NEW ORLEANS -- Rooney Rule or no Rooney Rule, Jim Caldwell deserves another shot at being a head coach in the National Football League. The Baltimore Ravens would not have made a run to the Super Bowl without him.
After coach John Harbaugh jettisoned Cam Cameron following a Week 14 loss to Washington and promoted Caldwell from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, Caldwell settled the Ravens' offense down. He identified its most fundamental strength -- running the football with a Pro Bowl running back and a Pro Bowl fullback -- and leaned on it. With a relaxed, easy, no-nonsense way of going about things, Caldwell clicked with quarterback Joe Flacco and trusted his input and opinion.
Caldwell rallied a staff he had worked with for less than a year and got everyone on the same page. He installed game plans and called plays and, did I mention, ran the ball over and over and over again.
And just before the playoffs, Caldwell was in on the risky but necessary decision to reshuffle the offensive line and hope the linemen could adjust when the pressure was the highest.
That's what leaders do. Identify. Strategize. Motivate. Execute.
The NFL failed in its most recent attempt to facilitate racial diversity among its head coaches, not to mention its general managers. Of the eight head-coaching vacancies following the regular season, none went to an African-American candidate. There were seven open general manager jobs, and of the six that have been filled, none went to an African-American candidate. As it stands entering the 2013 season, there will be only three black head coaches -- Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier -- after there were five in 2012.
When it comes to diversity, the league is going backward, not forward. Several teams inevitably will have an opportunity to start rectifying that trend a year from now. One should start by hiring Caldwell.
Caldwell's impact on the Ravens was so great that another team might have given him a head-coaching job had one been willing to show the slightest of patience. Two weeks, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing to wait for a candidate, but no one was inclined to give Caldwell the time. He was, like San Francisco's offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a victim of his success.
Caldwell should be available at some point next year. Given all the young weapons on offense -- the quarterback, the running back, the speedy wide receivers -- the Ravens should remain a successful, playoff-bound team. That means Caldwell, the only African-American in the NFL who currently calls plays, should be a hot commodity.
He wants to be a head coach again.
"I certainly would like to be at the top of my profession," Caldwell said Tuesday. "I think every coach that's in this business does want to get an opportunity to do so. … I'd certainly love another one, but it may or may not happen."
Consider what the Ravens have done with Caldwell as their coordinator. They have averaged 155.3 rushing yards per game in the past six games, compared to 108.8 rushing yards with Cameron as coordinator. Baltimore has averaged 35.7 rushing attempts per game under Caldwell, compared to 25.7 under Cameron. Even with the reliance on the running game -- or maybe because of it -- the passing game has flourished, with Flacco throwing 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past five games.
"One of the things that we've wanted to do is just make sure that we didn't leave a ballgame and say, 'You know what? Couldn't we have run the ball a little bit more?'" Caldwell said. "We don't ever want that to be a question, particularly the two guys we have in the backfield. … You have to get the ball in their hands and give them an opportunity to make plays for you, and sometimes it takes a little while so you've got to have a little patience."
Patience and opportunity. Those also are keys to getting a head-coaching job in the NFL. Caldwell knows. He replaced Tony Dungy in Indianapolis in 2009 after serving on Dungy's staff dating back to 2001 with Tampa Bay. Caldwell's Colts went 14-2 his first season and reached the Super Bowl. His second team went to the playoffs. His third team went 2-14 with Peyton Manning sidelined with his neck issues, and Caldwell was summarily fired.
"You have to understand this business is about winning," Caldwell said. "We didn't win. It doesn't matter in this league about injury. It doesn't matter about players. None of that matters. The bottom line is you have to win football games. We didn't win. So when you don't win, you're subject to getting fired, so we were. You have to go look for a new formula elsewhere."
Caldwell has found it in Baltimore with a quarterback who can throw the ball, receivers who can catch it and make plays, and running backs who can carry it. The Ravens very well could become Super Bowl champions, because as Caldwell pointed out, "Sometimes it's just a matter of who gets hot toward the end."
"All along we were building and improving," Caldwell said. "Maybe it didn't reflect every single week out there on the field, maybe in spurts, but we could sense it in practice. We could sense it moving in the right direction, and then all of a sudden it just sort of clicked right when the playoffs started."
Yes, it did. Caldwell's contributions to the Ravens should not be forgotten after the confetti drops Sunday, regardless of what happens. He deserves another shot at being a head coach. Hopefully, another team will give him one.