Lions were down this coaching search road 4 years ago, only the names have changed

Patricia, Vrabel and Shurmur are quality candidates

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.

 

 

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Lions GM Bob Quinn wraps up interview with Teryl Austin for coaching opening

Austin came to Detroit 4 years ago with Caldwell

After four seasons as the defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin interviewed with Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn for the head coaching opening. The team announced the interview on Tuesday. Jim Caldwell was fired on Monday.

It wasn’t the first head coaching interview in the past few years for Austin — he’s been a popular candidate across the league.

Austin, 52, was asked last week about his potential interviews for head coaching spots and if the performance this season hurt his chances.

“I don’t worry about that because I can’t control that. All I control is how, you know, do we win games? Do we give ourselves a chance to win games? Do we give ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs? And obviously we didn’t do that. And that’s really all I can control and that’s all I worry about,’’ Austin said.

He said he approaches head coaching interviews the same way.

“What I’ve done in the past is, when it came up, I just crammed and studied for it like a test. You know how that is in college, sometimes you do good, sometimes you don’t do so well,’’ Austin said.

Tuesday’s interview with Quinn should have been easy since Austin knows the team well.

Austin first came to Detroit when Caldwell was hired in January 2014.

He had his best year of leading the defense that year. The Lions’ defense was ranked second in the NFL, allowing just 300.9 yards per game. The Lions finished 11-5, all was good until they lost in the playoffs.

His strength is bending the defense to fit the talent available.

Austin and his staff have excelled at developing young talent like Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs, Anthony Zettel, Kerry Hyder, Jarrad Davis and others. Put Ziggy Ansah on that list too. The defensive end has just one year experience when Austin took over the defense.

In 2015 and 2016, the defense was ranked 15th based on yards allowed per game. The defense took a big step forward in 2017, finishing in sixth place for yards allowed (355.8 per game).

In Austin’s tenure, the secondary has evolved into the strength of the defense. Slay has improved each year, finishing with eight interceptions this season. Glover Quin should be going to the Pro Bowl with Slay for another excellent season.

In the past three years, the defensive line has not recovered from the loss of Ndamukong Suh who went to Miami after the 2014 season. Haloti Ngata was a good signing but his health has been an issue. He only played five games in 2017.

Injuries have decimated the defensive line which Austin would never use as an excuse. Still there just hasn’t been enough depth. Is that Austin’s fault?

Prior to his arrival in Detroit, Austin was the defensive backs coach with the Seahawks (2003-2006) and the Arizona Cardinals (2007-2009). He was defensive coordinator at Florida in 2010, then went to the Ravens (2011-2013) as secondary coach winning his first Super Bowl championship.

Austin worked with Caldwell when he was a graduate assistant at Penn State (1991-1992) and then moved with Caldwell to Wake Forest (1993-95) where Austin was the defensive backs coach. He was also a defensive assistant at Syracuse (1996-98) and Michigan (1999-2002).

He was a three-year starter at the University of Pittsburgh and spent one year in the CFL in Montreal.

Quinn has been around for the past two seasons. He knows Austin fairly well. Gut feeling says Quinn would not interview Austin unless he was a serious candidate.

Other interviews are expected this week.

Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel will interview with Lions on Wednesday, according to MMQB’s Albert Breer.

Also Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will be interviewed on Thursday in Minnesota, per multiple reports.

The Lions are expected to interview Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia this week while New England has a bye.

The Lions will announce names of the candidates following each interview.

Lions RB Tion Green thankful that Jim Caldwell had a plan, gave him a chance

Green was a spark in a disappointing run game

ALLEN PARK — Every Lions player was impacted by Jim Caldwell’s presence from the veterans to rookies like running back Tion Green.

Proof?

When reporters were walking away after a lively chat with Green on Monday, he said, “Remember about the high cost of low living.”

That’s a Caldwell phrase, a reminder to his team to stay out of trouble.

Green, an undrafted rookie, hugged Caldwell after the Lions beat the Packers on Sunday in what turned out to be the coach’s final game.

A hug was certainly in order for the running back who was on the 53-man roster but didn’t get a chance to play until Week 13. Green didn’t know if it was Caldwell’s final game. He just wanted to hug him.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“I told him when I hugged him yesterday, “Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.’ Because statistics say, come in with as many as five running backs on the roster, 13 weeks, I thought I was going to be gone any minute. And we were hot early on too. Coach Caldwell gave me an opportunity, I can never thank him enough. Like I told him yesterday, “Thank you so much, you pretty much jump-started my career for me.’ And putting me in the situations he put me in, and keeping me and trusting me and knowing this is the potential this kid has.’’

Throwing Green into the action late in the season was part of Caldwell’s plan all along.

“That man, from the minute I met him on my 30 visit when I came, I was the last visit they had. (Teams are allowed 30 visits before the draft.) He told me, ‘I’m going to take care of you, just trust me.’ He said it was a blind leap of faith. I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ You have to trust somebody without knowing them as well. He said, ‘Trust that I’m going to take care of you.’

“When he gave me my phone call after the draft, and was like, ‘Look, if you sign with us I promise you I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, it’s going to take a moment,’’ Green said. “He told me the plan and it worked. So man, I wish the best for Coach Caldwell on and off the field. He was a great guy, a really great guy.’’

Green plans to make a quick visit home to Miami and return within a few days.

“I’m really excited about the offseason. I’m going to stay here, I kept my place in Detroit. I’m going to work on my body and my nutrition, try to develop myself, work on hip mobility, find my weaknesses and continue to try to get better,’’ Green said.

Green could earn a bigger role in the running game next year, although there are plenty of variables.

Even though he was only active in the final five games, he finished as third in rushing yards with 42 carries for 165 yards (3.9 yards per catch).

Green got a real feel for the game in those games.

“It was tremendous, it took me to another different confidence level. I feel like the NFL is all about trust — are you dependable? And it showed me a lot of times in a lot of close games, for a minute, and my coaches left me out there, gave me more opportunities, left me in the pass game, it gave me a lot of confidence that those guys were trusting me and for myself,’’ Green said. “I developed a lot of confidence knowing I was trusted to be out there.’’

His best memory is easy to recall. It was his first NFL carry, in the 44-20 loss at the Ravens.

On first-and-10, he got the ball and scampered for 33 yards. He scored his first touchdown in that same game on a 6-yard run. His mom had flown to Baltimore for the game. It was a storybook beginning to an NFL career.

“It’s like weird — that whole experience not knowing if I was going to be up or down, getting my opportunity and I remember my coach was like, “Thirty-eight, go in.’ I remember seeing the offensive line’s faces and T.J. Lang telling me, “Come on, be our spark, you’re our spark.’ I remember my first carry, just running free. You couldn’t start off a better first game, first career carry, getting the ball running. I was like finally I can showcase what I can do,’’ Green said.

He got advice from Theo Riddick before the game.

“Theo was like, ‘You’ve been doing it your whole life, it’s football. At the end of the day if you’re going to make a mistake make it at full-speed,’’ Green said. “He just said, ‘Tion, run hard and run strong.’’’

He did just that.

Typically an NFL player makes the biggest leap between year one and year two.

Green plans on working hard to make that happen.

“I’m a competitor. Those 13 weeks (when he wasn’t active) were hard, knowing that in a lot of situations I could’ve helped the team,’’ Green said. “Going into this year I want no excuses. I want to show guys I’m trustworthy, third-and-1, fourth-and-goal, goal line, whatever the case may be, first down, second down, third down, that those guys could leave me out there. It’s something I’m really working on trying to learn, especially with the new coaching staff coming in.’’

Lions GM Bob Quinn says decision to fire Caldwell was his; coaching search under way

Future of coaching staff will be determined by new coach

ALLEN PARK — Lions general manager Bob Quinn said he made the decision late on Sunday night to fire coach Jim Caldwell. The decision was his alone.

“I felt there was a need to change the leadership in this team. Starting today I’ll be leading that search to hire a new head coach for the Lions,’’ Quinn said at a New Year’s Day press conference.

The Lions beat the Packers 35-11 on Sunday to finish the season at 9-7 for the second straight year.

He said the decision did not rest on one factor.

“I just think that when you look at our record over the last couple years, since I’ve been here, we didn’t beat the really good teams. Our record was above average, 9-7, the last two years but our record against the better teams in the league has not been that good,’’ Quinn said.

Offensive line coach Ron Prince was also fired. The rest of the staff is under contract, but their future will be determined by the new head coach. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

Quinn was hired two years ago and kept Caldwell. The goal was clear for both of them — win a Super Bowl championship.

“At the end of the day I want to take this team to the next level. To me that’s winning championships, that’s winning playoff games and that’s winning the Super Bowl,’’ Quinn said.

“Ultimately I’m the person in charge of football operation here at the Lions. Ultimately the record that we’ve had the last two years is on me.’’

Quinn said there is no timetable. He would not name candidates and would not confirm whether defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will interview for the opening. He said good coaches come in all shapes and sizes. Having head coaching experience is not a prerequisite. Also, he said (when asked) he would consider college coaches.

Quinn and team president Rod Wood will conduct the interviews which will exclude the ownership. Also, players will not be a part of the process. When Caldwell was hired four years ago, Matthew Stafford was involved in the interviews.

Also, unlike the Martin Mayhew regime, Quinn said he will update the media following each coaching interview over the coming weeks.

Quinn opened his remarks with kind words for Caldwell.

“Coach Caldwell is a good football coach, a good man, a good husband, father, grandfather. On behalf of the entire organization I want to thank him personally for his service over the last four  years,’’ Quinn said. “Jim has taught me a lot, coming in as a first-time general manager, we spent a lot of time together the last two years. He helped me through that, I want to thank him for that.

“Jim has a great work ethic. There’s not a day that has gone by that his car wasn’t in the parking lot before mine, he put a lot of time and energy into this team and where we are today is part of what Jim did,’’ Quinn said. “I’m proud to say that I worked with him.’’

Six thoughts from Lions QB Matthew Stafford on Jim Caldwell’s firing

If QB had vote he would want Jim Bob Cooter to stay

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.

Three top candidates for Lions have no head coaching experience

That’s Matt Patricia wearing Goodell clown T-shirt

ALLEN PARK — After firing Jim Caldwell on Monday, Lions general manager Bob Quinn begins the process of replacing him.

Quinn’s background with the Patriots, makes it a natural assumption that he will look at New England’s defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

The Lions have requested to talk to Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Vrabel would be available immediately since the Texans are not in the playoffs.

A request has also been submitted to talk to Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

None of the three have served as an NFL head coach.

Quinn will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. on Monday.

Here’s a look at three of the top candidates.

— Patricia, 43, is a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots where he has worked since 2004. He started as an offensive assistant and has served as defensive coordinator since 2012. In the 2017 season, the Patriots defense was ranked 29th in the NFL, allowing 366.0 yards per game. Patricia apparently is not a huge fan of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  After the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, Patricia wore a shirt that featured Goodell with a red clown nose. He wore the shirt while deplaning at Logan International Airport in Boston. (See photo above, courtesy of NBC Boston.)

— Vrabel, 42, played defensive end at Ohio State. He spent 2017 as Houston Texans defensive coordinator after working as the Texans linebackers coach from 2014 to 2016. The Texans finished the 2017 regular season with the 20th ranked NFL defense, allowing 346.6 yards per game.  He coached at Ohio State from 2011-2013.

— Wilks, 48, started coaching in the college ranks and moved to the NFL in 2006 where he served as the Chicago Bears defensive backs coach until 2008. He had the same position with the San Diego Chargers from 2009-2011. Wilks joined the Panthers in 2012 as defensive backs coach and served as defensive coordinator in the 2017 season. The Panthers are the NFL’s seventh best defensive team allowing just 317.1 yards per game.

Lions owner Martha Ford issues statement on the firing of Jim Caldwell

Coach fired after four years in Detroit

Statement from Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford on the firing of coach Jim Caldwell:

“On behalf of my family and the Lions organization I would like to thank Jim Caldwell for his exemplary leadership and service to our team and our community over the past four years.

“I believe Jim is one of the finest leaders we’ve ever had as our head coach. Not only did he guide us on the field to three winning seasons, but he also set a standard of excellence off the field that had a tremendous impact on everyone in our organization and our entire community.

“As many of our players have already said, his influence on them transcended the game of football and will positively serve them throughout their lives.

“Our organization is better because of Jim, and we are forever grateful. We wish Jim, his wife Cheryl and the entire Caldwell family all the best that life can offer.”