Chicago Bears should hire former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

I was one of the first reporters to call for Jim Caldwell’s dismissal as the Detroit Lions’ coach.

But when reports surfaced that Caldwell is one of the favorites for the Chicago Bears’ job, I thought there was no one else I would like to see get that job more than him.

Caldwell is a good coach. He proved that with a 62-50 record in seven seasons coaching the Indianapolis Colts from 2009-11 and the Lions from 2014-17. He led the Lions to the playoffs twice in four seasons and his .563 winning percentage in the regular season (36-28) is the best among Detroit’s full-time coaches in the Super Bowl era.

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He also brought much-needed stability to a team racked with discipline problems during the Jim Schwartz era. He helped improve Matthew Stafford’s mechanics and fundamentals, which cut down on the quarterback’s erratic play and led to better statistics in several meaningful categories like touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Caldwell and I weren’t friends, but I appreciated his wisdom and the thought he put into treating his players fairly. He could tell some fun stories from his lengthy career. He is well-read and imbued his approach to coaching the team with knowledge from all segments of life. Rarely did a week go by that I didn’t learn something from Caldwell: a reading suggestion, music, a historical quote or anecdote. He is an interesting person whom I like on a personal level.

So why did I call for the Lions to move on from such a swell guy in 2017?

Essentially because he was a good coach, but he wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t the difference maker the Lions needed to get over the hump from being a playoff contender to being a division champion and consistent winner in the postseason. And that’s what they aspired to during his time.

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The thing everyone remembers about Caldwell’s tenure is Bob Quinn’s infamous quote after his first season as general manager in 2016. The Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs that season, but Quinn said nine wins wasn’t good enough.

But remember the context. Quinn was coming from the Patriots, who had last won ONLY nine games in 2002. He was hired to turn the Lions into Super Bowl contenders.

Also, Quinn’s full quote was more encompassing of the organizational aspirations he was hired to achieve: “There’s still a lot of work to do. You know, nine wins is a good season. It’s not nearly good enough for what we want.”

Plus, the 2016 season ending was brutal. The Lions were rolling and had won five straight to reach 9-4. Then they lost their last three games, including a blowout 42-21 loss in Dallas, then they failed to reach the end zone in a 26-6 wild-card loss at Seattle.

It wasn’t just Quinn. Everyone was unhappy. It was an extremely disappointing finish and no one thought Quinn was out of line with his comments.

At that point, Caldwell had been in Detroit for three seasons and several things were clear. He could fix problems and he could win games. But no one considered him an outstanding coach bursting with playoff promise — an early expectation that clearly needed a major assist from Peyton Manning. His offense and defense each finished in the overall top-10 ranking just once and his coaching staff wasn’t brimming with future stars.

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Yes, 9-7 seems great these days. But it wasn’t in 2017, when the Lions were eliminated from playoff contention after they lost to the pitiful Cincinnati Bengals in the second-to-last game. There seemed no other choice but to move on and let Quinn do what he was always going to do: hire one of his Patriots buddies.

It was a shame it didn’t work with Caldwell. It was important for a historic NFL team that plays in Detroit to have a Black coach. It’s an important symbol in our community, where Caldwell and his wife did meaningful charitable work.

Something I never understood was the undercurrent I felt from some fans and still see on social media about implied racism over Caldwell’s firing. Sometimes it’s been directed at the media, sometimes it’s a general lament about the higher standard Caldwell was held to compared to white coaches.

I can’t answer for every hiring and firing scenario in the NFL, but I can tell you this. I never felt the Lions were racially biased in their decision to fire him. I also never felt a racial bias from the Detroit media. As a person of color, trust me when I tell you that I would have confronted any reporter who treated Caldwell unfairly because of his race. Caldwell was even asked on the record whether he felt he was treated unfairly because of his race. He said no.

I wanted Caldwell to succeed, which is why it broke my heart a little when he began to needlessly antagonize reporters. Caldwell isn’t the first or last coach in Detroit to joust with the media. But for someone of his intelligence and experience, I was shocked by how little he understood the media’s job.

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In the first few years, Caldwell tried to have a good relationship with reporters and deserves credit for that. He invited a small group of beat writers (I was not one of them) to an informal meal before the season. I don’t remember why it happened, but for some reason the relationship soured.

He coined the “dungeon of doom” phrase because he thought we were negative. He didn’t like reporters holding smartphones in front of their faces when they asked questions as they recorded video. He was sometimes suspicious about the reason behind a question. He lost his cool and argued with reporters in news conferences and accused at least one reporter (no, not me) of having an agenda.

It might feel strange that I’m going over a litany of Caldwell’s struggles while championing his candidacy as the Bears’ next coach. But I want him to get the job and do well is because he’s a smart man and I want to see him, at age 67, take all the erudition he gained from his experience in Detroit and apply it to the Bears, the team he grew up rooting for.

You never know what the right fit is going to be for a coach and a team. But any experienced coach with a winning record and a good reputation deserves another chance in the NFL. Because maybe nine wins aren’t good enough, but 62 wins sure are.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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