Roy Harris Guest Column — I Never Trusted Jim Caldwell From Day One

I hated the Jim Caldwell hire from the first moment that he stepped into Ford Field.

Having lived in Indiana during Caldwell’s reign of ineptitude, I knew that he possessed the game management skills of an opiated Robin Arryn. My Lions fan deprogramming was in its infancy, but I never held more than a passing interest in the Colts.

Yet, who could forget Peyton Manning’s exasperated response to Caldwell’s bungling of the 2011 Colts-Jets playoff game? Manning’s wide-eyed bewilderment spoke volumes.

Sure, Manning called the Lions to endorse Caldwell. Why not? What’s he got to lose? But what stood out to me at the time – and seems especially relevant as Caldwell’s tenure with the Lions crawls to an inauspicious, and overdue, conclusion – is the measured terms that Manning used to endorse Comatose Jim. When asked about the endorsement, Manning focused on his appreciation of Caldwell as a position coach, not as head coach.

“Jim Caldwell has meant a great deal to me in my career. I felt like once he got to Indianapolis and became my quarterbacks coach that my game really improved. I felt like it took a step up and I thought Jim had a great deal to do with that…I just felt from 2003 really until 2008 when he was the quarterbacks coach, I was playing at a high level. I was glad to call the Lions on his behalf and share my thoughts of what he might be able to do to help their organization. I was really happy for him that he got that job.”

Notably, Manning emphasized Caldwell’s contributions from 2003 through 2008. Caldwell didn’t get the Indy head coaching gig until 2009. Peyton knew. All of Indiana knew. Shit, I suspect that even Jim Caldwell knew.

But my beef with the Rev. Jim’s hire wasn’t really about his time in Indy. I was willing to consider the possibility that Caldwell grew as a coach and learned from his experiences in Indy and “Bawlmer” (David Simon™). Hell, I still think that Jim Schwartz will be an above-replacement-level head coach when he gets his next shot.

No. My revulsion for the Caldwell hire began as soon as he opened his mouth at the introductory press conference. Most new head coaches use this softball opportunity to talk tough, set a tone, and fire up the fan base. Not Rev. Jim. He clearly was aware of the underwhelming response to the announcement of his hiring. He spent a great deal of time trying to convince the fans and media that he was qualified for the job and knew how to coach football.

Who does that?

As a black man who deluded himself into thinking that he was going to grow up to be the next Lynn Swann or James Harris, I’ve always been intrigued and angered by antiquated notions that black men don’t have the mental wherewithal to quarterback or coach elite NFL teams. I instinctively Stanned over Warren Moon, Doug Williams, Steve McNair and other black quarterbacks who chipped away at the glass ceiling in the NFL.

But black NFL head coaches are different. Yes, guys with swagger have received their opportunities, with varying levels of success; think Art Shell, Dennis Green, Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis, Mike Tomlin, and Raheem Morris. To be sure, Tomlin has earned his place on the short list of revered NFL coaches of this era; but who is the godfather of black NFL coaches to fans? Tony “The meek shall inherit the Earth” Dungy.

Tomlin’s wavy swagger aside, prior to the 2017 round of hirings, there was a recipe for hiring black coaches in the Rooney Rule era. Look the part. Be humble. Wrap yourself in the flag and religion. Stay away from politics and social issues. Eat that Papa John’s pizza. There’s a reason that the coaches on the razor’s edge of social issues are white guys coaching in the NBA.

So I say all of that to say that Caldwell’s initial presser made me want to vomit. Here was a black man who was content to accept the role of the docile people-pleaser who seemed neither dangerous nor spectacular. Caldwell presented as the type of guy who would go on the Spiro Avenue podcast (R.I.P.) and say that the NFL is a pure meritocracy; the type of guy who is willing to swallow bitter pills in exchange for a few “attaboys,” “he speaks so wells,” and “I love Jim Caldwells.”

Before you get yourself all lathered up — save your Twitter-fingers and don’t @ me. No, I am not calling Caldwell a black Republican – hell, he doesn’t even give us enough to reach such conclusions about his politics or worldview. I am not even calling him a shucking and jiving Uncle Tom. I’m simply stating that the way that Caldwell presented himself in that initial press conference gave me reason to pause.

Name another qualified head coach who would willingly put on such a song-and-dance for the local fans and media. Like demands to respond to the actions of a criminal or criminally- insane person of your ethnicity (“what about the violence on the south side”), that’s some shit that only a black man would be asked to do. And only a black man in the Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Lovie Smith mold would so easily acquiesce.

Week after week, led by Rochelle “Give Him a Chance” Riley, we of the black delegation (Tommy Davidson™) rationalized game day blunder after game day blunder by Comatose Jim. Losing to an equally incompetent Bengals team on Sunday forfeited the last bit of charity that even Riley could muster.

Bob Wojnowski wrote today about Caldwell showing “admirable restraint” and “grace under fire.” If that’s the dominant impression that your NFL head coach leaves you with, you’re in for a lot of .500 football seasons and Peyton Manning – “what the fuck is this comatose motherfucker doing?” – head scratching moments. All of this could have been avoided if the Lions hired a coach who was more interested in winning football games than looking the part.

(Roy Harris is an attorney in the Metro Detroit area and longtime DSR contributor. And clearly not a fan of Jim Caldwell.)