By Ashley Scoby
Amid the boxes of shoes and scraps of athletic tape within a locker room being cleaned out after a 7-9 season, Lions players loudly voiced their support Monday for head coach Jim Caldwell, whose future is in flux.
Whether Caldwell retains his position is a decision that likely won’t be made until a new general manager is hired in Detroit. That process begins “in earnest” Monday, president Rod Wood told reporters Sunday at the Lions’ season finale in Chicago.
Caldwell went 11-5 in his first season in Detroit, taking the Lions to the playoffs last year. But a 1-7 start this season (and the firings of the front office personnel who brought him in) put a damper on that positivity. Wood and team owner Martha Firestone Ford have remained mum about their opinions on Caldwell, other than to say the new GM will have a say.
Players have not been so silent. Throughout the last couple weeks of the season, several have voiced their support. And as the team cleaned out lockers on Monday, after a season-ending team meeting, more came out and declared Caldwell should be back for 2016.
Wide receiver Lance Moore was the most passionate, launching into a near-four minute speech about what type of person Caldwell is, and saying it would be the wrong move for the organization to fire him.
“I played 11 years in this league. I’ve been around enough coaches to know a great one when I finally get a chance to work with one,” Moore said. “And not only is he a great coach because he’s a great person and knows Xs and Os, but I’ve never been around a coach that knows the pulse of the locker room or has the constant communication with his players the way that Coach Caldwell does.”
He went on to take blame, as players, for the 1-7 start, and to criticize the “win now” mentality that gets so many NFL coaches fired.
“If you’ve got a guy that has shown that he can be successful, and the guys like him, what more do you need?” he said. “What more can you ask for? I think if they do choose to go in a different direction, then what kind of statement or what kind of message are we sending to the guys that are suiting up for you every single Sunday? You’re starting back from zero. You’re starting from the ground again, and I don’t think that’s the right move to make.”
Even more so than Caldwell’s track record on the field, it’s his character and demeanor in the locker room that players have praised. Safety Glover Quin has been a vocal supporter of Caldwell’s for weeks, and he continued along the same track Monday.
With a 6-2 finish to the season, the Lions “did as much as we could to make a case,” according to Quin.
“Everybody loves Coach Caldwell,” he said. “He’s a great, great, great man, great leader, great coach. He’s a great man. He does a lot of things for the players, holds everybody accountable. He’s honest. And I think players respect that, and I think he has everybody’s support in the locker room.”
Quin’s fellow defensive back, cornerback Rashean Mathis, is mulling retirement and could be sitting on a beach somewhere next season instead of playing. But he still felt that the organization firing Caldwell would be the wrong choice.
“Caldwell is hands down the best coach that I’ve ever been under, and I’m sure a lot of guys in this locker room feel that way and I’m sure a lot of guys in this locker room will look forward to playing with him again,” Mathis said. “A lot of guys would go to bat for him, saying that he belongs. We shouldn’t have to speak for him because I’m sure his character and how he transformed this organization should speak wonders. How he transformed the atmosphere in this organization should speak wonders. There’s a saying – your actions should speak loud enough where you don’t have to say a word. And I feel that his actions should speak that loud, and even louder.”