Before we get into Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL, let’s get something straight: The brilliant Jim Caldwell has been the best available coach for four straight years, especially for teams developing young quarterbacks.
Today, Peyton Manning is such a legend that many forget he threw 81 interceptions in his first four years before Caldwell became his QB Coach after a 6-10 season. Today Matthew Stafford is heading to the Super Bowl, but in 2012-2013 he was stumbling (11-21) and some were asking “what to do when your star hits a wall?”. Oh yes, Caldwell also won a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco as Ravens Offensive Coordinator (OC).
Save for Andy Reid, no active head coach has had the triple-QB success of Caldwell. So it comes as little surprise Brian Flores would highlight Caldwell on pages 41-42 in his lawsuit against the NFL. The Flores lawsuit documents the NFL’s overall racism, including against Colin Kaepernick; data on NFL discrimination in coach hiring (23-33); and “notable examples” (34-46) that highlight specific Black coaches – including Jim Caldwell is Exhibit A – the most egregious coach example of all, even more than Eric Bieniemy, also highlighted in Flores suit. The goal of this article is to go even further to bolster Caldwell’s case before any future legal proceedings.
I. JIM CALDWELL AND THE RISE OF PEYTON MANNING
Flores Lawsuit: “In 2009, Jim Caldwell was hired as the Indianapolis Colts head coach. The team went 14-2 in his first year and made it to the Super Bowl… [and had] a total record of 27-8 over his first two seasons.”
Caldwell’s head coach start wasn’t merely good or great, it was historic. And he did it despite losing Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison to injury and retirement. More Facts:
· 16-0? Caldwell set a rookie coach NFL record by starting 14-0 and headed for a 16-0 season, but Colts management forced Caldwell to rest Manning and many of his starters in their final two games. In the final two games, back-up QB Curtis Painter would complete 8 of 28 attempts for 83 yards.
· Super Bowl: Caldwell was only the 5th rookie head coach in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl. Manning, who often struggled in the playoffs, only reached the Super Bowl once in 11 seasons.
· Situational Football: The 2009 Colts would set an NFL record with seven 4th quarter comebacks, a mark that would stand until Caldwell and Mathew Stafford posted a new record (8) in 2016.
Caldwell was Peyton’s head coach for only two seasons, but his most important coaching was as Peyton’s QB coach. Just ask Peyton.
“Jim Caldwell has meant a great deal to me in my career,” said Manning in 2014. “I felt like once he got to Indianapolis and became my quarterbacks coach, that my game really improved. It took a step up, and I thought Jim had a great deal to do with that.” The stats support this:
Peyton Manning Pass Rating:
85.1 Before Caldwell as his QB Coach (1998-2001)
100.5 With Caldwell as QB Coach (2002-2008)
Upon arrival Caldwell reviewed every interception with Peyton had thrown in his first four years, and they got to work immediately.
“He and I had a set routine that we tried to perform every day in the meeting room, on the practice field, in different drills, said Manning. “And from 2003 to 2008, when he was the quarterbacks coach, I was playing at a high level.”
Under Caldwell, Peyton would cut his yearly interceptions down by 40% (20 to 12), and his accuracy would improve, a pattern he would later duplicate with Stafford (see part IV).
II. “SUCK4LUCK”: CURTIS PAINTER AND THE SABOTAGE OF JIM CALDWELL
Flores Lawsuit: “The following year Colts lost their starting quarterback Peyton Manning around whom the entire team had been built— and the team fell to 2-14. Despite his past success and the justifiable reasons for this poor record in one season out of three, Mr. Caldwell was fired.”
“Justifiable reasons” is an understatement. Caldwell’s career was sabotaged by the Colts. Some context:
· The Curtis Painter Era: In 2011, Caldwell was given QBs Curtis Painter (0-8), a 39 year-old washed-up Kerry Collins, and Daniel Orlovsky. In their previous two seasons, Collins and Orlovsky were 2-18 before Caldwell got them as starters. Orlovsky was 0-7 without Caldwell and Painter would never win an NFL game (0-8).
· Suck4Luck Sabotage: When Colts GM Bill Polian did not claim the serviceable Kyle Orton off waivers, and decided to stick with their worst QB, critics charged “Colts Sticking with Painter, In Full Suck4Luck Mode”, a blatant tanking job to obtain #1 draft pick Andrew Luck.
Why is Colts “Curtis Painter Era” important?
Because Brian Flores lawsuit alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores incentives to lose games to improve draft position. Since then, ex-NFL coach Hue Jackson has suggested that the Browns did the same thing with him, and Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reports that Jackson may join Flores’ class action lawsuit.
The Colts never had to encourage Caldwell to tank games. They simply gave him Curtis Painter instead.
The Colts won Luck. The only loser was Jim Caldwell. He lost his job, and his QB guru reputation too.
Instead of focusing on Painter, ignorant critics began a harmful false narrative: “Caldwell was a product of Peyton.”
Caldwell and Luck could have won Super Bowl(s) together.
Race also matters. Kyle Shanahan can go 1-15 with QBs Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard his first two years, and not be stigmatized by it.
But Caldwell had to start again from scratch.
As Ravens OC, he “breathed new life” into their offense and won a Super Bowl calling all the plays. And no, the Raven’s defense didn’t carry Joe Flacco in the playoffs that season. Look again:
Joe Flacco 2013 Super Bowl Playoff Run: 117.2 Pass Rating with 11 TDs and 0 INTs.
Not bad for a quarterback who had a 77.41 Pass Rating in his other 11 career playoff games.
That’s what Caldwell had to do to become a Head Coach again.
III. JIM CALDWELL MAKES LIONS HISTORY
Flores Lawsuit: “In his first year, the team went 11-5, a 4-game improvement from the previous year.”
The 2014 Lions was the only season Caldwell had a Lions roster that had any business sniffing the playoffs. He showed his coaching range with the NFL’s #3 ranked defense, up from #15 the previous year. As the Colts Assistant Head Coach to Tony Dungy, improving defenses wasn’t new to him.
That defense was anchored by Ndamukong Suh, who the Lions failed to resign the following year, a terrible mistake. “Caldwell was the answer,” said Ndamukong Suh in 2020, “and didn’t get the ample opportunity to fully put his fingerprints on the team”.
Flores Lawsuit: “He had an aggregate record of 36—28, the best winning percentage of any Lions coach since the 1950s. The Lions have gone 17—46 since his departure with only white head coaches.” Some more facts:
Lions Coaches this Century:
17-46 Since Caldwell
36-28 Jim Caldwell
29-51 Jim Schwartz
10-38 Rod Marinelli
15-28 Steve Mariucci
5-27 Marty Mornhinweg
That’s historic. Yes, the Lions haven’t even won HALF as much as Caldwell over the next four years.
The Lions incredible overachievement included a historic feat of making the playoffs in 2016 without any Pro Bowlers. Caldwell’s competence was masking a roster so bad that Pro Football Focus predicted the Lions would win only four games in 2016 and only six games in 2017. Caldwell bested PFF by eight wins, and wildly exceeded the Lions roster talent by any possible objective analytical measure.
Caldwell was still fired by GM Bob Quinn who famously said “nine wins are not nearly good enough”.
By blaming a phenomenal Black coach over his own incompetence in building a roster, Quinn was sentenced to seasons of six, three, and five wins. By late 2019, we started to see divorce remorse articles like “Dear Jim Caldwell, I’m Sorry” to “the most underappreciated head coach in Lions history”.
The only group who never stopped appreciating Caldwell is his own players. It’s not just Peyton, Stafford, Suh, or Megatron. It’s nearly every player, then and now. It’s Golden Tate, Darius Slay: (“My Guy. Never Change”); Quandre Diggs: (“Players coach who demands respect!”), Tavon Austin : (“Leader of Men!”) jumping on this tweet to publicly express their admiration and respect this past month.
— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) https://twitter.com/ShowtimeTate/status/1486144814261276672?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 26, 2022
At 67, despite being younger than Bill Belichick, Bruce Arians, and Pete Carroll, some ageist critics persist, which is laughable when you see the respects commands within an NFL locker room. Have they considered his age is an asset?
IV. JIM CALDWELL AND THE RISE OF MATTHEW STAFFORD
Brian Flores lawsuit does not get into Caldwell’s brilliant work with quarterbacks. But since the NFL has prioritized hiring former QB coaches and Offensive Coordinators, this article will.
“I loved playing for him,” said Stafford last year. “I still remember when he was coming in for his visit. I got a chance to sit down and talk with him. And he blew me away. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Stafford being “blown away” upon meeting Caldwell is another illustration of the massive respect gap between Caldwell’s former players, and NFL teams in charge of hiring. Then there’s this:
Stafford Pass Rating:
83.1 Before Caldwell
93.7 with Caldwell
99.3 Last year with Caldwell (and without Calvin Johnson)
Caldwell did not inherit the same quarterback Sean McVay did.
Despite flashes of greatness, Stafford’s game had regressed in 2012-2013, and there were legitimate critiques of his fundamentals, footwork, arm motion, and over-reliance on forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson.
Caldwell maximized Stafford’s talents by employing more quick throws, no huddles, and using spread offenses which uplifted both Stafford and multiple wide receivers who had breakout seasons (see Golden Tate and Marvin Jones). The Caldwell Offense prioritizes accuracy, discipline and schemes that increase easier completions while decreasing interceptions. Stafford and Manning had the same growth pattern.
Stafford: 18 to 11 per year after Caldwell
Manning: 20 to 12 per year after Caldwell
Not only that. Stafford and Manning never had a 65% completion rate in nine combined seasons before Caldwell, but exceeded 65% in 10 of 11 seasons with Caldwell.
Do you think a young Justin Fields or Trevor Lawrence could use an elite veteran QB developer to help boost their completions and cut back their interceptions?
Stafford would also suddenly become the king of 4th quarter comebacks posting more in only four years with Caldwell (16) than his other eight Lions seasons. Stafford credited Caldwell’s situational intelligence:
“He’s a smart offensive coach,” Stafford told the Detroit Free Press in 2017. “He puts our team in the right situations to succeed, and that, in turn, helps me out.”
V. JIM CALDWELL ENDURES FOUR YEARS OF RACISM
Flores Lawsuit: “In the more than three years since losing the Lions job, Mr. Caldwell has not received any further opportunities as a head coach despite numerous openings and interviewing no fewer than five times for different positions.”
The Bears recently interviewed Caldwell, but despite Justin Fields rocky rookie season, they’ve decided to entrust his critical future development to a former defensive coordinator.
Caldwell also had some past interviews by teams with top-drafted young QBs, but those teams chose Freddie Kitchens to mold Baker Mayfield, Adam Gase to mold Sam Darnold, and Kliff Kingsbury to win a generational talent like Kyler Murray. He also watched Urban Meyer, Nick Sirianni, and Joe Judge get to develop Trevor Lawrence, Jalen Hurts, and Daniel Jones.
Now there are reports Josh McCown is the favorite to win the Texans head coaching job despite only coaching his son’s high school team.
How humiliating is that?
I’m talking about these owners and general managers. But this is how whiteness works in the NFL.
Caldwell being wrongly fired by one team is an injustice.
Caldwell being ignored by the other 31 teams for four years is blatant NFL racism.
It’s actually more than racism, it’s racial grand larceny.
When clueless Matt Rhule gets a $60 million contract despite one season of NFL experience, and millions of dollars are rerouted yearly from superior Black coaches to inferior white ones, it’s time to take that money back.
And if you can deny millions to Caldwell, you can deny Flores or any other Black coach.
It’s why Jim Caldwell is Exhibit A in Brian Flores class action lawsuit — the only language NFL owners understand.