By: Will Burchfield

Jim Caldwell has been on the hot seat in the past, and his players have always come to his defense. They did so with unprecedented passion on Sunday amid reports the Lions are prepared to fire their head coach on Monday.

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Linebacker Tahir Whithead said he never thought that Sunday’s season finale — a 35-11 win over the Packers — was the last time he’d play for Caldwell.

“Not for a minute,” Whitehead said. “I don’t see any reason as to why he shouldn’t be back. Two playoff appearances in four years, a winning record. Other guys have gone longer. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be back.”

The Lions have gone 36-28 in four seasons under Caldwell, making him the team’s winningest coach in the Super Bowl era. But they failed take a step forward this year, which will likely cost Caldwell his job.

If it was up to the players, the 62-year-old coach would almost certainly be back.

“I love Jim Caldwell, no doubt about that,” said defensive end Ziggy Ansah. “He’s a great coach, and he doesn’t only teach us how to be football players. He teaches us how to be responsible men. It’s not all about football. He made us understand that people go through tough times, tougher than this.

“As much as we would like to be in the playoffs, we have to be able to overcome it. Jim is a great guy and I wouldn’t trade him for nobody else.”

In demonstration of their respect for Caldwell, the Lions played inspired football on Sunday even though the outcome didn’t matter. That’s not always the case when a coach appears to be on his way out.

“You see today the way we go out and play in a game like this, it shows a lot how we feel about our coach,” said veteran safety Glover Quin, one of the most respected voices in the team’s locker room. “I’ll ride with Coach Caldwell until the end.”

Quin characterized Caldwell as a player’s coach.

“No question. He takes care of the players. He does everything he can to look out for the players, and it’s about more than just being a football coach. He teaches us a lot about life. He’s a great role model,” said Quin.

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Matthew Stafford agreed.

“I think everybody in that locker room really likes — loves — Coach Caldwell. … He cares about us. I love playing for him. I think everybody goes out there every week playing hard for him, no matter what the game is, no matter what the circumstance is,” said Stafford.

Caldwell is under contract through 2018 with team options beyond that. He’s taken the Lions from mediocre to respectable, but the feeling is they need a new voice to help them reach the next level.

Quin doesn’t necessarily buy that.

“The voices don’t play, we play. It doesn’t matter what you say or whatever. You have to go out and play, and last I saw the players play the game,” he said.

For his part, Caldwell said after Sunday’s game, “I’m not done yet.” He added he hadn’t yet spoken to general manager Bob Quinn about his future with the team, but it’s unlikely he’ll be the Lions’ head coach come Monday’s end-of-season press conferences.

“I have no idea,” Caldwell said bluntly.

Golden Tate said earlier this month the Lions are one piece away from being a consistent contender, prompting many to wonder if he was thinking about Caldwell. He clarified on Sunday that wasn’t — and isn’t — the case.

“I think I’m pretty honest with you guys for the most part. I think I tell you what I believe, and I don’t think personally he’s the problem or ever has been. I’m team Coach Caldwell until I can’t be anymore. I still think I know what we could do better — I’m still not going to mention it — but it’s not Coach Caldwell, in my opinion,” Tate said.

“I love who he is as a person, as a coach, the leader he is, the Christian he is, so obviously I want him to stay,” Tate added.

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Despite the good will he’s built up in the locker room, especially with the core of the Lions’ roster, Caldwell’s fate has likely already been sealed. An official announcement is expected Monday morning.