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The latest Lions buzz: Fords lining up next batch of GM, coaching candidates

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Now that the regular season has ended, the Detroit Lions are moving quickly to line up interviews with general manager and head-coaching candidates currently employed by other franchises. According to NFL Network and Sports Illustrated reports, the Lions have put in requests to talk to four individuals for the GM opening, as well as four potential coaches.

The Lions already have conducted seven interviews for their general manager vacancy and are hoping to add New Orleans Saints vice president of pro personnel Terry Fontenot, Minnesota Vikings vice president of player personnel George Paton, Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland and Los Angeles Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes. 

The Detroit Lions last game of the 2020 season at Ford Field ends with a 37-35 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in front of a mostly empty stadium.

A college safety, Fontenot started with the Saints as a marketing intern, before getting an opportunity to scout for the franchise. That was the start of a long climb to the upper echelons of the team's front office. 

The Saints haven't always done the best job managing the salary cap, but they've been a Super Bowl contender year in and year out much of the past decade, building around the talents of quarterback Drew Brees. 

Fontenot interviewed for the New York Jets GM job last year. In addition to the Lions, he's also expected to talk to the Atlanta Falcons regarding their opening this week. 

Paton's resume is extensive, serving in high-ranking front office roles for three different organizations. He's been with the Vikings since 2006, working alongside Rick Spielman, not just there, but also with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. 

Spielman, of course, is the brother of Chris, the former Lions linebacker recently brought in as a special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood, with an initial focus on the team's upcoming leadership hires. 

During Paton's time in Minnesota, the team has qualified for the postseason six times, while winning four division titles. The Vikings have landed many of its key pieces in the draft, including stars like Dalvin Cook, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Kyle Rudolph and Justin Jefferson, while supplementing the roster via free agency.

Ireland joined the Saints in 2015, also serving as the team's director of college scouting. Like Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli and Rick Smith, who the Lions previously interviewed, Ireland has GM experience, serving in that role for the Dolphins from 2008-13. 

More: 25 early candidates to replace Matt Patricia as Lions coach

During his time in New Orleans, the team has done well in the draft, adding stars Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Ryan Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore, as well as several other starters and depth pieces to the perennial contender. 

Holmes, who also is expected to interview with Atlanta, has been in his role for eight years with the Rams, a stretch that's included the selections of All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Pro Bowl quarterback Jared Goff and offensive weapons Cooper Kupp and Cam Akers. 

On the coaching front, only one conversation with a candidate has been made public. The Lions talked to former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis about the opening last week. 

More: 15 early candidates to replace Bob Quinn as Lions general manager

On Monday, the NFL Network was reporting the team has requested to talk to four popular candidates — San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Saints tight ends and assistant head coach Dan Campbell.

Born and raised in Dearborn, no candidate has generated more early buzz than Saleh. Players clearly respond to his high-energy, motivational style. Despite everything that went wrong for the 49ers this year, the defense still produced at a high level, particularly when it came to pressuring the quarterback. 

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh

Smith, meanwhile, has been with the Titans for a decade, working his way up to the coordinator job two years ago. The former offensive lineman coaches an old-school, smashmouth scheme, built around 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry. 

But Smith's resume is bolstered by the mid-career turnaround of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the development of young receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis (Western Michigan), who both nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season. 

Bieniemy carries the stamp of approval from current Lions Chase Daniel and Reggie Ragland, who previously spent time with him in Kansas City. A nine-year NFL veteran, Bieniemy has been coaching for two decades, building up his resume working under Andy Reid the past eight.

As for Campbell, the only non-coordinator on the list, he's worked under great coaches Bill Parcells and Sean Payton, serving as the latter's right-hand man in New Orleans.

A former tight end, Campbell had a stint with the Lions during his playing days and even has some head-coaching experience, taking over a bad Dolphins team as a interim coach in 2015 and squeezing a 5-7 record out of them. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers