On Jim Caldwell

Pardon me while I dive into sports talk here, but because 256 characters is an awful forum for full bodied discussion, I want to move my thoughts here pertaining to a coach that has been done dirty by awful people.

I’ve had the privilege of following Jim Caldwell’s career from the time he “broke out” in Indianapolis (having been living there and scavenging at the margins as a failing sportswriter at the time).  I met him once, and that experience along with all the other accounts told me that he was a very sharp tactician with an endless encyclopedia of knowledge.  Give him a week to assemble a game plan, and he’d be able to pick apart anyone’s team.

He was (and is I’m sure) a great guy on a personal level.  Very calm yet assertive, and even felt like he respected the presence of some wanna-be loser like me.  I wish I could have met him face-to-face more often, especially outside of a practice field parking lot.

But… what very quickly emerged once he was given the big headset was that he was not particularly good managing a game in real time, and it wasn’t a skill he was able to refine.  He was very quickly overwhelmed trying to juggle all the balls that a head coach has to, especially in “crunch time” at the end of games.

That alone should not be a condemnation of anything.  That should not be shameful.  A coordinator and a head coach require two very different skill sets.  Lord knows I’d never be able to pull it off.  Hell, 25 of the people currently employed as NFL head coaches can’t pull it off even at a bare minimum level.

Now, let’s add in the absolute den of clusterfuckery that is arguably the worst franchise in professional sports; the Detroit Lions.

By every measure, Jim Caldwell was Detroit’s best head coach in damn near 30 years.  That is absolutely and measurably true, but at the same time we are not talking about the highest of bars to clear.  All that inherently means is that you are entirely mediocre; which is probably the easiest way to describe Jim Caldwell, head coaching candidate.

It’s also absolutely true that the Lions did him dirty, and turned him into the scapegoat for all the franchise’s problems.  This is a narrative that the organization has run with for sixty-plus years, and not one particularly unique to Caldwell.  Pin all the blame on one person, make them out to be the sole reason why success hasn’t happened, fire that person, then don’t change anything else.

Rinse and repeat ad nauseum.

Do I believe that Bob Quinn fired Caldwell to cover up the fact that he can’t put together a replacement level roster?  Absolutely.  Do I think he was fired as an excuse to get Bob Quinn’s buddy from New England into the head coach’s seat?  Without a doubt.  Do I think that it was easy for Quinn to do so because Caldwell is a black man and the standards required to toss a minority coach out on his ear is a LOT lower than if the coach is a generic white dude?  Yep.

But at the same time… Caldwell’s body of work as a head coach frankly is not particularly impressive.  Any team firing him solely on the merits of him not being the guy that was going to take the team to the top of the mountain… frankly isn’t wrong.

So, you have my conundrum; because when it pertains to Jim Caldwell… there seems to be two very different questions being phrased the exact same way, but have two very different answers.

“Should Jim Caldwell be an NFL head coach?”

Now, if the question means, “Given the current crop of head coaches in the NFL, is Jim Caldwell good enough to be one of them?”  The answer to that question is, “Indisputably yes.”  There is a ton of recycled trash patrolling the sidelines of NFL teams.  I can think of eight names just off the top of my head that should have expended every single one of their chances to show they can do the job, yet inexplicably haven’t been fired, or even worse, been hired by a different team.

(Those names are: Matt Patricia, Jay Gruden, Bruce Arians, Kyle Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Adam Gase, Sean McDermott, and Matt Nagy for the record.  I’m certain there are more that I could add to this list if I gave it fifteen minutes of thought.)

But here’s the problem.  Jim Caldwell’s name should be one of them on that list.

Because if the question is supposed to mean, “Do I think Jim Caldwell would be one of the 32 best head coaches if all things were equal?” The answer to that question would be “Absolutely not.”

There are only 32 of those very well paying jobs.  There should be 32 people patrolling the sidelines that make Bill Belichick look like the guy that thinks there’s an “F” in “pharaoh.”  Merely average game managers shouldn’t even be sniffing these positions, and the fact that those sort of minds are actually above the Bell Curve distribution is as damning an indictment of the supposed meritocracy that sports claims to be as anything.

But hey, perhaps that’s just me overthinking things again.  If Jim Caldwell was patrolling a sideline right now, he would not be out of place.  But I also think that there are far more people (especially minorities) that deserve a first chance before Caldwell gets his third.

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