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Indianapolis — Ken Whisenhunt had an opportunity to become the head coach of the Lions last year. Instead, he joined the Tennessee Titans and finished 2-14 while Jim Caldwell led the Lions to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.

Despite the poor year, Whisenhunt said Wednesday at the NFL combine it wasn't tough to watch what might have been.

"It wasn't difficult," he said. "I'm a huge fan of Martin Mayhew and a lot of guys in that organization. There's a lot of guys on that staff. Coach Caldwell, I'm a big fan of his, so I was excited for them and for their organization."

Whisenhunt and Mayhew, the Lions general manager, were teammates in Washington in 1990, which was one of several reasons Whisenhunt was thought to be the frontrunner. His head six years as a head coach in Arizona and work with quarterbacks also made him a logical candidate.

When the Titans hired Whisenhunt, the Lions chose Caldwell, who had similar credentials as a longtime quarterback coach and with three years as a head coach in Indianapolis. At Caldwell's opening news conference, Lions brass explained there were two top choices, Caldwell and Whisenhunt.

At the time, Whisenhunt's decision came as a surprise because of the uncertainty of the quarterback position with the Titans. Now, there's a chance Tennessee will draft a quarterback No. 2 overall in the draft.

Last year, Whisenhunt said coaching Matthew Stafford was not a deterrent from coaching the Lions, and he offered praise of the Lions quarterback again Wednesday.

"It's hard for me to talk a lot about players that are on other teams, but from what I saw from him as an opponent as a guy through the league, he's a good football player," Whisenhunt said. "He does a lot of good things."

Notable

With Bobby Johnson leaving the Lions to become the tight ends coach with the Raiders, Detroit officials promoted Terry Heffernan to assistant offensive line coach, the position he held in 2013.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein

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