The team announced early Monday morning that general manager Bob Quinn informed Caldwell that he will not be returning as head coach. In addition to Caldwell, Quinn confirmed the Lions won't bring back offensive line coach Ron Prince.
"We didn't beat the real good teams," Quinn said. "Our record was above average. We're 9-7 the last two years, but our record against the better teams in the league has not been that good."
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport previously reported that Caldwell's contract extension signed earlier in 2017 was for one year with options down the road, simply avoiding a lame-duck year. The contract nuance allowed the Lions to walk away from Caldwell after the season with minimal penalty.
In a statement released by the team, Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford thanked Caldwell for his efforts in Detroit:
"On behalf of my family and the Lions organization I would like to thank Jim Caldwell for his exemplary leadership and service to our team and our community over the past four years.
"I believe Jim is one of the finest leaders we've ever had as our head coach. Not only did he guide us on the field to three winning seasons, but he also set a standard of excellence off the field that had a tremendous impact on everyone in our organization and our entire community.
"As many of our players have already said, his influence on them transcended the game of football and will positively serve them throughout their lives.
"Our organization is better because of Jim, and we are forever grateful. We wish Jim, his wife Cheryl and the entire Caldwell family all the best that life can offer."
The Lions ended 9-7 in 2017 after a 3-1 start to the year. Caldwell will finish his four-year run in Detroit with a 36-28 record. He is the first Lions head coach with a winning record since Joe Schmidt in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Detroit made the playoffs twice and finished with a losing record just once under Caldwell.
"My wife Cheryl and I greatly appreciate the tremendous opportunity to have been a part of the Lions organization serving as head coach for the past 4 years," Caldwell said in a statement released by the team. "We offer our sincere gratitude to Martha Ford, the Ford family and the entire Detroit organization for an abundance of confidence and encouragement during our time with the team.
"I am blessed to have had successful years as a member of the Lions' organization, and I would be remiss if I did not recognize the great effort put forth by our players and coaching staff who poured their hearts out in an effort to maintain the standard of excellence this organization has grown to expect. I wish the Lions, my coaching staff, our players and the loyal Lions fans, who were very supportive, much continued success in the future."
Despite the winning record, Caldwell's tenure was characterized by a failure to show up in big games, repeated letdowns against good teams, and close losses coupled with botched game-management scenarios. The Lions have not won a playoff game since 1991, the second-longest active drought in the NFL, and went 0-2 under Caldwell.
The Week 16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, when a win would have kept the postseason hopes alive, typified the type of no-shows that became all too frequent in the coach's tenure. Detroit backed into the playoffs in 2016, losing three straight to end the year. In 2017, Caldwell's Lions beat just one team that ended the season with a winning record (Minnesota in Week 4).
Firing Caldwell signals that simply beating up on bad teams is no longer good enough for Firestone Ford. Caldwell helped guide the Lions out of Embarrassmentville for four seasons, but his tenure hit its ceiling.
Quinn must now find the person to get Detroit over the top.
Rapoport reported Monday that the Lions are expected to interview Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia for their open coaching position and have reached out to current Texans DC Mike Vrabel and Panthers DC Steve Wilks for interviews. Meanwhile, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports Detriot has also contacted Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.