DETROIT — Jim Caldwell’s body of work put him in a position to get another chance to be an NFL coach.
A call from Peyton Manning helped, too.
Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said the Denver Broncos quarterback called him — unsolicited — during the team’s two-week search to support his former coach.
Mayhew said Manning raved about what a great teacher Caldwell was as his position coach and head coach with the Indianapolis Colts.
Caldwell’s top priority will be to use his expertise and experience to help Matthew Stafford cut down on mistakes. The QB led the league in turnovers during a late-season slide that knocked the Lions out of the playoff picture and cost Jim Schwartz his job after five years.
Caldwell prepared for his interview with the Lions by watching each of Stafford’s throws last season.
“I gave him my opinion of what I saw and I also talked to him and listened to him about what he thought he needed to work on,” Caldwell said after being introduced Wednesday as the franchise’s 26th coach.
The Lions gave Caldwell a four-year contract to help them win a championship. They haven’t won their division since 1993 and have only one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.
After talking and texting with Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, the new coach shares a sense of urgency with those returning players.
“They believe and I believe the time is now — not two years or three years from now,” Caldwell said.
Lions vice chairman Bill Ford, whose father owns the team, was impressed by that statement.
“Every coach I would assume expects to win right now, but most of them won’t put themselves on the line to say it,” Ford said. “He did.”
The Lions also acknowledged — before being asked — that Ken Whisenhunt was a finalist for the job. Mayhew also said he asked Tony Dungy if he was interested in coaching the team before going on to ask him about Caldwell, one of his former assistants.
Ford and team president Tom Lewand both said Whisenhunt, who was hired Monday night by Tennessee, wasn’t offered the job in Detroit in part because he wouldn’t fly to Michigan for a second interview.
“We had two really good candidates, one of whom we didn’t get a chance to finish the process with,” Ford said. “We had two Plan As.”
Caldwell recalled crafting a plan to become a head coach early in his career three-plus decades ago.
“I really thought that in order for me to make certain that I was in position to get one of those jobs, I had to be knowledgeable on both sides of the ball,” he said.
The former Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back figured he needed to become an assistant coach on offense to become a well-rounded candidate to lead a team.
When ex-Colorado coach Bill McCartney offered him a chance to coach outside linebackers in 1982, he accepted it on the condition he move to the other side of the ball when there was an opening. He later coached the Buffaloes’ wide receivers and QBs.
Caldwell’s first job as a head coach was at Wake Forest, which fired him in 2000 with a 26-63 record over eight seasons.
Dungy hired him in 2001 to coach Tampa Bay’s QBs and took him with him the next year to Indianapolis for the same job.
“Stafford is a lot like Peyton was early in his career, making a lot of explosive plays and some mistakes,” Dungy said Tuesday night in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Jim was able to get through to Peyton to teach him that he could still make explosive plays without taking so many risks. And, he’ll help Stafford do that.”
Caldwell helped the Colts reach the Super Bowl after his debut season in 2009. He was fired two years later after a 2-14 season while Manning was injured, dropping his three-year mark to 26-22.
Caldwell was hired by Baltimore two years ago to be their QBs coach and was promoted to offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, helping the Ravens win last year’s Super Bowl.
Despite leading an offense that was coming off a shaky season, Caldwell was also interviewed for openings with the Washington Redskins and Titans.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Caldwell deserved another shot to lead a team in the league.
“Jim is a teacher, he is honorable, he is a respected leader, and every person with the Ravens will miss him,” Harbaugh said. “Players and assistants respond to him. You understand why he was named Detroit’s head coach and why all the other teams had him among the finalists.”