ALLEN PARK — It was a tough New Year’s morning at the Detroit Lions facility after Jim Caldwell was fired.
The coach made a huge impact on the players on and off the field, although he failed in his mission to bring a championship to Detroit.
“Obviously anytime something like that happens, it’s disappointing and tough, a guy you worked really closely with for four years and you know the amount of work he put in and the kind of person he was,. It’s tough to have it end that way,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford said on locker clean-out day.
Six other thoughts from Stafford on Caldwell and the future of the offense:
1. Caldwell worked with Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts starting off as his quarterbacks coach. When he was hired he said he didn’t think Stafford was broken but thought there were ways he could improve. That happened during Caldwell’s four-year tenure.
“He’s been great, he’s as level-headed of a guy as I’ve ever been around, he understands the position of quarterback really well and was great for me and great for a lot of guys on offense just to bounce ideas off of,’’ Stafford said. “So I have a ton of respect for him, just the way he carried himself, the way he coached us, the way he treated everybody, he’s a great guy and a great coach.’’
2. There’s a chance the Lions will retain offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter when they bring in a new coach. They also fired offensive line coach Ron Prince on Monday. If Stafford had a vote — and he might — he would like Cooter to stay.
“Jim Bob and I have a great relationship. Ever since he’s had the opportunity to take the reins this offense has moved in the right direction, in my opinion,’’ Stafford said. “I feel like I’m playing some of the best football in my career. I would love the opportunity to keep working with him. He’s been great for us and great for me.’’
3. Ever since he arrived the players have respected Caldwell on and off the field. That never changed. “Myself included, he provided a great example for guys. I think a lot of guys in this locker room, we had a lot of young guys on this team that came into the NFL not knowing ‘Hey what’s this all about?’ For their first taste as a head coach to be a guy who is as good of a person as coach Caldwell was,’’ Stafford said. “It’s a great treat for those guys to come in and have a coach who cares about his players as much as coach Caldwell did and set as good of an example as he did not only on the field but on the field is a huge positive for a lot of guys’ careers.’’
4. Even though Caldwell is gone he will have a lasting impact on the quarterback (and likely most of the players on the roster.) “There’s so many things, I spent a lot of time with him. His demeanor, as calm as he was, I think had a lot of impact on how we played. No matter what the situation of the game was, not matter what the situation of the season was, we went out there and attacked our job and tried to do the best we could,’’ Stafford said. “That’s what he preached daily — you can’t worry about all the other stuff you’ve got to go out there and no matter what the situation is go out there and play. I think we did that.’’
5. Stafford had plenty of late-game and fourth-quarter comebacks before Caldwell arrived in Detroit but he was more successful in that aspect with Caldwell. Stafford and the Lions had eight of them in the 2016 season and four this season. There’s a good reason for that.
“They were situations we practiced over and over and over again. They showed up in games and we executed. You look at a lot of teams and a lot of games in the NFL that are decided in those situations and some teams execute them well and some teams don’t,’’ Stafford said. “For the most part I think we did a pretty darned good job with those and he had a lot to do with that.”
6. Stafford was invited by former general manager Martin Mayhew to be involved in the process when Jim Caldwell was hired. Stafford is willing but does not know if he will be involved in the search process with GM Bob Quinn.
“We’ll see, haven’t been a part of a head coaching search with this front office before Obviously got to sit down with some of the guys the last time, appreciated that opportunity. Don’t know if it will happen again,’’ Stafford said. “If they want to make them available to me I’d absolutely be all for it, I know it’s going to be their decision and go from there.