In the Spring of 2011, when I was between jobs, the Colts asked Tom Rietmann (former Colts beat writer for the late Great Hoosier Daily) and I to help cover the team for their official website. We met with team officials at the West 56th Street complex and shook hands on the deal.
We were then escorted down the hall to meet head coach Jim Caldwell. I figured this would be a quick hello, how-you-doing, and we’d be hustled out of there.
Not even close. Jim welcomed us into his office, asked us questions about our lives and families and generally treated us like we mattered.
It was impossible to walk out of that office with anything but a positive impression of Jim Caldwell as a man.
Which is why it is impossible for me to feel anything other than positive about Caldwell’s return to the Super Bowl.
Though he guided the Colts to the Super Bowl in his first season as head coach, it was his last that tarnished his reputation, undeservedly and temporarily. The man who was a human piñata throughout the Colts’ 2-14 disaster of 2011 – as if it was his fault Peyton Manning couldn’t play, rendering useless a roster built exclusively around the quarterback – has been redeemed.
Caldwell isn’t just along for the ride. He’s one of the drivers of the Ravens’ success. Thrust into the offensive coordinator’s role late in the regular season when head coach John Harbaugh fired Cam Cameron, Caldwell handled an incredibly chaotic situation as you would expect: calmly, methodically, inclusively.
He didn’t tear up the playbook, but edited it to his liking. He’d never called plays before as an NFL assistant, but took to it quickly and naturally.
He leaned more heavily on the running game – introducing heavy doses of Bernard Pierce into the mix to complement Ray Rice. Pierce, who had 320 yards in the first 14 games, has racked up 381 and a 6.0 per-carry average in the last five.
Caldwell started using more sets featuring three wide receivers to give quarterback Joe Flacco more options, and the defense something else to think about. In three playoff games, Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception and posted a 114.7 passer rating.
In three playoff games, the Ravens have averaged 30 points and 425.3 yards.
He has done so well, Harbaugh announced this week Caldwell will return as offensive coordinator next season.
The quality that seemed to aggravate many Colts fans – and media – the most, a stoic, calm demeanor, has served him well in Baltimore.
So has his penchant for communication. He seeks out other coaches and players for discussion and has continued to build a close relationship with Flacco, who reportedly chafed under Cameron.
“Jim has been great ever since he’s been here,” Flacco said. “I think the biggest thing that he’s done for me and our offense, the communication level improves into something that we might not have had before.”
Here’s the thing about Caldwell: he is not dynamic in the traditional sense. He doesn’t wow you with his brilliance or insight. He just goes about his job as a professional, treating everyone around him with respect.
Caldwell isn’t one of those pseudo-geniuses with all the answers, which could explain why his press conferences were exercises in futility.
He’s a guy that continues to ask questions, which could explain his success.