- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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He stood in the middle of the locker room inside Wembley Stadium and didn’t raise his voice. Jim Caldwell's Detroit Lions trailed by 21 points, but he didn’t rant and rave.
He treated his players like the adults they are -- something noticed by many of the team's veterans -- and the players responded. They came back to beat the Falcons, 22-21, in England, the second of three straight come-from-behind wins for the Lions in the middle of the 2014 season.
Caldwell's calming influence and the respect he commanded from his players were two of the reasons the Lions hired him a little over a year ago to replace the fired Jim Schwartz and that influence led to an 11-5 season, a playoff berth and Caldwell being named the NFC North Coach of the Year by the ESPN.com NFL Nation writers covering the division.
In a format where first place earned three points, second earned two and third earned one, Caldwell received three first-place votes and 12 points. Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy had two first-place votes and 10 points and Minnesota's Mike Zimmer had eight points.
Ex-Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman did not earn a vote.
The 60-year-old Caldwell had the best first year of a Lions coach in the modern era and the 11-5 regular-season record the Lions attained tied the second-best mark in franchise history.
“In the team meetings, he does a lot of stuff with talking about different things like discipline, stuff like that,” left guard Rob Sims told ESPN last year. “He doesn’t really talk about the locker room, per se, but when you do well on the field and some of those messages spill on to the field, it helps in here because you can depend on the guy who is next to you.
“That’s all it is, other than just being together another year, the core players.”
One of the messages that stuck out the most became the Lions' mantra for a majority of the season: Above all else, win. It was how many of Detroit’s players explained the fourth-quarter comebacks and the come-from-behind-wins throughout the season.
The choice of Caldwell probably doesn’t happen, though, without some of his staff decisions. Hiring Teryl Austin as the team’s defensive coordinator led to one of the NFL’s best defensive units and a massive improvement from the season before.
Austin and Caldwell have a similar demeanor and have known each other for decades and that likely helps the familiarity and understanding between the two men.
But Caldwell’s approach to his team this season led to the success the Lions. He was selected coach of the year because he was able to shift the attitudes and thought processes in Detroit's locker room.
“It’s just his presence alone kind of gives you that level of respect that he gives off,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “He respects you as a man and, in turn, you respect him back because he gives that off. Very consistent.
“He’s the same all the time. You always know what to expect from him, what you’re going to get from him. For the most part, I think guys respect him so much, you really just don’t want to let him down. Guys play hard for him. It’s obvious in our play.”
556dBen Goessling and Michael Rothstein