By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – When longtime Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who worked closely for years with new Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell, urged fans to be patient and give Caldwell a chance, many reacted dramatically.
Many fans feel they’ve waited long enough for the team to be successful, and Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. can empathize.
“Clearly fans are frustrated, of course,” Ford Jr. said at Wednesday’s introductory press conference for new head coach Jim Caldwell. “I understand that. I’m frustrated. We’re all frustrated. Our family’s frustrated.
“The second-half collapse, and particularly in the fourth quarter in so many games, was incredibly disappointing,” Ford Jr. added. “That was something that obviously we couldn’t live with.”
The Lions went 7-9 in 2013, beginning the year on a 6-3 run and ending it on a 1-6 skid. Laden with talent and playing in an NFC North in which two teams were missing their starting quarterbacks, the Lions still failed to make the playoffs, and Jim Schwartz was fired after five seasons.
Caldwell, formerly the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, is the one expected to help the franchise turn the corner.
“Every coach, I would assume, expects to win right now, but most won’t put themselves on the line and say it,” Ford Jr. said. “He did.”
Ford Jr. first met Caldwell when the head coach candidate visited Allen Park for his in-person interview.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ford Jr. said. “I had read about Jim, but when I sat down with him, I was very, very impressed.
“He’s very intense, which surprised me,” Ford continued. “Perhaps it shouldn’t have because I’ve been around football my whole life and most football coaches are intense, but I think with how thorough he was, how thorough his answers were. Jim doesn’t speak just to say something. He thinks and processes it before he speaks, and when he speaks, it’s usually imparting very good information. I was very impressed by it.”
Leading up to the press conference, the prevailing impression was that the Lions’ first choice for coach was then-San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who ended up accepting a job with the Tennessee Titans instead.
“First of all, we didn’t have an offer out,” Ford Jr. said. “As [team president] Tom [Lewand] said, we had two really good candidates, one of whom we didn’t get a chance to finish the process with, and so no, [Whisenhunt] was not Plan A. We had two Plan A’s and we were going down both roads simultaneously.
“I think the reaction locally was very different than the reaction nationally,” Ford added. “On the national stage, it was pretty much all positive.”