By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Left guard Rob Sims remembers what people said when the Detroit Lions lost six of their final seven games last season and the organization fired Jim Schwartz.READ MORE: Michigan Gas Prices Increase 19 Cents Ahead Of Memorial Day
Some said the Lions needed a fiery, authoritarian leader – veins bulging, volume high – to whip the team into shape. Instead, Detroit hired Jim Caldwell, a man whom players say rarely yells and does not swear. Sims cannot even recall him saying “damn” or “hell.”
Caldwell might not rule with an iron fist, but Sims said he rules just the same.
“Everybody expected somebody to come in here, and we needed that guy to come in here and yell at people and do this, and we needed more discipline,” Sims said. “He’s done the exact opposite – doesn’t yell or do anything. It’s not mind games, he’s just like, ‘Look, this is what it takes to get it done. Believe me and roll with me or don’t.’ That’s what any CEO, any guy like that, anybody at the head of anything, that should be what it is – say, ‘This is our plan. If you’re with me let’s roll; if you’re not, see you later.'”
Sims compared Caldwell’s commanding presence to those of pastors at huge churches, where the magnetism and the conviction of the speaker draws people in.
“You’ve got some guys that when they stand up, everybody listens,” Sims said. “They’ve just got whatever ‘it’ is … I’ve been around other coaches that have said whatever, done whatever, had some good messages, but the fact of the matter, if you don’t have whatever ‘it’ is that makes you stand up and look at that man and follow that man, you’ve got nothing, really.
“He’s very genuine, he’s very authentic, and you can see he puts a lot of thought into it,” Sims continued. “Everything he says up there is very, very thought through. He’s not up there just to talk. Older guys and younger guys, they really relate to that. It’s the truth. You get a lot of that b.s. in an NFL locker room, a lot of lip service. But him, it’s not lip service.”
Caldwell’s message of taking the season one game at a time has been a constant one, but he switches up the delivery daily.
“It’s all over the place, it’s fresh, it’s new every time, and it’s the same message, but it brings you in a whole different door every time,” Sims said.
“He has amazing Power Points – just really good to look at, nice colorful pictures,” Sims added with a laugh. “He keeps you engaged. That’s the thing about Coach Caldwell is that he does just an unbelievable job motivating. You go in those team meetings, he’s got everybody’s ear, everybody’s eyes, and I think that’s the most important thing. That’s the different thing I’ve seen in my nine years being here. He has an unbelievable way of capturing everybody’s attention.”READ MORE: Family Of Justin Shilling Files Lawsuit Against Oxford Schools
Wednesday, the team talked about a Zen approach to archery.
“It’s like not focusing on shooting the target,” Sims explained. “It’s more about your process – how your breath is, where your hands are, where all that stuff is. That’s what it’s all about, really.”
A frequent distributor of quotes and anecdotes, Caldwell said he and his fellow coaches make an effort to keep their talks relevant and interesting for players. In any given media session, Caldwell might reference the Bible, or author Malcolm Gladwell, or ancient Greek historian Plutarch. In meetings with his team, he keeps his listeners on their toes just as much.
“We work at it,” Caldwell said. “We try to find things that we think are things that guys can relate to, maybe something a little bit different that we haven’t heard. Some of that stuff sticks a little bit better than the normal mainstream stuff that you could expect.”
The players appreciate those efforts.
“You learn what it means to be great,” safety James Ihedigbo said, “and not just in football – it’s in life. He uses examples of other great men, other great women that accomplished so much and uses that as examples to our team that nothing’s really different. They prepared, they were ready, they were aware of their surroundings, and when they had the opportunity, they seized it. It’s similar to the situation that we’re in now, and guys bind to that and understand it because it makes a lot of sense.”
While Caldwell holds his players to high standards and demands attention to detail, he also fosters a family atmosphere that many of the players have noted as an important variable in the team’s success. The camaraderie shows daily as players chirp back and forth in the locker room and play ping-pong and cornhole. Even after practice Fridays, guys stick around for a little while and just hang out together.
“I’m glad that Coach Caldwell allows us to have fun,” defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. “He lets the players play. He lets the coaches coach. We just kind of work together in terms of that. I really like it.”
Fluellen has said several times that Caldwell is a person he wants to emulate, and Sims echoed those sentiments, noting the way he strives to improve each day even as he encourages his players to do likewise.MORE NEWS: Data: Michigan Sees Decrease In Evictions In 2021, But Many Residents Struggle To Find Homes
“He’s one of those guys, as I get older, he’s definitely going to be a guy I look to or lean back on and say, ‘Hey, how’d you do things? Because I like the way you do it,'” Sims said. “He talks about the same thing. If there’s a guy financially that does what he likes, he’s going to be in that guy’s ear. He’s always reading, first thing in the morning he’s walking and reading, books on tape or whatever, gaining that wealth of knowledge, and it’s rubbing off.”