The Outlaw Josey Wales remains one of my favorite all-time movies. So many classic scenes and lines. But one in particular comes to mind. That was when our hero Josey rode out to meet with the Commanche chief Ten Bears. It's also eerily similar to what Detroit Lions' head coach Jim Caldwell went through a a while back. Consider:
Ten Bears told Josey he had heard of him. The grey rider that would not surrender to the blue coats. He could go in peace.
A couple years ago, the Lions front office probably said much the same to Jim Caldwell. We have heard of you. You were fired by the blue coats in Indianapolis and what, pray tell, brings you here?
Josey replied, "I reckon not. (spit). Ain't got no place to go. I came to live with you -- or die with you".
Caldwell, after having seen all the other head coaching vacancies around the NFL already filled at the time, probably said something similar to William Clay Ford -- then chief of the Lions. "Ain't got no other place to go either. When a man has butchered everything else as a head coach elsewhere, Detroit is the last stop. I can go in peace, or you can give me life -- and a few million bucks a year to coach this rag-tag team that loose cannon Schwartz left in his wake".
After some terse discussion, Ten Bears (surrounded by his tribesmen) told Josey there was "iron" in his words. Given the choice of life and death -- it would be life. As long as he and his clan behaved themselves. Josey further vowed the sign of the Commanche would be on their lodge.
After some short negotiations, the Lions' brain trust -- excuse the oxymoron -- (surrounded by lawyers and bean counters) told Jimbo he had himself a job. As long as he and his team could win a few games. Caldwell further vowed to try his best and sign all of his paychecks.
As we know, Josey Wales moved into a house built by a dead guy (he had lost his life in the "Great War"), had his way with the pretty girl, and eventually killed the bad guy (Red Legs) that sent him into his vengeful mode in the first place. Last we see, Josey Wales is dripping blood and off to live in the middle of nowhere with a dysfunctional clan that would put the Kardashians to shame -- but he's happy.
As we also know, Jim Caldwell enjoyed some modest success in his rookie year as the Lions' head coach. 11-5. Never mind the patsy schedule and catching every break imaginable along the way to get to the playoffs, where the Lions were quickly bounced. JC was happy. Lions fans were delirious with joy -- aided by the usual koolaid chugging of course. Last we saw, surely the Super Bowl was on the horizon.
The Outlaw Josey Wales was a movie made a long time ago. It was pure fiction. Clint Eastwood would go on to star in and/or produce many more blockbuster movies.
The Lions go back even further. They haven't won squat since a guy named Eisenhower was President. A full ten years before the Super Bowl came into existence. The 50th Super Bowl is a month away, and the Lions are no closer now to getting there than they were in the 60s,70s,80s,90s, 00s, etc. Since they bought the team, the owning Ford family has gone on to produce entire generations of inept front office personnel, a parade of clown coaches, and Keystone Koppish player performances that are the delight of late night comedians and their punchlines. Unlike the movie, this is all factual. A regular documentary of how NOT to run a professional sports franchise. When it came to busters, the Lions have been the biggest ones on the NFL block for well over half a century.
Chances are, there will never be a sequel to The Outlaw Josey Wales. Clint's getting up in years these days, and some other younger actor likely couldn't recapture the viewing audience like the alter ego of Rowdy Yates/Dirty Harry Callihan once did.
But Jim Caldwell might just have fell into a bed of roses. After the Lions stunk it up at the beginning of the year to the tune of a 1-7 record, president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew were fired. Amazingly, Caldwell survived the purge. The Lions would go on to win 5 of their next 7 games. Sure, they were already hopelessly out of the playoff picture, and Caldwell's future, even with the bumbling Ford family, was uncertain.
Methinks it all boiled down to the last game against the Bears. Lose it, and Caldwell's fate was likely sealed with the Lions. He was gone.
But against the equally hapless Bears in Chicago, the Lions pulled out a narrow victory. Ninety year old Martha Firestone Ford and her equally football genius daughters may have been appeased.
Like Ten Bears once said to Josey Wales, perhaps Martha and her brood has decided the same for Jim Caldwell.
"It shall be life".
Or at least until they hire a new general manager. He/she may may be of a totally different opinion. They may only accept the job on the condition they get to bring in their own coaching crew. And let's face it. It's already been several weeks and you haven't heard anything about qualified people getting in line to apply for such a job. Detroit is where general managers and head coaches go to die. Once they've cycled through Motown, they will never again be considered elsewhere for similar employment by another team.
Even better for Caldwell? If he survives, next year bodes even better. In 2015 the Lions had to face some tough teams. As once again losers -- what else is new? -- the NFL has returned them to patsy land in 2016.
A look at their watered down schedule -- next time.