Greg Adams was giving his old college roommate, Jim Caldwell, a tour of Detroit a few days after Caldwell was hired as Lions coach when the two stopped to visit UAW Ford vice president Jimmy Settles.
Caldwell was looking for living options in the city and Adams offered his friend a tour of Settles’ downtown home. It was a Sunday, after church, and Caldwell figured he’d be there five or 10 minutes.
The two started talking about their union ties — Caldwell’s father worked 35 years in the auto industry — and what they wanted to do to help the city, and an hour and 15 minutes later they left with a bond of friendship and a vow to be in touch again.
“He just said if I ever wanted him to do anything, to give him a call,” Settles said. “And I took him up on it.”
Settles asked Caldwell to speak at a sportsmanship summit he put together for local high school student-athletes, and Wednesday the Lions coach delivered a stirring 30-minute talk to more than 300 students from 18 Detroit public schools.
He spoke of his father and how he instilled integrity and discipline in his life, of making the most of whatever hand you’re dealt — he said he once built a homemade kite for a Cub scout competition out of heavy paper and fishing line that flew twice as high as anyone else — and he closed his presentation with a 15-minute question-and-answer period where the topics ranged from who his ideal pick would be in next month’s draft (a question he didn’t directly answer) to how he feels about unionizing college football. (“I don’t think that it has a place,” he said.)
“So many young people obviously within the city have a burning desire to excel, and oftentimes they kind of look to the Lions, who they’ve adored and watched and supported over the years,” Caldwell said. “And I think it was important for me to kind of get an opportunity to shake hands with a number of these young folks that one day may be some that will play for us, there may be some that will work within the organization, and there’s certainly going to be a number of them that are going to do some great things not only within this community but within the country as well.
“They’re our greatest natural resource, so I think it’s important to take part in this kind of activity.”
Along with Caldwell’s speech, the students got a chance to mingle with local business leaders and current and former sports stars, including former Detroit mayor Dave Bing, Lions defensive tackle Andre Fluellen and ex-Pistons forward Derrick Coleman.
Bing said Caldwell’s message was “very powerful” to students.
“Everybody follows the Lions,” Bing said. “I mean, this is a football city, and to have Jim Caldwell come in and interact with these kids I think sends a very, very strong message. His background, his knowledge. Everything that I’ve heard about him is very, very positive. We don’t want to put too much pressure on him in terms of trying to help us save our kids. He’s got to save the Lions first.”
Beat writer Dave Birkett will answer your Lions questions in a live chat at 10 a.m. Friday at freep.com/sports. Submit early questions here .