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Wednesday, January 30, 2013
On a second chance for Caldwell as coach

By Paul Kuharsky

Before the start of the 2012 NFL season, I spent an evening writing some overdue notes.

Like Sal Paolantonio of ESPN, who has a book on thank-you notes in the works, I have a thank-you-note rhythm. I don’t write them nearly as frequently as Sal Pal. But when players, coaches or executives leave teams I cover, I strive to touch base, thank them for dealing with me, wish them well and say I hope we meet again.

I wrote a dozen or 15 notes, some brief, some beefier, before the guys who left the AFC South started up somewhere else.

One guy wrote me back. And I was not at all surprised to find an envelope with a Ravens logo as part of the return address and a note from Jim Caldwell.

He’s as steady and as nice a guy as you’ll meet, not just in the NFL but anywhere.

And with his success guiding Baltimore’s offense in its build-up to the Super Bowl, and no minority hires in eight filled coaching jobs, there are calls for him to get a second chance, like this one from my colleague Ashley Fox.

If Baltimore’s offense and Joe Flacco are good again in 2013, I’d certainly expect Caldwell to draw interest.

Jim Caldwell
Jim Caldwell's success with Baltimore's offense might get him on the radar, but his head-coaching bona fides are hardly indisputable.
And I’m not saying he’s unworthy.

But he inherited a great team from Tony Dungy in 2009 and had Peyton Manning lead the way to the Super Bowl, where his team was favored and lost -- and of which one overriding opinion was that Caldwell was outcoached by New Orleans counterpart Sean Payton, who surprised the Colts with an onsides kick to open the second half.

In 2010, Caldwell had another playoff team, and a questionable Caldwell timeout set up the Jets for a surprise victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

And in 2011, as Manning recovered from neck surgeries and the Colts crumbled, Caldwell stuck with Curtis Painter as the replacement quarterback far too long when Dan Orlovsky turned out to be a far better option.

Caldwell was in a difficult situation with Bill Polian over him. That the guy running the Colts was so strong made the coach weak, and such weakness isn’t a quality from a three-year head-coaching resume that will make other teams want to hire Caldwell.

He can lead men and convey themes, and that is hard work.

But he could be conservative at the wrong times. He wasn’t always a great clock manager. He didn’t make good fourth-down decisions on when to punt, try a field goal or go for it. His public image was one of a pushover on a team with Polian and Manning really running things. His choices for defensive coordinator (Larry Coyer) and special-teams coach (Ray Rychleski) didn’t produce great results and Polian prompted the firing of Coyer with five games left in 2011.

Unsurprisingly, after Polian was fired and Ryan Grigson took over as general manager, he let Caldwell go and hired Chuck Pagano.

Pagano and his offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, did great work in overseeing a rebound from 2-14 to 11-5 with a great new quarterback in Andrew Luck but also with a roster lacking in several areas.

Could Caldwell be a very good NFL head coach in the right circumstances? Perhaps. But while a good stretch as offensive coordinator with a hot team might enhance his best qualities from his three years as head man in Indy, it doesn’t wash away the stuff he did wrong in Indianapolis.

It hardly makes him an automatic hire or success.

He certainly should have to explain that bad in-game stuff as he sells himself for a second chance. If he gets it, I sure hope he's not under a strong GM's thumb.