Detroit Lions Ownership Already Mismanaging The Offseason

Oct 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Lions ownership is in mid-season form, already making a mess of this especially important offseason.

Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford got things (almost) right this season when she cleaned house. She got rid of general manager Martin Mayhew and his sub-par drafting skills. She fired team president Tom Lewand and his penchant for mismanaging cap space. The team also said so long to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and his underwhelming offense that lacked coordination, execution, and results.

But like a true Lion, Ford didn’t get things quite right when she went on her firing binge. Unfortunately, she never fired head coach Jim Caldwell. Instead she waited. She waited to see how the team would respond in the second half of the season. She waited to see if Jim Caldwell could hold things together (and maybe if the Lions could make the playoffs).

While it’s undeniable that the Lions did turn things around considerably, and Caldwell did keep the team united and focused, ultimately the NFL is a bottom-line business, and Jim Caldwell hasn’t gotten the job done.

While the Lions went 6-2 in the second half of the season, they did not make the playoffs, and Caldwell is still responsible for the horrid first half of the season. He’s also responsible for hiring Lombardi (and his stagnant offense), and for sticking with him too long.

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While Caldwell can’t be blamed for referee errors (or controversial calls/no-calls that went against the Lions – Devin Taylor‘s “face-mask” penalty and K.J. Wright‘s illegal batting of the ball in the end zone), a more proactive or better game-managing coach might have had his team better prepared for Green Bay’s last second Hail Mary.

Ultimately, Caldwell appears to be a coach who has his team’s respect but is below average as an in-game manager, and too conservative for his own good when the lights shine the brightest. The best thing about Caldwell may be his current coordinators (only one of whom he originally hired) Jim Bob Cooter and Teryl Austin.

But apparently he’s good enough for Martha. Or is he? No one is 100% if Caldwell (and staff) will be back, but while Ford waits (and passes the buck to the next GM), the Lions offseason promises to be more challenging (and perhaps less satisfying).

The longer the Lions wait to definitively say whether Caldwell will be returning as coach, the more it puts his coordinators in limbo. And why would they be 100% invested in Detroit if they’re not certain they’ll even have a job there moving forward?

Ford has said that the next GM will make the decision on whether Caldwell stays or goes. While that might sound nice, it may also be limiting the pool of capable GM candidates for the Lions. Without Ford giving Caldwell the axe herself, prospective GMs might be worried that Caldwell will be forced upon them, behind closed doors.

Ford could have avoided any ambiguity, and quelled any reservations, by firing Caldwell herself. But she has chosen, and stuck hard to, her middle-of-the-road stance on Caldwell.

Meanwhile, the Lions have four GM candidates lined up for interviews (Trent Kirchner, Bob Quinn, Kevin Abrams, and current interim GM Sheldon White), but don’t appear to be in too big of a hurry to complete the interview process.

Ford did promise an extensive GM search this off-season, from the moment she fired Mayhew, and extensive searches are usually a good thing. But the longer this process takes to play out, the smaller the pool of capable head coaches will be, thus limiting the effectiveness of the new GM’s first big decision as a Lion (whether to keep Caldwell or not, and if not, who to replace him with).  Assuming that decision is really, truly, 100% up to the new GM at all.

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For now, this is Martha Ford’s team, so let’s hope she can be both decisive and shrewd this off-season. One without the other will put the Lions between a rock and hard place yet again.