The Curious Case of Jim Caldwell

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FILE: Jim Caldwell the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts watches the action during Colts 27-13 win over the Tennessee Titans in the NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was reported that the Indianapolis Colts have fired coach Jim Caldwell who was 2-14 this season,, 2 weeks after firing vice chairman Bill Polian. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

There has been mixed emotions of the Baltimore Ravens' recent signing of Jim Caldwell to be their new quarterbacks coach. Some have been welcoming him with open arms, while others have remained wary. The most notable acknowledgment brought up by the people who praise the career of Jim Caldwell is Peyton Manning. Some people believe that without Jim Caldwell, Peyton Manning wouldn't have been as successful. But on the other hand, the people who remain wary believe that Peyton Manning was the one who made Jim Caldwell look good. And while there is no exact way to prove who made who better, there is a way to observe the effectiveness of Jim Caldwell.

So I believe the best way to settle this discrepancy is to objectively analyze the coaching career of Jim Caldwell, by giving a bigger sample size than his time in Indianapolis, starting at his first job as a QB coach at Penn State back in 1986.

*Please note that I'm leaving out passing yardage as a unit of measurement of a QB's ability, as the amount of yardage a QB accumulates is not dependent on his individual performance. But varies on what a receiver does after getting the ball. It is the RBI of football if you will.


(More after the "Jump"...)

Jim Caldwell was first hired to be Penn State's quarterbacks coach in 1986 after Penn State's loss to Oklahoma in the 1985 Orange Bowl. While the Nittany Lions went on to win the Fiesta Bowl to become national champions, the success cannot be accredited to their passing game. In fact, that year John Shaffer and Matt Knizner combined for just 10 touchdowns. Compared to the 22 rushing touchdowns (3 of which were created by John Shaffer) the passing game was about half as effective as the running game, accounting for roughly about only a third of the team's scoring.

Sure, you may make the argument that you can't base the effectiveness of a coach on his first year, or that Penn State has always been more focused on the ground-game. But the fact remains that the trend of ineffective QB-play continued over the course of the next 5 years. By the time his job at Happy Valley was over, the passing combined for a total of 74 touchdowns and 54 interceptions. In fact, 3 out of the 6 years Jim Caldwell was at Penn State, the quarterbacks combined for more interceptions than touchdowns. The only time the passing game outscored the ground game in his time at Penn State was in 1989 and 1991, which ironically enough were years Penn State won bowl games. And not a single quarterback from Penn State from 1986 to 1992 went on to be a successful NFL quarterback (excluding Kerry Collins who was a back-up in 1991 and 1992). Not exactly a successful first stint, if you ask me.

After his stint with Penn State, Jim Caldwell went on to become Wake Forest's Head Coach. Next to none of the passing statistics are available during his time at Wake Forest, the one stat I was able to pull was that over the course of time there his quarterbacks combined for 92 touchdowns. But another stat that popped out to me, that his record at Wake Forest was 26-63; a .292 winning percentage. Over 8 years, he had but one winning season in which Wake Forest went on to win the Aloha Bowl. He might not have demonstrated his ability to be a successful head coach, but he did display a powerful passing attack that caught the eye of Tony Dungy.

He joined Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay for the 2001 season, in which the quarterbacks combined for a mediocre 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. After the 2001 season, Jim Caldwell followed Tony Dungy to Indianapolis. This is where the point from which most people starts to analyze Jim Caldwell's effectiveness as a quarterbacks coach. By the time Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy arrived at Indianapolis, Peyton Manning had already become the established starter and face of the franchise.

So while it's impossible to determine the effect Jim Caldwell had on Peyton Manning, the one thing that noticeably changed was Peyton's decrease in interception numbers. And while this could possibly be accredited due to the fact that Peyton was simply gaining more experience, it cannot be denied that his overall productivity increased during Caldwell's time there.

In 2001 Peyton Manning threw for 26 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. In 2002, Jim Caldwell's first year as the Colts' quarterbacks coach, Peyton Manning's numbers jumped to 27 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Now while that may not be exactly eye popping progression, it was still improvement. This improvement continued even more the following year. In 2003 Peyton's progression continued, as he notched 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This is where I personally believe Peyton Manning started to become an elite quarterback. He took the steps to reduce his interceptions to 10, while still gradually increasing his production of touchdowns. 2004 was the year when Peyton Manning took the biggest step of his improvement. He jumped from to an eye-popping 49 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. He had officially arrived at the elite status. And we all have seen how the story would go from that point on. The Colts went on to win a Superbowl in 2006. And after taking over as the head coach of the Colts in 2009, Caldwell even took his team to the Superbowl (where they lost 31-17 to the Saints). The following year his team reached the AFC Divisional round where they lost to the Jets 17-16.

But the subject of discrepancy that arises from Jim Caldwell's time in Indianapolis is how the play of his team fared this season without Peyton Manning. Poorly. His QB's combined for 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. This is where the speculation comes that Jim Caldwell might not have been as effective of a coach as he was made out to be. Because if he was a great coach, his quarterbacks would have been more effective and they wouldn't have finished with a 2-14 record. And while some may argue that this was due to the shortened offseason, some may argue that if Caldwell would've prepared his quarterbacks properly in the first place, they would have been able to step up and put their team in a position to win more than 2 games.

So whether it is Jim Caldwell who made Peyton Manning better, or vice-versa, it is unclear at this time to make that judgment. So the skeptics have every right to their uncertainty. The thing to observe this upcoming season is how Peyton Manning fares without Jim Caldwell and how Joe Flacco fares with Jim Caldwell. But due to his history as a coach, I for one am a skeptic. But as a Ravens' fan, I sure hope that Joe Flacco can progress as efficiently as Peyton Manning did.

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