A complete house cleaning is underway at Halas Hall. Three football seasons have passed since Matt Nagy, and Ryan Pace won top honors for their efforts in leading the 2018 Chicago Bears to a 12-4 record and NFC North title, and the time has come for the franchise to find their replacements.
Despite this team’s issues, the head coach and general manager vacancies are highly sought-after. And with Super Bowl-winning Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian lending a helping hand, the Bears are in a position to make some impact hirings. Over the following days, weeks, or however long it takes, we’ll be diving into the top available candidates, including their history, what they offer schematically, how they fit culturally, where they can take this team, and more. Let’s do it.
Name, Current Team, and Position
Jim Caldwell, Coaching Free Agent
• Miami Dolphins Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks Coach (2019)
• Detroit Lions Head Coach (2014-17)
• Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator (2013), Quarterbacks Coach (2012)
• Indianapolis Colts Head Coach (2009-11), Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks Coach (2002-08)
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterbacks Coach (2001)
In addition to all that pro coaching experience, Caldwell spent time at Wake Forest (Head Coach 1993-2000), Penn State (QBs Coach 1986-92), Louisville (WRs Coach 1985), Colorado (WRs Coach 1982-84), Northwestern (Offensive Assistant 1981), Southern Illinois (WRs Coach 1978-80), and Iowa (Graduate assistant 1977). All that to point out that the 67-year-old coaching candidate has been doing it for a long time.
Caldwell’s experience might be the most endearing thing on his résumé. He a Super Bowl ring as an assistant with the Colts (XLI) and Ravens (XLVII), which gives him instant credibility. Caldwell took the Colts to the Super Bowl, ultimately falling to Sean Payton and the Saints in an instant classic. Surely, his work with quarterbacks at stops with the Bucs, Colts, and Ravens is noteworthy. And we can’t forget Caldwell coached the Lions to their last winning season. This is a coach who spent four years coaching the Lions, has a winning record while doing so, and can live to talk about it. That’s pretty remarkable.
Existing Rumors and Bears Ties
Caldwell’s Bears ties are obvious, seeing that he was a coach on one of Bill Polian’s AFC title-winning Colts teams. Not too long after he was presumed to be a candidate for the head coach opening in Chicago, the Bears announced he interviewed for the gig.
More recently, there was a belief from one pundit who said they would bet on Caldwell landing in Chicago. Although, what capacity might be up for interpretation based on the framing of the wager. More on that later.
Hey, It Might Work…
If the Bears are looking for an adult, someone who can command the room, a leader-of-men type, and has a background in quarterback and offensive development, then Caldwell is a strong candidate. He has head coaching experience at multiple stops, including a wining record as the Lions head coach. That franchise hasn’t had a winning season since firing him. Heck, that alone should make him a top candidate for *ANY* job opening.
Hiring Caldwell could do for the Bears in 2022 what John Fox did for the team in 2015. Set aside the record for a moment and remember the mess Fox was inheriting. Not only were the Bears bad, they were a punchline. Fox’s time in Chicago wasn’t ultimately successful, especially when grading it by won-loss record. But Fox brought accountability to the team. And a level of respect that the previous coach did not command. The Bears were still bad, but they weren’t a public embarrassment.
Caldwell could raise the floor upon arrival. The ceiling might not rise with it, but climbing out of the ashes left behind by Nagy and others would be a good start.
OK, Maybe He’s Not The One…
Caldwell took a leave of absence from the Dolphins while he was the team’s Assistant Head Coach/QBs Coach. He did so citing health issues and “medical complications that require my full attention” in a statement from the team. The decision led him into a consultant role in 2019, and he hasn’t been on the coaching sidelines since. At age 67, I’d be curious to know how his health is holding up and how much longer he can go. No matter where he lands in this coaching cycle, I sincerely hope he is in good health.
In The End …
The tenures of those who get a third chance at the top gig don’t tend to end well, and John Fox’s third time through in Chicago is a recent example that hits close to home.
But maybe Caldwell isn’t meant to be a head coach at this stage of the game. Hear me out with a thought I shared over the weekend. Because when Dan Graziano wrote “If I had to bet right now, I’d say Caldwell ends up in Chicago…” in a recent ESPN insiders piece, my read on the situation was: Well, technically, Graziano didn’t say he would bet on Caldwell being the Bears’ head coach. He just said he would bet on Caldwell ending up in Chicago. And that could be in any number of different roles. In other words, maybe a more realistic scenario is one in which Caldwell returns to the NFL as a coordinator or position coach. Someone who can go all-in on developing Justin Fields without trying to also coach up an entire 53-man roster.
No, Caldwell wouldn’t be a splashy hire. But I’ve seen enough of those types of hires fall flat to know that winning the news cycle means nothing. So maybe that is what the Bears need? Perhaps Chicago should be looking for a coach who flies under-the-radar. Someone with a solid track record and enough respectability to lay the groundwork for something special. Third-time head coaches don’t tend drum up much inspiration. And I’ll admit a Caldwell hire wouldn’t rally the troops. But one of my friends often nudges me when they say: “Do you want to win, or do you want to be popular?”
Frankly, that’s a question the Bears might need to ask for themselves…