Yesterday, Bruce Arians agreed to make Indianapolis his new home and become the pre-game offensive coordinator and mentor to Andrew Luck. What? You honestly think Arians will be ‘calling’ the game should Peyton Manning be under center? Ever since Arians was no longer a Steeler, numerous talking heads believed that Jim Caldwell was a top outside candidate for the Steelers’ opening. Now that Arians is a Colt, a bunch of folks are saying, ‘Hey wouldn’t that be crazy if Caldwell went to Pittsburgh?’ Why yes it would, but not for the reasons of irony.
Make no mistakes about it – Jim Caldwell is Bruce Arians…. but worse. Prior to entering the NFL, Caldwell was 26-63. His only bowl appearance came in 1999 after a 7-5 season. Though the Demon Deacons passed the ball pretty effectively, they were awful in the run. If you were a high school recruit and asked to become the Deacons’ new RB, you might as well right off your future career. Caldwell became the QB coach for the Colts back in 2002 and coached a young Peyton Manning right up until he became Tony Dungy’s successor in 2009.
Now you want to talk about riding the coat tails of another coach – Caldwell took an already established and playoff built team and took them to the Super Bowl his first year as head coach. They lost to the Saints and would make it to the playoffs the following year only to lose embarrassingly to the Jets. This past season, Caldwell’s third and final with the Colts, was a difficult one (understatement?) – with Manning sidelined with a long recovery from a neck injury, the Colts had zero offense.
There are two defining parts to Caldwell’s career that should make Steeler Nation quiver with anxiety. First and foremost – Caldwell’s lack of establishing a running game while at Wake Forest. Caldwell’s love for the pass superceded his ability to have a solid running game while at Wake. Going back to Wake’s stats during his tenure and you will find a year in which their #1 RB ran for 300 yards for an entire season. This guy in the way he feels offenses should be run is just a cookie cut of Arians… minus the bubble screen. This is why he fit in so well as the quarterbacks coach in Indy. That stuff was right up his alley. But, with Art Rooney II demanding the Steelers offense get back to its running and ball control roots, and subsequently canning Arians for his defiance in doing so, how does anyone with half a brain would realize that the Steelers would be just the same with Caldwell as they were with Arians.
Caldwell’s second major red flag is his inability to adjust to unforeseen circumstances. With Peyton Manning sidelined, the Colts’ offense was about as powerful as my grandfather’s old 50 cc lawnmower engine. To take some of the heat off, the locked out offseason kept the Colts from really assessing Manning and putting forth plans to replace him. It didn’t help that Manning was off and on with ‘Yeah I should be ok’ and ‘Well I’m not sure I can play.’ Kerry Collins was signed at the last minute and only lasted three games where he suffered a concussion (against the Steelers) that put him on the IR. The Colts would struggle all season on both sides of the ball and not win their first game until Week 15. This inability to continue making adjustments due to injuries (elite quarterback or not) during the season and win games also scares the crap out of me.
The Colts lost to teams like Tampa Bay, Carolina, Kansas City, Jacksonville – most games they should have won even without Manning. Bottom line for us Steelers fans – our team is long in the tooth and gets injured a lot. The offensive line was a turnstile of different combinations week in and week out. This was one of Arians’ greatest strengths – finding ways for this offensive line to become a cohesive group even though the man next to you could be someone different one play to the next. The Steelers got to the Super Bowl this way last year, as they fought all season to make it to the playoffs this season. They were far from the greatest, but they won 12 games this way. Does anyone have the real confidence that Caldwell will be able to respond well to injury on this offense? Could the Steelers have won the same 12 games under Caldwell this past season? Would they have done better?
So, would it be crazy for the Steelers to pick Caldwell as the new OC? Nope. It would be downright stupid.