Packers Head Coach Candidate: Jim Caldwell

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If the Packers are looking for a young, exciting head coach, Jim Caldwell may not be the right option for them.

But if the Packers are looking for a decorated, long-tenured coach to take over for their own recently departed “highly successful” head coach, it would be hard to find a better option than Jim Caldwell.

Though mostly known for his extremely reserved sideline demeanor, Caldwell has been extremely successful in the NFL. He has a Super Bowl ring with multiple NFL franchises and has helped multiple quarterbacks elevate their games.

If nothing else, Caldwell may be a steady presence for a franchise in need of some stability.

The details on Jim Caldwell

Most recent job: Head Coach, Detroit Lions (2014-2017)
Record as a head coach: 112-62 (2009-2011 with Indianapolis, 2014-2017 with Detroit)
First job: Wide Receivers Coach, Southern Illinois (1978)
Packers connection: Caldwell worked with Packers’ pass game coordinator Jim Hostler with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and 2013.

The background on Jim Caldwell

Caldwell’s has an extraordinarily long and rich coaching resume and has had high levels of success in both college and professional football.

After a season as a graduate assistant at Iowa (his alma mater), the Beloit, Wisconsin native took his first real job as the wide receivers coach at Southern Illinois in 1978. After three years with Southern Illinois, Caldwell made a brief stop as an offensive assistant at Northwestern before taking a job the wide receivers coach at Colorado.

Three years later, Caldwell again made a one-year detour, stopping to coach Louisville’s wide receivers. The one year stop was just a prelude to his biggest professional connection to date, signing on with Joe Paterno at Penn State to coach the Nittany Lions’ wide receiver group in 1987. He was 31.

Under Paterno, Caldwell blossomed. He climbed from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach to passing game coordinator, holding the latter two roles together through the 1992 season, after which he was named the head coach at Wake Forest.

Caldwell’s first head coaching job was underwhelming. Wake Forest is not a traditional college football powerhouse, but even by the Demon Deacons’ admittedly low standards, Caldwell didn’t produce. Wake Forest managed just one winning season in Caldwell’s eight-year tenure, going 7-5 in 1999. In six of his other seven seasons there, Caldwell’s teams failed to win more than three games.

In 2000, Caldwell made another move that led to significant future success: he joined Tony Dungy’s staff for Dungy’s last season in Tampa Bay. He followed Dungy to Indianapolis, and after seven years (and a Super Bowl win) as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach, Caldwell was named Dungy’s successor-in-waiting.

Jim Caldwell  won his first 14 games as a head coach and took the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009.

Jim Caldwell won his first 14 games as a head coach and took the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009.

Caldwell took over the Colts in 2009 and reeled off 14 wins to open his first season as head coach. But operating under instructions from Jim Irsay, Caldwell rested some of the Colts’ key players for the final two weeks of the season, costing the Colts a shot at an undefeated regular season. The Colts did advance to the Super Bowl but lost to the New Orleans Saints.

The first season was as good as it got for Caldwell in Indianapolis. His team went 10-6 in 2010 but bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. Then, in 2011, Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to injury. The Colts floundered, went 2-14, and Caldwell was fired.

He joined the Baltimore Colts as John Harbaugh’s quarterbacks coach in 2012 and took over as the team’s interim offensive coordinator late in the year. After helping guide the Ravens to a Super Bowl win, he was permanently given the offensive coordinator job prior to the 2013 season.

Fresh off the ultimate image rehabilitation, Caldwell was named the head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2014. His four-year tenure with the Lions was a bit up and down, peaking in his first season. The Lions went 11-5 that year, powered by an unusually strong (for Detroit) defense. Detroit made the playoffs that year but lost in the Wild Card round to the Dallas Cowboys.

The 2015 Lions went 7-9, but returned the playoffs in 2016 with a 9-7 record, losing again in the wildcard round. Another 9-7 record in 2017 sealed Caldwell’s fate and he was fired, leaving him out of the league for 2018.

Jim Caldwell’s biggest moment

Caldwell is on the short list of available coaching candidates who can boast a Super Bowl win on his resume, much less two. In that light, it’s hard to name anything else as a highlight.

After Tony Dungy rescued Caldwell from the football wilderness following his departure from Wake Forest, Caldwell helped coach Dungy’s Colts to a Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears.

Then, after being named the offensive coordinator midseason, Caldwell helped resurrect the Baltimore Ravens’ 2012 season, guiding the team’s offense to a late-year rebirth and a Super Bowl win.

In Jim Caldwell’s own words

Jim Caldwell’s signature neutral facial expression has given him a bit of a reputation for stoicism. Apparently, that reputation is well deserved. Caldwell’s media persona, while not prickly, is the very epitome of reserved.

Take, for instance, his reaction to media inquiries about his feelings about visiting Baltimore, a city where he won a Super Bowl, in 2017. Does he get excited about going back? Nope.

"We had a preseason game there last year,” he said. “I have been back, so I have had a chance to kind of go through it, seeing a lot of different people and those kinds of things. I see the guys a lot at the combine and on the road during the time we are out evaluating prospects and things of that nature in preparation for the draft. It is not like I have been alienated from the place or the guys that were there."

What are the chances Jim Caldwell is the next Packers head coach?

Jon’s Rating: 3/5

I am staunchly against the idea of the Packers hiring any kind of retread as their next head coach. I think it’s abundantly clear that this team needs an injection of new thoughts and ways of doing things, and hiring a coach who has run his course with multiple teams does not seem like a way to inject new life into a stagnant situation.

However, if the Packers are determined to hire a retread, Caldwell might not be the worst choice. He has wrung good performances out of Matthew Stafford and Joe Flacco and helped Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl wins and multiple great seasons. There’s the question of how much credit you should give Caldwell for Manning’s success, to be sure, but he was there.

I don’t know if Caldwell is the right choice for the job, but that may not mean he’s a bad choice.

Gary’s Rating: 4/5

There’s always a surprise firing nowadays, and Jim Caldwell was the unlucky winner last offseason. Supporters of Caldwell’s pointed to how he led the Lions to a pair of postseason appearances – a feat for a Detroit team that had struggled mightily after Barry Sanders’ surprising retirement.

Working against Caldwell was his inability to beat good teams. The Lions were 4-25 against teams who finished the season with a winning record over his four seasons, and lost both of their postseason games.

Before Caldwell arrived in Detroit, the Lions had lost 24 straight games in the state of Wisconsin. An 18-16 Lions win in 2015 snapped the streak, and Detroit would win again in Lambeau Field the following season. Caldwell finished his four seasons with a 4-4 record against the Packers. (Had Aaron Rodgers not completed a Hail Mary, Caldwell would have been 5-3.)

In many ways, Caldwell the coach reminds me of former Packers head coach Mike Sherman. A conservative, steady coach who meets but never exceeds expectations. Caldwell’s Lions had a .469 winning percentage against the spread, while Sherman’s Packers were .480 against the spread.

If the Packers prefer to hire someone with previous NFL head coaching experience, Caldwell has the best resume and is a familiar face. My intuition suggests Caldwell is a stronger candidate for the Packers job than it may appear, and that he could be a surprise finalist or even the chosen next head coach in Green Bay.