It was something of a shock when the Titans hired Ken Whisenhunt, primarily because he was thought to have the inside track to the Lions job. Instead, Detroit turned to Jim Caldwell, who served as the Ravens' offensive coordinator during the 2013 season, and before that, the Colts head coach from 2009-11.
And while Caldwell's hire didn't engender much enthusiasm from fans, he was apparently impressive in his interview, and perhaps more importantly, had the backing of one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Peyton Manning called Lions general manager Martin Mayhew -- unsolicited -- to offer his unwavering support for Caldwell. Mayhew said Manning raved about Caldwell's abilities as a quarterbacks coach, a role he had with the Colts from 2002-2008.
Manning wasn't alone in his praise. Former NFL quarterback Kerry Collins, whom Caldwell coached at Penn State, offered this:
"(He) taught me what it took to play at that level, the preparation that it took and the attention to detail to doing things the right way all the time," Collins told the Detroit Free Press. "Not just some of the time, all of the time. That was his big thing, and as a young quarterback, it was a message that I really needed to hear and one that really helped me as I moved forward in my career."
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has the physical tools, but poor decision making and worse mechanics have contributed to inconsistent play and, ultimately, losing. Not surprisingly, Caldwell's first order of business: Making Stafford better.
"Within our system, he's going to have some flexibility, but also, there's going to be some parameters as well, which I think he'll be amenable to," he said, via MLive.com. "I think he'll do a great job in that area as well. ... I'm anxious and excited about giving him an opportunity to work within those parameters and I think you're going to see improvement from the onset. He's a willing guy, he's capable, he has an immense amount of talent and we've just got to bring that to the forefront."
And Tony Dungy, the former Colts coach who had Caldwell on his staff, sees similarities between Stafford and Manning.
"Stafford is a lot like Peyton was early in his career, making a lot of explosive plays and some mistakes," Dungy told The Associated Press. "Jim was able to get through to Peyton to teach him that he could still make explosive plays without taking so many risks. And, he'll help Stafford do that."
If Caldwell is as good as Manning, Dungy and Collins say he is, then not only should Stafford be much better, but the Lions should be a playoff team in 2014. (Frankly, they should have been a playoff team in 2013 but a late-season implosion derailed those plans -- and cost Jim Schwartz his job.)
"Look at some of the great ones in their fifth year," Caldwell said. "Look at their numbers. Then look at them in their ninth and 10th year. You just see that they start to grow and develop. They keep going, and that's the stage I think that he's at right now. He's going to keep developing and turn into an outstanding player. "