- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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DETROIT -- From the outset, Jim Caldwell wanted to make something perfectly clear. Quarterback Matthew Stafford did not interview Caldwell when the two met on Jan. 3. Stafford did not watch film with the coach, either.
But Caldwell understands a large part of his role with the Detroit Lions as the team’s new head coach is to work with Stafford and mold him, much as Caldwell worked with quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning and Brad Johnson before.
“We just kind of talked about some of the things that I had seen on film and things of that nature throughout the years. We just kind of talked back and forth,” Caldwell said Wednesday when he was introduced as the team’s coach. “We had common ground in a number of cases.”
He left an impression on Stafford from his interview, enough that Stafford “spoke highly” of Caldwell in a conversation he had with receiver Kris Durham later on, Durham told ESPN.com.
For this new hire to work, for Detroit to end its continuous losing ways, the Lions need that relationship to be stronger than any other within the franchise. Caldwell is known as a good teacher and a good motivator. And he clearly believes in Stafford; he praised his quarterback often on Wednesday.
Caldwell says Stafford is a good leader and has a ton of talent. The coach also says he can do what Scott Linehan and Jim Schwartz struggled to do by the end of their tenure with the Lions -- help Stafford improve to the point that he is an elite NFL quarterback.
The 58-year-old didn’t want to go into much detail about what he needs to do to work with Stafford. Caldwell watched a lot of film on the 25-year-old quarterback when he was preparing for the Lions interview and as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore. He admits he is not an “authority” on Stafford right now, but he plans to be.
“He wants to get better,” Caldwell. “And not only that, I think you’re going to see he’ll do whatever it takes to try and get himself in the best position to win. That’s without question.”
Stafford, who played his college ball at Georgia, was the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. In 2011, during Detroit’s only playoff season in the past 14 years, he was a 63.5 percent passer who threw for 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In 2012, he dropped off to 59.8 percent, 4,967 yards, 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
This season, he completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 4,650 yards, 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. But during the second half of the season, he dropped to a 54.1 percent passer who threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (13 each) and the team went 2-6, falling out of playoff contention.
So to get a feel for Stafford, Caldwell “clicked through” all of his new quarterback’s throws last season to understand what he might be inheriting. He did that so when he came to his interview, he could at least give an informed opinion of what he saw on film.
So when the two spoke, Caldwell told Stafford what he thought.
“I also talked to him and listened to him about what he thought he needed to work on,” Caldwell said. “We collaborated just a little bit.
“I didn’t have the job at that particular time, either, you know. So I was kind of talking, listening, seeing what kind of guy he was, just trying to get a feel for him. I really like him.”
They better like each other. Both of their futures depend on it.