If Lions fire Jim Schwartz, who should be top candidate to replace him?

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If the Detroit Lions fire Jim Schwartz, who should be the top candidate to replace him?

In all honesty, it feels a bit strange to be talking about a coaching search when Jim Schwartz hasn't actually been fired. However, all signs point to him being dismissed by the Detroit Lions next Monday. I've already made my case for why the Lions should fire Schwartz, and it's tough to imagine a scenario where he will be brought back for a sixth season as the man in charge in Detroit.

If the Lions do in fact fire Schwartz, Pride Of Detroit will have full coverage of that decision and the impending coaching search that will take place. I've already started to gather a list of coaches who could be in the mix to replace Schwartz, and two potential candidates in particular have jumped out as being especially intriguing options: Bill O'Brien and Ken Whisenhunt.

The common theme with O'Brien and Whisenhunt is that they have offensive backgrounds. Considering how much money the Lions have invested in their offense, and considering how much Matthew Stafford has struggled this season, replacing Schwartz with an offensive-minded coach would seem to make the most sense. In my mind, fixing Stafford is going to be the top priority for whoever the coach is next year. If Schwartz is shockingly retained, that has to be his top task, and if he's not brought back, the new head coach should have a plan going in to make Stafford better.

With O'Brien working as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots before going to Penn State and turning Matt McGloin into an NFL quarterback, he is at the top of my list. It remains to be seen if he will actually leave Penn State considering he's only been there for two years, but out of all the potential candidates, he seems like he could have the most positive effect on Stafford.

If we're sticking strictly to candidates who are currently in the NFL, Whisenhunt seems to make the most sense. As the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator this year, he has helped Philip Rivers have an outstanding season, and he took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl as their head coach. He also won a Super Bowl as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator.

What's interesting about a possible coaching search this year is that you don't have an obvious top candidate like Andy Reid expected to be on the market. He was the top name last season, but this year there's really just a long list of names. Certain candidates are likely to be more heavily pursued than others -- Lovie Smith, for example, is already generating some interest -- but there doesn't seem to be a sure-fire candidate who you know will be available or willing to leave his current job.

Even so, certain names are already starting to get some play in Detroit despite the fact that Schwartz hasn't even been fired yet. Based on the admittedly small amount of research I've done so far, O'Brien is my top candidate, with Whisenhunt slightly behind him. By no means is this opinion set in stone, but as things stand right now, with a coaching search not even actually underway yet, I've got O'Brien as the top dog on my list of candidates.

What does your wish list look like if the Lions make a coaching change? (And keep in mind, it's unrealistic to expect that someone like Tony Dungy or Bill Cowher will suddenly unretire.)

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