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When should the Lions fire head coach Jim Caldwell? Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez argue about the situation and process moving forward, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, the day after a 44-20 loss in Baltimore.
Detroit Free Press

Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Stoney” show at 6 a.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at jamsam22@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen.

What does the future hold for Jim Caldwell with the Lions?

Everyone has a theory as to what the final four games should mean to Jim Caldwell’s future with the Detroit Lions.

Some want him fired now. Others will use the Buccaneers game as a measuring stick. Some think a decision will come at the end of the regular season, and a few believe Caldwell will be back in 2018 regardless of how the season finishes out.

The most amazing thing about Caldwell is we seem to ping pong back and forth around him like a lottery machine, while he calmly stands in the middle taking everything in and preparing the Lions for Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay. It’s interesting that a man so consistent in his beliefs and so consistent in his actions can cause so many to change their opinion so rapidly.

I think if you go back and read things that I’ve written about Caldwell during the past four years, you’ll read equal parts praise and derision. That’s what he inspires. Because he is so good in certain areas and deficient in others.

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I felt before the season started Caldwell needed to win a playoff game to return for his fifth year. That was before the news broke prior to the Week 3 game against the Atlanta Falcons that he had already agreed to a contract extension during the summer. Contract extensions are notable, but they are not guarantees. The L.A. Rams signed Jeff Fisher to an extension last season. Word of the extension leaked out eight days before Fisher was fired. Sean McVay was hired and the Rams are on their way to the playoffs in his first season.

Caldwell is an impressive man and an outstanding leader of men. The off-field issues that plagued the Lions under Jim Schwartz are of the past. The undisciplined style on the field has improved in terms of penalties, but it certainly hasn’t improved in terms of making sure the requisite number of players are on the field. Caldwell’s greatest strength is his unshakeable consistency.

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But I’m starting to wonder if his greatest strength isn’t also his greatest weakness.

The Lions are at the breaking point of the 2017 season. If they win out, they might make it into the playoffs. Even then, they’ll once again be headed on the road in the opening weekend of the postseason. And that’s if they even get in. Their weaknesses are obvious — an inability to run the ball and an inability to stop the run. But their slow starts are turning from an annoyance to a fatal flaw. Falling behind the Minnesota Vikings is one thing. Falling behind the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears is quite another. Maybe the play-calling needs to change. Maybe the message needs to change. But one thing seems quite apparent and that’s Caldwell needs to shake things up quickly and dramatically. Otherwise, he might be answering for his stubborn consistency with his job.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell talks to line judge Kevin Codey during the game against the Falcons at Ford Field on Sept. 24. (Photo: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

Caldwell will be judged, as any coach should, by wins and losses. And he has won more than he has lost in Detroit. But I think he should be judged by this simple question — are the Lions better off now than they were four years ago when he took over?

They battled for the playoffs his first year and fell short in the wildcard round. That seems to be their best case scenario for this season and even that is unrealistic. In 2014, the Lions had the No. 19 offense (yards per game) in the NFL and the No. 2 defense. This season, they’re No. 15 in offense and No. 7 in defense. They are plus-2 in turnover differential. Four years ago, they were a plus-7.

Personnel is definitely a factor and general manager Bob Quinn is a work in progress. But you look for your coach to be a difference maker on the field and off. Clearly, Caldwell is a difference maker off the field, but we’re still looking for the proof on it. In-game decisions have been puzzling at times with the low light coming a month ago when he opted not to kick a go-ahead field goal against the Steelers and went for a fourth-and-goal at the 1 yard line late in the third quarter. That move was surprising, so give him credit for that. But it also backfired.

I don’t want to sit here in four weeks and say I told you so. I also don’t want to wildly swing back the other way and say, “wow, I was wrong AGAIN about Caldwell.” He’s a good man and a good coach.

The Lions are looking for greatness all over the organization and it is time to look for that in the head coaching position. The clock is ticking and Caldwell’s résumé seems to be finished. Four games remain to change it and it starts Sunday in Tampa. 

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