Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has head-coaching experience with the Arizona Cardinals. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)
The Lions appear to have determined the qualifications for their next head coach, but two former NFL players said it would be unwise to limit the search for Jim Schwartz’s replacement to someone with head-coaching experience.
Even though Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said the team would look at all candidates, the team has interviewed Jim Caldwell and Gary Kubiak, scheduled an interview with Mike Munchak and requested an interview with Ken Whisenhunt, all of whom have been NFL head coaches and have offensive backgrounds.
“I think it’s a mistake for any franchise to say the guy we’re going to hire has to have head-coaching experience,” Dan Dierdorf said on a conference call Tuesday. Dierdorf played 13 seasons as an NFL offensive lineman after going to Michigan and is an analyst for CBS.
"I think you have to go with the guy that blew your socks off in the interview process,” Dierdorf continued. “And look at the success a lot of guys have had that weren’t head coaches before — Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh. You get the guy who electrifies you when you interview him, and whether he was a head coach before or not, to me, is irrelevant.”
On the same conference call, CBS analyst and longtime NFL quarterback Phil Simms explained how he met Harbaugh when the current Ravens coach was a special teams coordinator with the Eagles.
“When he got hired by the Baltimore Ravens, I swear I went, ‘What are they doing?’” Simms said. “I’ll take that and swallow it because I know I was wrong, like I do a lot of times.”
Baltimore went to the playoffs in each of Harbaugh’s first five seasons as head coach and won the Super Bowl last year.
Dierdorf told a similar story about Tomlin, the Steelers head coach, who had one year of experience as a coordinator but led Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl title in his second season.
“I’d never met Mike Tomlin before he was hired by the Steelers, and I had that John Harbaugh moment,” Dierdorf said. “Mike Tomlin? Are you kidding me? Where did they find this guy? Then you have your first meeting, and Greg Gumbel and I sat down with him for the first time, and three minutes into this, ‘I’m going, well I know what (Steelers chairman) Dan Rooney saw now. This is as obvious as the writing on the wall. This guy’s got it.’”
Schwartz didn’t have head-coaching experience when the Lions hired him in 2009. Although the team improved in his first three seasons, the Lions went 2-14 in the second halves of the last two seasons, which led to his firing last Monday.
“I like Jim Schwartz,” Simms said. “I thought the Lions were very close to getting this turned around, but they need somebody in my eyes just to change — I don’t want to say the culture — but it needs to change in Detroit. We just didn’t see that buttoned-up, disciplined team as much as we need to see.”
The Lions have reported interest in Bengals coordinators Mike Zimmer (defense) and Jay Gruden (offense). Neither has been a head coach in the NFL, but all of the other candidates the Lions have zeroed in on do.
Caldwell, the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, was head coach in Indianapolis from 2009-11 and finished with a 26-22 record, two playoff appearances and a Super Bowl loss in 2009.
Kubiak was fired by the Texans during the 2013 season, which Houston finished 2-14. He was the second head coach in franchise history, and in nearly eight seasons, he finished with a 61-64 record and a 2-2 playoff record.
Munchak reportedly has an interview with the Lions on Wednesday. He was fired by the Titans on Saturday after a 22-26 record in three seasons.
Whisenhunt is currently offensive coordinator of the Chargers and preparing for their divisional matchup against the Broncos. The Lions are one of four teams that requested an interview with him, but San Diego would have to give permission and control the time and location. Whisenhunt was Arizona’s head coach from 2007-12, and he finished with a 45-51 record and a Super Bowl loss in 2008.
Whoever the Lions hire, his success will be directly tied to quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“I think Matt Stafford is as talented throwing the football as anybody in the NFL. I really do,” Simms said. “But now you have to accept the responsibility that you’re the man, and I think we all know that means. Take control of the dang football team and make it yours. When you lose, it’s your fault, and when you win, it’s everybody else that helped you get it done.
“I think in today’s game, these quarterbacks need to have a great presence on the football team, and if they don’t, I think it hurts your team and your franchise, and we’ll see if the Lions get that corrected.”