KEY QUESTIONS: What next for the Lions coaching search?

Posted Jan 13, 2014

Ken Whisenhunt was believed to be the top choice to fill the Lions head coaching vacancy, but he chose to take the Tennessee Titans job instead. Where does that leave the Lions?

With the news Monday night that former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has agreed to become the next head coach of the Tennessee Titans, Jim Caldwell seems to have emerged as the leading candidate to replace Jim Schwartz in Detroit.

Does this mean the Lions didn't have a good enough offer to get Whisenhunt? Were they rejected?

The fact that things fell through with the Lions and Whisenhunt doesn't necessarily mean Whisenhunt rejected the Lions.

All the talk of Whisenhunt being the "favorite" for the Lions job was media speculation.

Whisenhunt certainly fit the profile the Lions were looking for, but so did Caldwell, former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who all interviewed for the position.

Lions team president Tom Lewand told reporters during the press conference announcing the firing of Jim Schwartz that the team had created a profile and didn't want to budge from it.

It's certainly possible Whisenhunt thought Tennessee had more to offer ... it may have even been about money.

But it's also possible something -- a scheme or philosophy -- didn't align with the profile the Lions created.

Who emerges as the Lions top candidate?

Jim Caldwell, the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, was the first candidate to interview for the Lions coaching job back on Jan. 3 and looks to be the top choice right now.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford spent time with Caldwell while he was in Allen Park and Caldwell also met with Vice Chairman Bill Ford.

The Lions spoke to former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy as recently as Monday morning about Caldwell and Dungy endorsed Caldwell for the job.

Lions management also spoke to Peyton Manning, who Caldwell worked closely with in Indianapolis.

"I already had told (Lions general manager) Martin Mayhew that Caldwell is a great match for a team that has the personnel of being capable of playing in the Super Bowl," Dungy, who won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis with Caldwell as his quarterbacks coach, told

"I think the Lions were not only impressed with Jim's interview but they were pleasantly surprised by the number of former Colts players who called on his behalf. Jim made Peyton Manning an even better quarterback -- look at the numbers and wins -- and I think he can do the same for Matthew Stafford.

"I know the Lions also want discipline and good character in the locker room. I'm not saying their other candidates can't achieve those things but those are Jim's strengths with his background, especially from his influence under Joe Paterno at Penn State and hopefully in our program in the NFL."

Why should fans believe Caldwell can win in Detroit when he couldn't win without Manning?

Jim CaldwellPHOTO: AP Images

Caldwell spent three seasons in Indianapolis as head coach, where he reached another Super Bowl but was fired after a 2-14 season in 2011 when Peyton Manning was out for the year with a neck injury.

Losing Manning was a huge blow for a team that didn't have a good backup plan at quarterback and finished the year 25th in total defense.

Without Manning, the Colts were left with Dan Orlovsky, Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins.

Does some of the 2-14 blame fall on Caldwell? Certainly, but it would have been tough for a lot of coaches to win games with that team.

Peyton Manning credited Caldwell with taking his game to "another level" and that's what the Lions would hope they're getting in Caldwell if he does ultimately get the job.

The Lions are only going to go as far at Stafford can take them and Caldwell has a history of working with quarterbacks.

He's also well respected for how he kept the locker room together in Indianapolis during that 2-14 season.

"You have to look at what wins," Caldwell said of his coaching philosophy in an interview with during his visit to Allen Park.

"That's the important thing. You have to be very good in terms of your fundamentals and techniques ruling the day. Those are the things that are going to carry you when times are difficult. Those are the things that are going to put streaks together. Those are the things that certainly will help you win games and get you enough games to get you into the postseason.

"When you look at it, that's what it boils down to. The basics and the rudiment of it all is to make certain you're very good at the things you have to do most often, you block, tackle, catch run and throw accurately."

Is anyone else a good fit?

Munchak impressed the Lions during his interview. He went 22-26 in three seasons with the Titans and was fired a week after the season when he declined ownership requests to fire several of his assistant coaches.

Munchak interviewed for the Cleveland Browns head coaching vacancy on Monday, but could also still be in play for the Lions as well.

Will the Lions look to more candidates?

That's certainly a possibility, though reports have surfaced that the Lions have been in talks with Caldwell and representatives through the day Monday.

The Lions could potentially wait to interview assistant coaches from teams still in the playoffs, but the hot names on that list don't have head coaching experience, which seems to be part of the profile the Lions have set up for their next coach.