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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions wanted to replace Jim Schwartz with someone with experience as a head coach.
The Lions landed one, though he appears to be Plan B.
Jim Caldwell has been hired by Detroit, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press today on condition of anonymity because the move had not been announced. ESPN first reported the hire.
San Diego Chargers assistant and former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was seemingly Detroit’s top choice, but he chose to take the head coaching job at Tennessee on Monday night.
The Lions are giving Caldwell another chance to be an NFL head coach. He helped the Indianapolis Colts play in the Super Bowl after his debut season in 2009 and was fired two years later after a 2-14 season while Peyton Manning was injured, dropping his three-year mark to 26-22.
“I’m excited because he has worked with some good coaches and he did a good job with the Colts,” Lions offensive guard Rob Sims said in a telephone interview. “Players seem to like him, so I’m looking forward to being a part of the next chapter of Detroit Lions football with him leading us.”
Caldwell was hired by Baltimore two years ago to be their quarterbacks coach and was promoted to offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season. The Ravens went on to win the last Super Bowl.
The Ravens, though, struggled on offense in 2013 and might’ve replaced Caldwell if he didn’t get find another job. Baltimore ranked 29th on offense overall — 30th rushing and 18th passing — last season with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
Caldwell’s body of work was enough to also make him a candidate to lead the Washington Redskins and Titans. Former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak and ex-Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak were also considered by the Lions.
Caldwell won his first 14 games with the Colts in 2009 before losing the final two games of the regular season while resting Manning and most of the other starters. The Colts lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl. Indy was 10-6 the following season and won another AFC South title, then lost to the New York Jets in a wild-card game. With Manning out for all of Caldwell’s third season, the Colts lost 14 games and Caldwell lost his job.
In Baltimore, Caldwell replaced offensive coordinator Cam Cameron toward the end of the 2012 regular season and he seemed to give the offense a boost as it went on to win the Super Bowl against San Francisco.
Helping the Lions win one playoff game would be a relative feat: Detroit has only one playoff victory — more than two decades ago — since winning the 1957 NFL title.
Caldwell, who won two playoff games in his first season with the Colts, will be counted on to use his experience with quarterbacks to make Matthew Stafford better. Detroit drafted Stafford No. 1 overall in 2009 and after two injury-shortened seasons, he has been spectacular at times and shaky at others.
When the Lions needed him most, he was at his worst last season. He had an NFL-high 14 turnovers from Week 11-16 as Detroit dropped five of six games, plummeting out of first place in the NFC North and wasting an opportunity to win a division title for the first time since 1993.
Before Caldwell was hired by the Tony Dungy-led Colts in 2002 to be their quarterbacks coach, he had the same job for Dungy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was fired as the head coach at Wake Forest in 2000 with a 26-63 record over eight seasons. Caldwell, who is from Beloit, Wis., played defensive back for Iowa and began his coaching career in 1977 as a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes.