Caldwell was fired after three seasons as Indianapolis Colts coach, the last a 2-14 debacle that ended the Peyton Manning era and prompted owner Jim Irsay to blow up the team. Not surprisingly, Caldwell couldn't win without Manning.
A coaching lifer and a class act, Caldwell landed on his feet as quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens. In a bold, risky move that worked, the Ravens fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator late in the season and promoted Caldwell.
Now the Ravens are in the Super Bowl, quarterback Joe Flacco looks like a world beater and Caldwell has been named full-time coordinator.
Caldwell also helped the Ravens beat the Colts and Manning's Denver Broncos in the playoffs, just for added storylines.
“It's a tough situation for him, too, coming in his first year here and then in the offense,” Ravens center Matt Birk told BaltimoreRavens.com. “It's not like we changed everything we were doing. He just kind of took the controls, and obviously, has done a nice job.”
Despite the late success, Caldwell didn't get a shot at any of the head coaching jobs that opened up. That seems somewhat strange, considering he took the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009, the playoffs in 2010 and faltered in 2011 with the less-than-triumphant quarterback triumvirate of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. The NFL is reviewing the Rooney Rule on minority hiring, in part because only white men earned head-coaching jobs. That's a column for another day.
For Caldwell, this is some redemption, being the last former Colt standing in this postseason.
He's also calling plays for the first time in his life. During Caldwell's time as head coach of the Colts, the Colts offense was called by Tom Moore and Clyde Christensen.
But Caldwell apparently has a knack for it, even if it's not always popular. For example, he stuck with the running game against Denver when it seemed to be going nowhere. In fact, it drained Denver's defense and opened up the play-action pass for Flacco.
Caldwell is not afraid of the deep ball, and Flacco has delivered his share.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh named Caldwell the offensive coordinator for 2013 on Monday.
“Since he's been through this a lot of times and has been a part of a lot of great offenses, he knows what it looks like and what it's supposed to feel like,” Birk said. “Obviously, I'm sure he's drawing on his experiences and helping us out and bringing that to our offense.”
In retrospect, Caldwell's time with the Colts included some factors beyond his control, with the biggest being the loss of Manning in 2011. If Manning hadn't been bothered by neck injuries, the Colts likely would have won nine or 10 games. They wouldn't have had the No.1 draft pick. Manning would still be in Indy. Caldwell would still be the coach.
But Caldwell's time as coach with the Colts had other mixed moments, including the team's decision not to go for the perfect record in 2009, taking the starters out against the Jets. Whether that was Caldwell's decision or a combination of Caldwell and then-president Bill Polian, it angered fans. The fact the Colts made the Super Bowl led Caldwell and management to declare the move the right one.
But the Colts lost the Super Bowl on a halftime move by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton to open the third-quarter with an onside kick. The rest is Hank Baskett's history.
Caldwell caught some grief over his tenure because of questionable timeout decisions and other moves. He was also drier than dirt in his meetings with the media. His lack of sideline animation always puzzled and sometimes annoyed fans.
His players, however, supported him to the fullest.
I've never heard anyone who played under Caldwell at Indy say a negative word, on or off the record. Manning credits his help. That speaks to Caldwell's character and coaching.
Enough of history, Caldwell's future is now with the Ravens. He'll be the man behind Flacco and the offense as they try to continue a postseason trend of making big plays at the right time.
“I think we had a good relationship before he became coordinator, so I think he has settled in a little bit,” Flacco told BaltimoreRavens.com. “I think he has had the time to really prepare for it now and I think we just continue to grow week-by-week.”
The San Francisco 49ers defense presents a huge challenge.
If the Ravens prevail, linebacker Ray Lewis will bask in retirement glory and Flacco will have the hardware that elevates a quarterback in many fans' eyes.
Caldwell will smile, ever so slightly.