When it comes to Jim Caldwell returning as Detroit Lions coach, I am of two minds. In fact, my minds are arguing with each other right now:
“I like Caldwell. Nice guy. I’m glad he’s staying.”
I like Caldwell, too. But he should go.
“How can you say that? He’s heading to the playoffs for the second time in three years. In Detroit, those are Hall of Fame credentials.”
Here’s how I say it. His first trip ended in a road loss after losing the division title to Green Bay. Saturday likely will be a road loss, after losing the division title to Green Bay. You want to reward a pattern like that?
“It’s not a reward. It’s not five years, $50 million. The Lions are keeping him for another season because they believe in what he’s building.
Nice theory. But what he’s building is mediocrity. The Lions were one fourth-quarter loss from being 8-8. They have one victory over a team with a winning record.
“Don’t you always say win the ones you’re supposed to win?”
Don’t you always say ‘Never settle’?
“Look before you leap!”
He who hesitates is lost!
Time out, minds! My head hurts.
Why now? Why him?
OK. Let’s think about something else. The timing. Again, I am of two minds. And both are shouting …
“Of course you hire Caldwell back now! What better time? Take all speculation away. Let the team focus on winning in Seattle!”
But what if they don’t win in Seattle? What if they get blown out? That would make four losses in a row to the toughest four teams on their schedule. Will you still have an appetite for keeping him?
“If you believe in what he’s building, then, win or lose, you are committing to it.”
So you’re committing to a 9-7 season.
“Listen to the players. The Lions always say they enjoy playing for Caldwell.”
Exactly. And how often do championship teams gush about the fun they’re having? Do the New England Patriots adore Bill Belichick? Did the Dallas Cowboys love Tom Landry? Heck, players hated Vince Lombardi.
“Nice references. Why not go back to the 1800s? In today’s game, you need to have the players behind you.”
As I recall, the Lions loved Wayne Fontes. Look where that got them.
“So, who would you rather have?”
Someone who’s proven.
“Who has been to a Super Bowl.”
“Like Jim Caldwell.”
No! Well. Yes, but no. He inherited Tony Dungy’s team. He never built a winner himself.
“So, someone like John Fox.”
Yes! He took Carolina to the Super Bowl after two seasons. He took the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl after two seasons.
“And right now, he’s fighting for his job after a miserable 3-13 season in Chicago. Do you forget what happens with a new coach? He gets a year to shake it up. Another to bring in his own guys. By the third season, if it doesn’t work out, you’ve wasted all that time.”
Not the same.
“The grass is always greener.”
Strive for excellence.
“One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”
Stop! Stop! I need an aspirin.
He’s not that good. Or is he?
OK, minds, what about Caldwell’s actual duties as coach? Can we at least agree on how he does his job?
“He’s professional. He’s accountable. He’s a pro.”
That’s like saying your blind date has nice hair. What about his halftime adjustments? They’re never good. What about the inexplicable breakdowns on defense? Or 12 men on the field? The Lions were 25th in the NFL in penalty yardage — and they often came at the worst time.
“What team doesn’t make mistakes? The Lions had some impressive stats. They actually were eighth in the league in converting third downs.’’
And next-to-last in giving them up.
“Caldwell doesn’t get rattled. He keeps the Lions focused on the next week. And they always believe that they can come back.”
That’s because they’re usually behind. And while he may not get rattled, how come he often looks like he’s not getting it?
“Now you’re being mean.”
I’m just saying what fans say.
“Fans don’t know. Being a coach is much more than news conferences. It’s personnel evaluation. It’s enduring injuries. It’s the attitude you demand. It’s the guys you hire.”
Well, one guy he hired — Joe Lombardi — went so far south, he’s gone. And another guy he has hired, Teryl Austin, gets way too much credit.
“Tell that to teams who want to make him a head coach.”
Show me one.
“You’re so negative.”
You’re so Pollyanna.
Enough! This is what happens when a team shows flashes of very good and flashes of same-old bad.
The fact is, the Lions are keeping Caldwell. General manager Bob Quinn believes in him enough. And if they somehow win Saturday, I bet that the majority of fans will, as well.
Of course, if they lose …
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.