So climb into my way-back machine. We’ll set the dial for Jan. 13, 2014. That’s the day many Lions fans (you know who you are) were pulling out their hair because Ken Whisenhunt decided to sign with the Tennessee Titans as head coach.
Lions’ fans loved Whisenhunt. The details of that adoration escape me now. He had some success in his first head coaching stint when he took over the Arizona Cardinals and when Kurt Warner was his quarterback. But he had three losing seasons before the Cardinals canned him in 2012.
Anyway, Lions fans thought he was THE answer. He interviewed with the Lions and, thanks to rampant speculation, it appeared he might get the job until he left Detroit and flew to Tennessee.
That’s when Jim Caldwell was hired by the Lions for his second stint as an NFL head coach. The Lions insisted Caldwell was not their second choice. Tony Dungy vouched for Caldwell and thought he was perfect for the Lions.
Still, fans did not seem sold. The day Caldwell was hired he said all the right things. He was hired to win a championship. Matthew Stafford wasn’t broken, but he could be better. When Caldwell had been hired by the Colts, Peyton Manning was young and had not won in the postseason. Caldwell stood at the podium at Ford Field in his introductory press conference and spoke like a preacher full of passion. The players loved him instantly because, first of all, he treated them like men.
In that first season (2014), Caldwell led the Lions to an 11-5 record and a visit to the playoffs.
That same season, Whisenhunt and the Titans went backwards, finishing 2-14 after going 7-9 in 2013. Whisenhunt didn’t make it all the way through his second season in Tennessee. He was fired after a 1-6 start. Overall he went 3-20 as head coach of the Titans. Ouch.
While Caldwell didn’t get the Lions to the promised land, he led them to winning seasons in three of his four years in Detroit and twice to the playoffs.
That brings us to today. (See where I’m going with this?)
Many fans in Detroit want Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as the coach to replace Caldwell. Then Peter King of MMQB.com wrote on Wednesday that Patricia might be more interested in the N.Y. Giants’ opening than Detroit.
Again, Lions fans are upset. They want Patricia and that Patriots’ pedigree to help save the day in Detroit. He and GM Bob Quinn know each other well. It would be perfect.
Certainly Patricia appears to have all the ingredients, including three Super Bowl rings, to be a good NFL head coach, but really no one knows. He’s never been a head coach, but he’s worked for Bill Belichick, one of the NFL’s best ever, since 2004. Certainly he’s learned something.
When the Patriots wrap up their postseason, Patricia can act on his decision. He can go to New York or Detroit.
If he decides on the Giants, the Lions could hire Mike Vrabel (the Texans defensive coordinator) or Pat Shurmur (the Vikings offensive coordinator) as Caldwell’s replacement. Either could be just as good or better than Patricia. No one knows who will be the best fit.
Vrabel is no consolation prize. He’s 42 and went from three seasons coaching linebackers and the defensive line at Ohio State to the Houston Texans where he coached linebackers (2014-16) and was coordinator in 2017. He’s a hot commodity.
The well-traveled Shurmur has spent two seasons an an NFL coach, but they were with the Cleveland Browns (2011-12) so not sure it counts. He finished 10-23 which actually would be looking pretty good to Browns fans these days. Look at the success he’s had with the Vikings this season even though they lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook early in the season.
Go ahead and make yourself crazy until the Lions introduce their new head coach. Pick your favorite and go for it. But remember, it’s a crap-shoot. The Lions have three solid candidates but there is no way to know who could have the most success in Detroit.
Remember 2014. That’s all I ask.