The BP Watch: Does Jim Caldwell Lack Integrity?

It just came out this morning that Baltimore is planning on hiring Jim Caldwell to their coaching staff, most likely as the quarterback coach. It’s a good move for Caldwell and Baltimore both, and I hope Caldwell can be successful in his new (old) role.

In light of this news, I was reading multiple accounts of the report when I stumbled upon an article that, surprisingly, slammed Jim Caldwell’s character, questioning his integrity. Generally, I’m fairly uninterested in what former coaches are up to, but the attacking of Caldwell’s character was the opposite of everything I’d ever heard, read, or seen during his time in Indianapolis. So, I kept reading.

Brad Wells, the author of the piece, starts out by looking back at former defensive coordinator Larry Coyer:

“We can debate whether or not Larry Coyer was a “bad hire” as defensive coordinator in Indianapolis or not. Personally, I don’t think he was a good one.”

It’s hard to debate this. I agree with Wells, Coyer wasn’t a good hire at all. His schemes caused Indianapolis’ defense to get worse every single year, and by the time of his firing, the Colts’ defensive schemes were terrible.

Coyer has an excellent reputation, and what he planned to do with Indianapolis’ defense wasn’t much different than what new head coach Chuck Pagano wants to do. The reason things didn’t work out is because Bill and Chris Polian sucked at talent evaluation during Coyer’s tenure.

Now it seems that Wells has done a 180, saying that it wasn’t Coyer’s fault that he failed, but that it was the Polian’s. Maybe the first part about him not being a good coach was a typo, but either way, I think he’s dead wrong on Coyer. Coyer not only was a bad fit for Indianapolis’ personnel, but has never had much success as a defensive coordinator in the first place. I wrote about how his time in Indianapolis was a failure back in November, and I stand by it.

But even if Coyer’s desecration in Indianapolis was due to the Polians (it wasn’t), his job with other teams hasn’t been much better. Coyer was fired from the Steelers as a defensive coordinator because the team quickly declined under his tenure (1st in DVOA in ’97, then 12th in ’98, and 15th in ’99). Since he’s been gone the Steelers got Dick LeBeau back and have been the premier defense in the league.

In his second stint as defensive coordinator, Coyer’s Broncos were 12th, 5th, 9th, and 12th in DVOA. They were an above average defense, but nothing more. He was fired due to the defense’s collapse during the second half of the season (2006), and got a job as the defensive line coach for Tampa Bay for the following season (translation: he was demoted).

I don’t know where Wells is getting his information from, but Coyer’s reputation as a defensive coordinator couldn’t have been great at the time, considering that he couldn’t get a job as one after Denver. His reputation wasn’t what got him hired in Indy, the fact that Caldwell played for him at Iowa is what got him hired.

Using Pagano as a comparison doesn’t work well either, the Colts are currently in a time of transition, looking to scrap everything and seemingly start over. Going to a different defensive scheme actually makes sense to do now, although a complete transition to 3-4 will still take time. In 2009 however, the Colts weren’t rebuilding, nor did they need to.

The moment Bill and Chris Polian ordered Caldwell to fire Coyer, which everyone thinks happened back in November, a person of integrity would have told the Polians to go screw. It’s the head coach who determines who the assistants are, not the friggin personnel department. If Caldwell had real stones, or morals, or whatever other term you want to use to describe integrity, he’d have told the Polians that firing Coyer in that way was wrong.

First, the claim that the Polian’s “ordered Caldwell to fire Coyer” is pure speculation.

Second, the job of picking assistants falls to the front office and head coach. Obviously, the head coach needs to be able to work with the assistants and they need to fit in with his plan, but the front office of a team is the one that have to sign off on the hiring. While head coaches and assistant coaches often stay with similar people, they are hired and fired separately. They don’t come in combo packs and you don’t get a discount for buying in bulk. That’s why Clyde Christiansen is still employed by the Colts, that’s why Romeo Crennel is going to coach the Chiefs next year. The front office has a say in this process too.

Third, in what way was firing Coyer wrong? EVERYBODY in Indianapolis was pretty furious with him by the time he was fired, and for good reason. If Caldwell knew that it wasn’t working (it wasn’t) then he is in every way justified in firing him.

 

From my vantage, Caldwell fired Coyer, and later special teams coach Ray Rychleski, in an effort to save his own skin in Indianapolis. Rather than stand up for the men he personally hand-picked, Caldwell tossed them into the fire as a sacrifice to save his job.

 

See, from my vantage, Caldwell (and the front office) fired Coyer because he was trying to do his job. The head coach and front office are responsible for the team. The defense was terrible for the first part of the season, and was better after Coyer left as Mike Murphy simplified things for the young defense. I see no reason why Caldwell should have stood up for Coyer. Because he hired him? Since when does hiring somebody mean you’re bound to him? If you look at a situation objectively and realize that somebody isn’t doing their job, you can’t fire them?

 

So, again, I think Caldwell will do a fine job in Baltimore as the QB coach, but, for me, I don’t particularly view him as any kind moral man that deserves respect. He strikes me as a “yes man” wiling to throw his colleagues under a bus in order to save his hide, which, in the end, didn’t get saved. Maybe that critique is unfair, but I’m basing it off the man’s actions, and at the end of the day you are defined by what you do, not what you say.

 

Wells may not view him as a kind, moral man that deserves respect, but EVERYBODY who worked with the Colts did. If you’ve followed the Colts at all over the past few years, you’ve heard his players, colleagues, and bosses gush over Caldwell’s character. From what I know, the Colts kept Caldwell as long as they did because of Caldwell as a person and a leader, despite his shortcomings as a head coach.

If firing people who are doing a bad job is “throwing them under a bus,” then the entire football industry is guilty. Yes, Caldwell hired these assistant coaches, but they were not good coaches for the Colts. Wells himself states earlier in the article that Caldwell was lacking in his choice of coaching personnel. So why slam him for trying to fix his mistakes?

Caldwell may not have been a great head coach for the Colts, but he does not deserve to have his character and integrity insulted like that. The entire Colts organization has nothing but great things to say about Caldwell as a man, then that’s good enough for me.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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