By: Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

Through the 2016 offseason, Jim Caldwell has made a few things clear with the media: he won’t discuss injuries, he expects team-wide improvement, and he loves to imitate the high-pitched voice of the late Joe Paterno.

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First, during OTAs, Caldwell told a story about Paterno and Muhammad Ali. When it came time to impersonate Paterno, the imposing Caldwell smiled and raised his voice to a falsetto tone, surprising those on hand with his impressive range. The punch line in the story came later, but the most amusing aspect of it all was Caldwell changing his pitch from that of a hardened football coach to a doting grandmother.

On Thursday afternoon, he was up to his old tricks.

Speaking with the media on the first day of training camp, Caldwell was discussing job security and how it’s changed over the years for coaches.

“I remember there was a time during college football where everybody had these coaches in waiting. It was kind of a common thing,” Caldwell recalled. “Texas had done it, so many other teams had done it, Jimbo [Fisher] had done it down at Florida State with Coach [Bobby] Bowden. All these guys had coaches in waiting.”

According to Caldwell, someone asked Paterno – while he was still coaching for Penn State – when he was going to choose his successor.

“And his response was,” Caldwell smiled, gearing up for the act, “My successor hasn’t been born yet!”

There it was again – that chirpy, grandmotherly voice, so paradoxical to Caldwell’s profession. But it’s a welcome glimpse into his off-field personality and a definite crowd-pleaser.

Caldwell had a room full of reporters laughing on Thursday afternoon, just as he had them guffawing back in June. Ironically, the coach had been asked before his press conference began if he wanted to work on his stand-up routine as the Lions’ PR team fixed some technical issues.

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“Not today,” he smiled.

So much for that.

After humoring the crowd, Caldwell shed Paterno’s voice for his own. He explained how appreciative he is of the opportunity to coach in the NFL, especially after the Lions made wholesale changes in the front office this off-season.

“I love working. I certainly don’t take it for granted, because more often than not a change occurs in that situation,” he said, referring to the team hiring a new GM. “I’m going to earn it and take advantage of it, so we’re excited about an opportunity to keep going.”

Caldwell was hired by the Lions in 2014 and has two years remaining on his four-year contract. But many feel this is the make-or-break season for him in Detroit, suggesting he needs a playoff berth to retain his position on the sideline. Be that as it may, Caldwell isn’t fazed by the prospect of working on a short leash.

“Since 1978, when I first started coaching, way back whenever it was, coaches only had a one-year contract,” he recalled. “That’s what I worked on for 24 years. I’ve been trained to look at it that way – your job is as secure as your last game. And I’m not going to change that philosophy.”

For what it’s worth, Lions’ GM Bob Quinn gave Caldwell a ringing endorsement when he announced the team’s decision to keep the coach on board back in January.

“I am convinced he is the right man to lead our football team going forward. Jim’s entire body of work is impressive,” Quinn said in a statement.

That can obviously change over the course of this season. But for now, at least, Caldwell is the Lions’ guy.

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Paterno said his successor hadn’t been born yet. “So in my particular case,” Caldwell surmised, “let’s not count me out too soon. I got some good years ahead of me still.”