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Calvin Johnson will always be big fan of former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell

Former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell was one of the biggest influences on Calvin Johnson’s NFL career, and that won’t change after the team made a coaching change.

“It’s the nature of the league. You can’t get upset about it because those things happen,” Johnson said after his coach for his final three seasons was fired. “Hate it for Caldwell because Caldwell is a great guy.”

Johnson, who spoke before the Economic Club of Grand Rapids on Monday, didn’t know much about new coach Matt Patricia, who was officially hired last week.

“They got a good pedigree with him,” Johnson said. “Don’t know much beyond that. But he comes from a championship-level team, and hopefully that will translate.”

The arrival of Patricia meant the exit of one of the most important coaches in Johnson’s career. He called Caldwell “a father figure” and a “role model” in his praises before some 700 guests at JW Marriott.

“In all the years I was there, he spoke to everyone and treated everyone on the team like a man,” Johnson said. “That’s what you like to see in a head coach. You can’t have someone who treats some guys one way and treat others another way.”

Part of the respect between the two came when Johnson went into Caldwell’s office and told him his retirement plans after the 2016 season at age 30.

“I’m not a big crier. But the day I told him I wasn’t coming back, I did cry that day,” Johnson said. “It was tough to tell somebody who you felt was invested in you as a person … It was hard to tell him.”

Perhaps most illuminating in Johnson’s comments was about Matt Stafford, his quarterback for seven of his nine seasons, and his instinctual knowledge of the receiver’s retirement thoughts.

“It was funny, after the last game in Chicago, leaving the field, I hugged him up and he was like ‘I already know,'” Johnson said. “He already knew, and it was funny how he knew before I even told him.”

Johnson concluded his career with 731 receptions, 11,619 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns and a likely place in the hall of fame.

Johnson is just 32 but has already repeatedly said he does not plan to come out of retirement. Instead, he is involved in residential real estate around the Detroit area with former teammate Rob Sims; development of the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation that empowers youngsters to build self-esteem and positive thinking, and speaking to NFL players to create a retirement plan and prepare for life after football.

As for his relationship with the Lions, Johnson, when asked after his talk, wouldn’t say either way.

“No comment,” he said with a chuckle before adding: “Every time I comment on them it becomes a big story and I don’t want that. I’m just living my life and having a good time.”

But, of course, he was asked a couple questions in a couple different way about why he retired. His simplest explanation? The state of the Lions and the condition of his body told him.

“Unfortunately, we were never able to get to where we wanted to be,” he said about a Super Bowl. “But, at the time you feel a change in guys leaving the team and you could sense from being there so long where you are as team and how far you can make it.

“For myself, with all the things my body was doing and the way things were going, it was just my time.”

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8 years after the birth of the Calvin Johnson Rule, Roger Goodell wants to start over

Eight years after the birth of the Calvin Johnson rule, Roger Goodell wants to go back to the drawing board and redefine the catch.

The NFL commissioner held his annual state of the union press conference Wednesday in a plush ballroom at the Hilton here in downtown Minneapolis. He broached several topics during his half-hour behind the mic, but the first question posed to him was about was officiating, and Goodell wasted no time using the opportunity to pivot to the catch rule.

“I would like to start back, instead of adding to the rule, subtracting the rule. Start over again and look at the rule fundamentally from the start,” Goodell said. “Because I think when you add or subtract things, you can still lead to confusion. These rules are very complex — you have to look at what the unintended consequences are of making a change, which is what the competition committee, in my view, does so well and with so much thought.”

Goodell said the league hosted several coaches and a group of Hall of Fame players two weeks ago to watch film of about 150 plays where the catch rule came into play. The goal was to reach a consensus on what makes a catch, and then generate ideas about how to codify that into the rulebook clearly enough to be understood and correctly enforced.

“I think we have some very good ideas we’re going to submit to the competition committee,” Goodell said. “I think there will be a lot of focus on going to the ground, which I think has been part of the confusion with respect to that rule. And I think we’ve got a great opportunity to get this rule right so everyone understands it.”

That latter point was an allusion to the so-called complete the process rule, better known around the league — and especially in Detroit — as the Calvin Johnson Rule. It states a player must maintain control of the football through the entire act of the catch. Which means simply having possession when a player is downed is not enough.

Johnson found that out the hard way after catching — or at least appearing to catch — a game-winning TD in the 2010 season opener against Chicago. He caught the ball with two hands, moved it into one hand and maintained control as he went to the ground. But then he lost control of the ball as he planted his hand to the turf.

To the naked eye, it looked like a catch. But by the letter of the law, it was not. The play was overturned, much to Johnson’s chagrin, and the Lions lost the game. Matter of fact, they didn’t win a game until Week 5.

And a rule was born.

There has been a lot of talk over the years about the rule, but attempts to clarify it have failed. The push to review the rule has intensified this year after another batch of controversial calls. Perhaps the most famous example involved Pittsburgh’s Jesse James, who was ruled to have caught the ball with 28 seconds left in a game against the hated Patriots. He reached the ball over the goal line with full possession, but the ball wiggled as he hit the ground.

By the letter of the law, that’s a no catch, even if the eyes said otherwise. And the Steelers lost the game. Now Goodell wants to start over. Again.

“I can’t promise you there won’t be controversy,” he said, “but we can get to a much better place.”

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Here are some other quick hits from the press conference:

— The Raiders seemed intent on hiring Jon Gruden from the moment they fired Jack Del Rio, and some might even say before the firing. That sure seems like a violation of the Rooney Rule, which stipulates teams must interview minority candidates, although Goodell disputed that notion. Oakland “was actually in compliance with the Rooney Rule,” he said. “I think we have a disagreement in the facts.” Yes, Roger, I think we do.

— The Mexico City game will feature the Rams and Chiefs on a date that is yet to be determined.

— Despite a prevailing notion among players that they feel more injury prone on Thursday nights, Goodell said the league’s data suggests injuries have held steady on Thursdays. There was only a “slight uptick” this year that wasn’t even statistically significant. And Goodell also noted players and teams love the extra rest that comes after a Thursday game, which is almost like getting a second bye. Sure sounds like those games aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

— Goodell said he wants fewer stoppages of play, and quicker stoppages when they do occur. “We did have more replay interruptions this year,” he said. “I think that’s something we have to look at, we can improve on. … We spent a great deal of time in the offseason on game presentation. How do we make our game more attractive? Less stoppages, shorter stoppages when they do occur whether they’re commercial or otherwise. I think that’s one of the things we’re going to focus on how do we do the replay in a way that will ensure correcting an obvious mistake but make sure it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game.”

— After years of handling controversies that spanned everything from domestic violence to Deflategate, this Goodell press conference was as drama-free as any I’ve seen in years. In fact, Patriots beat writer Ben Volin of the Boston Globe quipped that he was all out of Deflategate questions, so he’d let Goodell off the hook. “That’s a shocker,” Goodell responded. Indeed.

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On Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James had a controversial touchdown catch overturned. He caught the ball, turned to lunge for the goal line, and made it across. The ball hit the ground, though, and moved as he reached out. That small movement was enough to have it ruled incomplete, even though he’d plucked it out of the air and then only lost it because he was trying to score.

It was similar to Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson’s apparent touchdown catch in 2010, against the Chicago Bears. Johnson leapt up to make the grab with just seconds remaining, caught the ball, landed, turned, fell so that his knee hit, and then reached out with the ball to brace himself on the ground. When he did so, the ball popped out. Johnson didn’t even try to grab it as the announcers went crazy; everyone watching that play thought it was a game-winning touchdown.

Then the refs blew the whistle, reviewed it, and said it didn’t count because he hadn’t controlled the ball all the way through the ground.

After watching James suffer the same fate, former Indianapolis Colts coach and Super Bowl champion Tony Dungy didn’t hold back.

“In trying to make the catch-no catch rule black and white for the officials after Calvin Johnson’s play in 2010 the NFL has made a mistake,” Dungy wrote. “Balls that EVERYONE thinks are catches are actually incomplete.”

For what it’s worth, the NFL appears to be enforcing the rule properly. Dungy’s argument is just that the rule is wrong. Anyone who sees those plays thinks they’re obviously catches for touchdowns. The rule defines them as heartbreaking incomplete passes. He thinks they should revise the rule, especially since games are literally being decided based on these replay overturns.

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Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn and the rest of the millionaire coaches club must pay plenty of attention to recruiting right now, but it’s not all focused on high school prospects.

There’s also the notion of current players deciding whether to jump early to the NFL.

The top candidate, of course, is Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.

Auburn’s workhorse back emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate, despite missing two early games with hamstring injury, and ran for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged an SEC-best 120 yards rushing per game, but is now battling rib and shoulder injuries sustained in the Iron Bowl.
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Johnson’s decision on whether to stay in college or head early to the NFL has major implications for Auburn’s football program. Running back Kamryn Pettway, who missed all of 2017 with an injury, seems destined to turn pro.

So, if Johnson and Pettway head to the NFL, would that decimate Auburn’s running game? Would the Tigers be required to turn to true freshman Asa Martin? Should Malzahn lobby Johnson to stay for another college season or head to the NFL, knowing the short shelf life for NFL running backs?

As practices began this week for Alabama and Auburn and both teams preparing for bowl games on Jan. 1, the questions surrounding Johnson and other standout underclassmen will intensify.

Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to file declaration papers with the league, so players have less than a month to make a final decision.