League observers believe it is more likely than not that Lions head coach Jim Caldwell will return to the team in 2016, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Although it has sometimes felt like a foregone conclusion that Caldwell would be fired at season’s end, the fact that the team has won five of its last seven games after starting the year 1-7 may be enough to save Caldwell’s job. Plus, as Birkett notes, Caldwell still has the support of his locker room, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweets that team ownership is also in Caldwell’s corner.
That is not to say, of course, that Caldwell’s detractors lack ammunition. Caldwell’s in-game maneuvers have left much to be desired, and the team’s turnaround did not happen until he “gave in” to the front office’s suggestions to fire position coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Until that time, the Lions looked like one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises, losing four games by double digits in the first half of the season.
New team president Rod Wood has made it clear that the team’s next GM will be the one to make the final decision on Caldwell’s future with the club, which Schefter reaffirmed today. But as Birkett observes, the timing of the GM hire could work in Caldwell’s favor. Many of the league’s top head coaching candidates currently work for clubs that will not make the playoffs, which means they could be off the board by the time the Lions hire their next GM. Birkett writes that Detroit will begin submitting formal requests for interviews tomorrow, but the team is expected to be very thorough in its search, and it could be a week or more before the Lions name their next top executive. At that point, Caldwell and the continuity that he represents could be more appealing than any of the remaining head coaching options.
Caldwell, who is in the second year of a four-year contract he signed prior to the 2014 season, has guided Detroit to a 17-14 record and a playoff appearance during his tenure with the club.