This is how the high points of Jim Caldwell's résumé might read:
• Super Bowl title (2006 season) as assistant head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
• Super Bowl appearance (2009 season) as the head coach in Indy, where it could be argued the game was lost to New Orleans due to an onside kick and a brutal Peyton Manning pick-six.
• Super Bowl title (2012 season) as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, where he was promoted with just three games remaining in the regular season and promptly turned the offense around for an epic stretch run.
And this is how one of the most famous bits of video associated with Jim Caldwell reads:
• A baffled Peyton Manning staring around Lucas Oil Stadium in disbelief after Caldwell inexplicably called timeout with 29 seconds left in a 2011 playoff game against the New York Jets. Indy led 16-14 and New York was sitting on the 32-yard line, leaving the possibility of a 49-yard field-goal attempt. Instead it completed an 18-yard pass and won on a 32-yard chip shot.
Based on much of the public reaction Tuesday to the Detroit Lions hiring Caldwell to be their head coach, it's clear a picture, or at least that picture of Manning, is worth 100,000 words and an entire résumé.
Maybe it's the fact Detroit missed on its top target – Ken Whisenhunt chose Tennessee instead on Monday. Maybe it's the perception that Caldwell was just riding Manning's coattails in Indy during those years. Or maybe it's a quite understandable backlash over that nonsensical timeout in a critical moment.
Whatever it is, the hiring of Jim Caldwell, despite the background and the experience and a persona that is unquestionably impressive and substantive, was met with plenty of doubts and negativity.
There's no question Caldwell blew that call against the Jets. Afterward, his explanation added to the perception that he was a confused mess in crunch time.
"I didn't care," he said postgame. "I was going to make sure that they couldn't … make them snap the ball. They were in field-goal range. We wanted to try to make them snap the ball as many times as they possibly could."
Who knows what he was trying to say. Or do.
Still, as much as that wasn't the advisable strategy, as far as coaching blunders go it ranks relatively low on the all-time list. New York still was going to get a shot at a long, but makeable winning field goal. The Jets even still had a timeout, so there was an opportunity to run another play – even a running play or pass over the middle – and then line up the kick.
Caldwell's timeout gave the Jets a chance to catch their breaths and strategize – during the timeout quarterback Mark Sanchez successfully lobbied coach Rex Ryan to let him go for the throat and throw a relatively deep out to Braylon Edwards (which, of course, worked).
So, no, it wasn't a good moment for Jim Caldwell. It was hardly the first or last coaching blunder in the NFL. And it certainly shouldn't overwhelm the man's entire career.
Yet because of Manning's reaction – an all-timer of a demonstrative Manning face that not even a helmet and facemask could hide – it became a far more famous mistake than it normally would have.
Maybe the Lions got a guy who is incapable of game management in pressure situations. Or maybe they got a guy who is unfairly burdened by the sideline posing of a quarterback known for just that and they just picked up an undervalued asset.
Time – and wins – will tell. It always does.
Caldwell, 58, is a good man. No one denies that. He appears to be a very good coordinator. His head coaching record is 26-22, but it is marred by the 2011 regular season where the Colts went 2-14 after Manning was lost for the year to injury. Indy fired him after that. Like many NFL coaches, he should benefit from the experience of his stint leading the Colts. After all, three of the four coaches in championship weekend have been fired – Bill Belichick by Cleveland, Pete Carroll by New England and John Fox by Carolina.
There is, however, considerable expectations to win right away, even for a franchise that has just one playoff victory since 1957. The Lions are loaded with talent, especially on offense.
Caldwell's background on that side of the ball, coupled with his time as a head coach, were traits Detroit sought. The belief is QB Matthew Stafford needs better development. Well, here's a guy who worked with Manning and helped Joe Flacco attain a level of play some felt was unattainable. Throw in weapons such as Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, and points should come in bunches.
The playoffs should be reached immediately – if not for a brutal stretch of late-game collapses, the Lions would have made it this year.
Upon opening up the job hunt, team president Tom Lewand cited those very factors in declaring the Lions the most attractive open coaching job in the league. So this is no rebuild. The fact Caldwell wasn't the team's first choice only increases the scrutiny. He'll now always be compared to Whisenhunt.
Which means after all these years in football, all the success attained, Jim Caldwell has plenty still to prove, perhaps especially in the next final, frantic moments of a tight game when he tries to manage a clock.
That Manning face reaction still haunts him, calling over-sized attention to perhaps the worst in-game decision of his lengthy career.
There might be one other thing to read on Caldwell's résumé. One other thing that speaks volumes.
It would be under references, although the person listed reportedly didn't wait for teams considering Caldwell to dial him up. Instead he took time out of his playoff preparation to lobby general managers on behalf of his old coach. Maybe that proactive move says more about the significance of that 2011 timeout than anything else, and suggests the true confidence in the ability of Jim Caldwell is deeper than an instantaneous sideline reaction.
The reference fully behind Jim Caldwell getting another shot as a head coach, the one who kept dialing everyone up across the NFL this month and singing his praises?
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