DETROIT — The Detroit Lions fired coach Jim Caldwell on Monday after a season in which the team began well but faded and missed the playoffs.
Caldwell received a multiyear contract extension before the season. His team finished with a 35-11 victory over to Green Bay to go 9-7, its third winning record in four years. Detroit met relatively modest expectations this season, but raised hopes by starting with a 3-1 record.
Caldwell was 36-28 in four seasons and went 0-2 in two postseasons with the Lions. Including three years with the Indianapolis Colts, he is 62-50 and 2-4 in the playoffs.
When Caldwell was hired almost four years ago, he was working for a franchise with only one winning season in a 13-season stretch.
“We’re going to be smart,” Caldwell said when he was hired Jan. 14, 2014. “We’re going to be a football team that takes the field that’s not going to shoot itself in the foot.”
Detroit’s defense, though, was short-handed in consecutive games late in the season.
The Lions were down a player for a snap when Minnesota scored a touchdown in a win at Detroit on Thanksgiving and were missing two players when Baltimore converted a third down to help it take a two-TD lead in a victory. After bouncing back with two straight wins, the Lions lost what shot they had to rally for a spot in the playoffs by losing to Cincinnati in Week 16.
Even as it became clear Caldwell’s job may be in jeopardy, he took it in stride.
“That’s part of our business,” he insisted going into his last game as Detroit’s coach.
“That’s kind of the way it goes. That’s every year, right? I told you guys a story a long time ago about Marty Schottenheimer. He got fired at 14-2. So anything less than a Super Bowl, obviously it could happen.”
The Lions have never played in a Super Bowl. And since winning the 1957 NFL title, they have won only one playoff game and that lone victory was in 1992.
Caldwell, who led the Colts to the Super Bowl nearly seven years ago in his first season as an NFL head coach, got off to a solid start in Detroit with 11 wins in 2014 that was the franchise’s best regular season since 1991.
His second season got off to a slow start with a 1-7 record before rallying for a 7-9 finish that helped him be retained by general manager Bob Quinn. When the Lions hired Quinn shortly after the 2015 season, he chose to keep Caldwell around for a third season.
The Lions were 9-7 in 2015, putting Caldwell in company with Bobby Ross and Buddy Parker as Detroit coaches to earn playoff bids in two of their first three seasons.
In each of Caldwell’s four years of leading the Lions, they ranked among the NFL’s worst in yards rushing. That glaring weakness put a lot of pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford and a shaky line, leading to an offense that struggled to move the ball and score consistently.
“He does a great job in our locker room help getting us ready to go play football,” Stafford said days before the season finale. “And the rest is up to the players to go out there and make plays and win games.”