How Jim Caldwell changed the mindset of the Detroit Lions
December, 17, 2014
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It was halftime in London and the Detroit Lions had done little right in the first half against Atlanta. They practiced in England for a week and spent the first 30 minutes of Week 8 appearing jet-lagged.
Detroit’s first-year coach, Jim Caldwell, could have screamed or yelled in frustration or to motivate. Many coaches would. In years past, this would have happened. Not Caldwell. Not even close.
“You don’t understand, man,” offensive lineman Rodney Austin said. “I’ve never seen a coach down 21 at halftime that calm. He came in and was like, ‘Look, we didn’t play well and we know we didn’t play well. But what we have to do now is go out there and play well. So let’s go do it.’
“That was his message. I was just standing there in shock, like he didn’t raise his voice. I don’t think as he spoke, his blood pressure didn’t go up. I don’t even think he started sweating hard.”
Lions players knew Caldwell wasn’t a screamer, one of the multitude of reasons Detroit hired him to replace the fiery Jim Schwartz. The monotone calmness Caldwell provided that day – and pretty much every day – was noticed. It had already been a theme during Caldwell’s first season. The Lions continually looked to the sidelines during come-from-behind wins to see the same level of emotion every time.
The Lions are 10-4 and headed toward a playoff berth. Caldwell might be the biggest reason why. This has been the antithesis of a typical Lions season. Instead of folding late in a season, they are thriving. Detroit is 3-3 in games in which it trailed by 14 or more points, including against Atlanta on Oct. 26 in London. The rest of the NFL is 11-128 in that situation.
“He’s our flight attendant,” receiver Jeremy Ross said. “When there’s a lot of turbulence on the plane, you look to the flight attendant to see whether you should panic or not. If the flight attendants are calm and they are not worrying when the plane is going all over the place, you’re like, ‘OK, they’ve been here before. They know it’s going to be OK.’
“If they are freaking out, then you’re freaking out, like, ‘Dang, is there something I don’t know?’ So him, when you look at him, he’s calm. He’s reserved. At halftime if we’re down, he’s not like, ‘Ahh, we gotta go.’ He’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s get better and let’s make plays and it’s simple.’"
Caldwell’s influence shows most in those moments, including four game-winning fourth-quarter drives. Detroit’s players look to their inspirational quotation encyclopedia of a head coach to give them on-field stability.
It’s been that way since his hiring.
“He’s got everybody’s ear in the room, you know,” guard Rob Sims said. “That takes a special person to get everybody in the room and maybe lose a couple guys opposed to having a couple guys and losing the whole room, if you know what I mean.
“That’s pretty much what it is. He’s able to grab your attention by his content and how authentic he is.”
Rashean Mathis, 34, is one of the oldest players on the Lions. He’s been through several head coaches between Jacksonville and Detroit. He often says he’s been in the league long enough that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. Then he met with Caldwell for 30 minutes in Caldwell’s office on Mathis’ first day in Detroit after re-signing.
The conversation veered from football to family. By the end, it felt like a father-son conversation instead of a boss-employee one. The pivotal moment came when Mathis said Caldwell told him the game was about the players and he was here to help him succeed. A head coach never told Mathis that before.
“That’s like your boss coming to you and saying, ‘You’re what drives my business,’" Mathis said. “Not too many bosses or people in authority are going to come tell their employees that, that you are what makes my business work, even if it’s known. So that was a comment that sold me.
“I’ve heard some assistants say it: 'We wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for you.' But coming from a head coach and he’s conveyed it to the team, he’s conveyed it in front of the coaches, it means a lot. It means a lot. Those little things matter.”
This season, Caldwell’s little things have meant a whole lot in turning a perennial loser into a possible playoff team.http://espn.go.com/blog/detroit-lions/p ... roit-lions