MOBILE, Ala. – Thomas Dimitroff is not surprised at this.
That David Caldwell is now one of the NFL’s rising young executives, and that in his first move as Jaguars general manager he hired one of the league’s more respected young coaches as head coach?
Well, Dimitroff – the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons – couldn’t have predicted the specifics of that last sentence five years ago, when he hired Caldwell to help the Falcons rebuild what at the time was a struggling franchise.
But that Caldwell would eventually get this chance?
And that he would eventually be part of what many consider a tandem capable of turning around yet another franchise?
No, that doesn’t surprise Dimitroff. Not a bit.
“Dave’s an incredibly detailed, intelligent guy who has a really good outlook in leading and building football teams,” Dimitroff said Wednesday morning at Ladd Peebles-Stadium, site of Wednesday’s North practice for Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
“He’s had an opportunity to be around one of the best in Bill Polian, and he’s worked through that system. He also had an opportunity to work through our system, which is steeped in the New England Patriots’ tradition. I’ve just been very impressed with him over the years.”
Such has been the tone around the Senior Bowl this week. No, the Jaguars have yet to play a game since the hiring of Caldwell as general manager two weeks ago and the hiring of Gus Bradley as head coach last week. And no, the duo hasn’t even begun to evaluate the Jaguars’ roster.
But the buzz around the hirings has been palpable this week.
And that was true from both media types and former colleagues around the NFL alike.
Monte Kiffin, the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys who hired Bradley into the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, called Bradley “a special guy.”
“You’ll love this guy,” Kiffin said this week. “He has so much energy. He’s never had a bad day.”
Roy Cummings, longtime Buccaneers beat writer for the Tampa Tribune, said while Bradley arrived as the Buccaneers’ quality control coach in 2006 as an unknown from North Dakota state, it became apparent immediately that he more than belonged in the NFL.
“When he first got there, we were wondering, ‘North Dakota State? What does North Dakota State know about football?’’’ Cummings recalled this week. “But when Monte Kiffin picks out a coach, you can pretty much bet that that coach knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s a coach on the rise. History tells you that.”
Indeed, Kiffin has a history of hiring assistants destined to be head coaches in the NFL, from Mike Tomlin, to Rod Marinelli, To Raheem Morris, to Herm Edwards, to Bradley.
“It wasn’t very long when he was in Tampa that you realized with Gus, ‘This guy’s got it,’ ’’ Cummings said. “Just like Mike Tomlin, just like Raheem Morris, just like Rod Marinelli. This guy had it. His energy is special. I think that’s the thing Jacksonville is going to love most about Gus. He’s a better person than he is a football coach, and he’s as good a football coach as you’ll find.
“His energy level is infectious. He’s the kind of guy who can get everybody excited about that team. That’s probably something Jacksonville needs. He’ll bring that, and he will sustain it.”
The talk around the Jaguars has been equal parts Bradley and Caldwell, with longtime NFL writer Dan Pompei calling Caldwell “one of the NFL’s “better talent evaluators.”
Pompei, like Dimitroff, said Caldwell should benefit from having worked for Polian in Indianapolis for more than a decade before joining Dimitroff’s staff, on which he served for five years, including this past season as director of player personnel.
“He’s very thorough,” Pompei said. “He’s one of the guys who truly knows the draft from top to bottom. The impressive thing about him is he’s got the background from one of the most successful trees in the business. He knows how the best teams have done it.”
Mike Smith, hired as Falcons’ head coach the same offseason Caldwell joined the Falcons, said Caldwell not only has a “great” reputation in NFL circles, he also possesses the ability to communicate – an often-overlooked requirement for a successful general manager
“He’s very collaborative,” Smith said. “He was an integral part of the building we put together in Atlanta. I think it (communication) is the most important thing. It’s important that there’s a collaborative effort between all aspects of the organization.
“Dave was an integral part of the team we’ve put together the last five years.”
Caldwell joined the Falcons after years as an area scout in Indianapolis, and Dimitroff said he grew quickly and steadily into more responsibility.
“I’ve been very impressed with him over the years as he’s progressed with his learning and growth as a leader,” Dimitroff said.
DImitroff said there indeed is a leadership aspect to being general manager as opposed to a director of player personnel.
“Dave is a smart guy,” Dimitroff said. “He’s an intuitive football man and he has good people skills where he is able to understand and navigate through the challenges of an organization. He had an opportunity to do that as personnel director at our place. It was in an assistant setting, but I gave him a lot of leeway to run his department and evolve in a lot of different areas. It was really beneficial for him.”
“The team has a direction now,” Caplan said. “You have a general manager who has won throughout his career, who has experienced winning everywhere he has been. He understands the draft and how you build a football team. He wants guys who are sustainable over time, and that’s what you have to do.
“You have an owner who’s willing to spend money to support in any way possible. He has a son who’s very smart – I love what Tony Khan’s doing – and you have a head coach who if you follow the league closely, he’s a special guy. Everything is positive.”
And as far as the Jaguars’ future, Caplan said, “The arrow is straight up.”
“I didn’t think the team had a prayer of winning last year,” Caplan said. “I love the direction. They’ve got their guys. They got what we think are two of the best guys. There’s a lot of work to be done on the roster. But these guys give you a direction. They give you a chance.”