strong Christian guy, good values, he’s going to be great for the city of Detroit and the community. He’s going to be great for that team. I think people are going to be happy that he’s their coach in the next couple years.”