By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — It's easily forgotten in the rubble of a disastrous 2011 season, but Jim Caldwell's last game at Lucas Oil Stadium was a victory.
Reggie Wayne caught a pass on the AFC logo in the north end zone during the game's final minute, and the Indianapolis Colts upset the Houston Texans 19-16. The regular season ended with a loss at Jacksonville nine days later, and an offseason of upheaval began with the firing of front office leaders Bill and Chris Polian less than 24 hours after the game.
Caldwell lasted another couple of weeks before new general manager Ryan Grigson decided to move the franchise in another direction. For many coaches, a firing marks the end of their head coaching careers.
Caldwell is among the lucky ones.
He was back at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday, meeting the media during the NFL Scouting Combine as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions.
"The fact of the matter is very rarely do you get a second opportunity," Caldwell said. "Not only a second, but this is actually a third for me if you include my stint in college (at Wake Forest) as well. But I was looking forward to it. I was hoping (for another chance)."
He'll get it in the Motor City with a high-octane offense already in place. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush provide the building blocks for an attack that should rank among the best in the league.
Caldwell rode the NFL's seventh-highest scoring offense in 2009 to a berth in Super Bowl XLIV, and he helped Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco find a new plateau as the Ravens' offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl championship run three years later.
There's clearly reason to be excited about the offensive potential for the Lions, but Caldwell said the team will be measured by just one statistic.
"The most important thing is winning," he said. "That's the most important thing. The most important thing is putting points on the board and winning games. I think that's going to be our focus more so than some landmark that we set in terms of production from an offensive standpoint."
Caldwell has seen plenty of winning in his days with the Colts and the Ravens, and he found some similarities between the franchises. Chief among them is leadership and consistency in the locker room.
Caldwell said winning consistently "has a certain sound to it." He's looking for players who will step forward in times of trouble and guide teammates onto the right path.
For the most part, Caldwell found those people in Indianapolis.
Taking over as Tony Dungy's hand-picked successor after seven seasons as an assistant coach, he posted a 24-8 record in his first two seasons before Peyton Manning's neck injury and its aftermath temporarily derailed the franchise.
A 2-14 final season ultimately doomed Caldwell, but he left with a wealth of lessons about how to build a team in the NFL from his decade with the Colts.
"One of the things about our business is the fact if you don't feel that you're growing and developing each and every day, obviously you're in the wrong business," he said. "I learned something different every single day. I had a great 10 years here."