A new era has begun in Detroit, as the Lions have hired Jim Caldwell as the new head coach.
With the change at the top, the Lions will also have new coordinators. In addition, a couple of new position coaches will be in place.
Teryl Austin takes over as defensive coordinator, while Joe Lombardi assumes the offensive coordinator role. Bill Sheridan is the new linebackers coach, and Ron Prince comes on board as the tight ends coach and assistant head coach.
The new head coach comes to Detroit from Baltimore, where he served as offensive coordinator for the Ravens.
One of the more alluring aspects of his background is Caldwell's rise to that role in Baltimore. After the team sputtered for much of the 2012 season, the Ravens promoted Caldwell from quarterbacks coach with just three weeks remaining.
Quarterback Joe Flacco went on an epic run, the offense hummed with potent efficiency and the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl.
It's that sort of magic in working with quarterbacks that offers great hope for Caldwell in Detroit. Matthew Stafford met with Caldwell during the interview, and that meeting went well according to NFL.com.
Getting Stafford to consistently perform at his best is the biggest key for improvement in Detroit, and it's a great sign that the unreliable talent has bought into his new head coach.
Caldwell has prior head-coaching experience, leading the Colts from 2009 to 2011. With Peyton Manning at the helm of a dynamic passing attack, his first two seasons resulted in playoff berths. Indianapolis went to the Super Bowl in his first season, a rare feat for a rookie coach.
Prior to that, he served in various capacities with the Colts for many years, primarily working with Manning as he ascended into the pantheon of greatest NFL quarterbacks.
Many fans note his final season, the debacle of 2011. With Manning out, the Colts cratered to a 2-14 finish and earned the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Caldwell has long been affiliated with Tony Dungy, serving under him in both Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. Dungy gave the Lions a hearty endorsement of his protege, according to Fox Sports.
Like Dungy, Caldwell is noted for his calm demeanor and supportive nature. Some mistake that for lacking strength, but the new coach is all about respect and treating players like men.
After years of being berated and yelled at by Jim Schwartz, this should be a very welcome change.
Like Caldwell, Austin comes to Detroit from Baltimore. He was their defensive backs coach for the last three seasons.
He has been a coordinator just once, at the University of Florida in 2010. Michigan fans might recall his stint as defensive backs coach for the Wolverines.
Austin hopes to bring a more aggressive and diverse defense to Detroit. As he told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, "I think it’s important that you give people different looks, give them different ways to block you, give them different problems both in the run and pass."
In both Baltimore and Arizona, Austin coached on a predominately 3-4 defense. He did run a 4-3 at Florida, however.
Expect to see less of the Wide 9 as a base defense, but the Lions will not abandon it entirely. Nor would they be wise to do so, as it provides defensive end Ziggy Ansah with a great vehicle to operate as a pass-rusher.
One of the implications of blitzing more and using different alignments is that the Lions will have to find a linebacker adept at blitzing. Neither Stephen Tulloch nor DeAndre Levy are very good blitzers, and none of the other holdovers have any experience.
First off, the answer is yes, Joe is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.
That certainly shows he has an ability to sustain greatness in a highly talented player, something that appeals to Detroit with Stafford. Brees and the Saints have posted historically prolific numbers over the past few seasons.
Lombardi figures to bring some of their vertical attacking and uptempo style to Detroit.
Prior to working under Sean Payton in New Orleans, Lombardi spent one year as a defensive assistant with the Atlanta Falcons. That came after being the offensive coordinator at Mercyhurst College for several years.
In an interesting tidbit in his bio page on the Saints website, Lombardi spent a year coaching in the XFL.
Lombardi is relatively young at just 42 years old. I talked to several NFL coaches and personnel here in Mobile for the Senior Bowl this week about Lombardi, and all of the responses were very positive and encouraging.
Prince comes to the Lions as both the tight ends coach and the assistant head coach. That means he has more command and focus over the team at large than just his positional grouping.
His hiring raised some eyebrows, as Prince has never been a tight ends coach in his career.
His most notable coaching experience came as the head coach at Kansas State from 2006 to 2008. He had some success in Manhattan, though his dismissal resulted in an ugly legal affair. As described in great detail by the Marquette Law School briefing, Prince sued the university for non-payment of his termination fee.
Most of his positional work has come in working with offensive lines, including serving in that capacity under Caldwell in Indianapolis for two years.
If he can coax better blocking from young tight end Joseph Fauria, he will quickly earn his keep. His background working with linemen should also help Michael Williams, the team's seventh-round pick a year ago. Williams missed his rookie season with a hand injury but figures to line up as the blocking tight end moving forward.
The Lions brought in a Michigan man in Sheridan, who will oversee the linebackers.
Sheridan previously coached in Ann Arbor at Michigan, one of many stops on his lengthy coaching trail.
Most recently, Sheridan served as the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Greg Schiano the last two seasons. He helped mold linebacker Lavonte David into a rising star, as well as helping Gerald McCoy emerge as one of the best defensive tackles in the league.
He does have experience coaching linebackers at the NFL level, having served in that capacity for the New York Giants in the mid-2000s.
Sheridan actually coached Lions president Tom Lewand at Shrine High in Royal Oak, Michigan, as noted by Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
Detroit could very well be adding another linebacker to the mix in the draft, perhaps as early as the 10th overall pick in the draft. Sheridan has some work to do with youngsters Tahir Whitehead and Brandon Hepburn as well.
The Lions did retain several coaches form Schwartz's staff. Most notable among those are offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Both have done excellent work in recent years, and the reaction to their retention has been nothing but positive around Mobile this week.
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