Jim Caldwell's silence speaks volumes
Colts coach strikes a blow against brashness by quietly succeeding
MIAMI -- The easy thing to do is to look at Jim Caldwell's appearance in Super Bowl XLIV and limit it to being proof that the playing field is leveling out for minority coaches.
Certainly it's true that in the NFL rarely have African-American coaches been grandfathered the opportunity that Caldwell was. He inherited arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in Peyton Manning, and he has the luxury of working for one of the most respected organizations in pro football.
Of course, I'm not implying that Caldwell, who has been coaching since the late 1970s and was with the Colts the past seven seasons, didn't deserve it when former head coach Tony Dungy chose him as a successor. It's just that the coach-in-waiting scenario doesn't usually involve black coaches.
But Caldwell breaking through that particular barrier and having a fantastic rookie season -- consequently becoming the fourth African-American to coach in the Super Bowl in four years -- doesn't just mean something for people of color.
Caldwell coaching in the Super Bowl represents another significant victory for those coaches, regardless of skin color, who are the anti-Rex Ryans and just quietly go about running their football team.
"It means a great deal, much like it did when Tony [Dungy] won the Super Bowl with Indy," said Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a personal friend of both Caldwell's and Dungy's. "It once again attacks any of those myths about leadership."
In case you hadn't noticed, Caldwell is about as monotone as the teacher who repeated "Bueller" a dozen straight times, and he offers up less information than a Jack Bauer detainee.
"Pretty much, what you see is what you get," Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. "He's not really a very emotional guy. He does get fired up during some pregame speeches. Off-the-field mistakes -- he gets angry about that."
In America, personalities sell, which is why Caldwell remains largely anonymous, despite coaching in arguably the most important sporting event of the year. He doesn't have must-see news conferences. He doesn't make comments that drive debate. He likely won't have a meltdown that will one day be fodder for a Coors Light commercial. And certainly he isn't going to any MMA matches and giving fans there an unkind finger.
But it seems like that's the expectation for how a football coach should behave, as if a coach is only as good as the number of F-bombs he has in his repertoire. Being a loud coach doesn't make you a great coach. And just because the media loves to quote you, that doesn't mean you're any good. If that were the case, Jim Mora would be the NFL version of Phil Jackson.
There seems to be this prevailing thought that only a certain personality type can win in football. Long before Dungy became the sports world's version of Dr. Phil, he was labeled "too soft" to win a Super Bowl. Even though Dungy helped resurrect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization from the scrap heap, he ultimately was run out of town because there were concerns that his soft-spoken demeanor couldn't get the Bucs to a Super Bowl.
Dungy proved the detractors wrong by winning with the Colts, but it seems like he's gotten more credit now that he's retired than when he was in charge of the Colts.
A lot of this has to do with the Peyton Manning factor. Manning is so dynamic that it wouldn't matter if he were coached by Vince Lombardi. The assumption always will be that anyone who coaches him can just sit there and hand him his football pads.
People may think that Caldwell has the easiest job in America because he's got Manning, but it takes a special personality, mild-mannered or otherwise, to mesh with the team's superstar. Besides, let's also not forget that the Colts' defense has helped significantly in getting them to this point -- and that started with Caldwell hiring defensive coordinator Larry Coyer last February.
That Caldwell brought Coyer on board and the Colts' defense finished in the top 10 despite injury issues on that side of the ball all season shows that Caldwell's mild-mannered behavior shouldn't be perceived as a weakness.
Caldwell, like his mentor, Dungy, is a deeply religious man and sometimes people assume those with religious convictions aren't gritty coaches.
"Obviously, it is no secret that I am a Christian and I don't hide from that fact at all," Caldwell said. "I do believe that because of faith oftentimes it will keep you a bit calmer in certain situations. Overall, I think it has certainly taught me a lot about discipline, a lot about commitment in my life and it's helping me today as well."
But I'm convinced that if Caldwell had a personality that was, say, more like Mike Tomlin's, he would not only have gotten more consideration for coach of the year, but perhaps would have won it. And he also might escape the characterization that he's George Seifert 2.0.
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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SUPER BOWL XLIV