clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A look back at the Lions' coaching search

It's time to wrap up the Detroit Lions' coaching search.

Duane Burleson

There are still a couple openings on the Detroit Lions' coaching staff, but their search, which began more than three weeks ago, is finally starting to wind down. The coaching search started after the firing of Jim Schwartz, reached its climax with the hiring of Jim Caldwell and has continued on over the course of the last week or so with Caldwell trying to assemble his staff. Let's take a look back at the most notable moments from the Lions' coaching search.

The firing of Jim Schwartz

After the Lions completed another collapse by going 1-6 in their final seven games, which led to them not winning the NFC North despite being in the driver's seat for most of the season, Jim Schwartz was fired. All signs pointed to his firing once the Lions were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 16, but there was some uncertainty on the morning of Dec. 30, which is when the final decision was made. It took a bit longer than expected for the news of Schwartz's firing to break, so for a couple hours it seemed like the Lions might do the unthinkable and bring Schwartz back. That did not happen, though, and the Lions' coaching search unofficially began at 11:56 a.m. ET on Dec. 30.

The search for a new head coach

Shortly after Schwartz was fired, the Lions held a press conference with team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. They outlined the general plans for their coaching search, and later that night Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was the first coach mentioned as a potential replacement for Schwartz. His candidacy was based on an inaccurate report, so he wasn't in the mix for long. The same went for Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach and assistant head coach Tom Cable, who was believed to be a potential candidate for a brief period of time before his candidacy was debunked.

The search continued with Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell first popping up on the Lions' radar on New Year's Eve. Around the same time, Penn State's Bill O'Brien was hired by the Houston Texans as their head coach, taking him off the market. Shortly after this, news broke that Caldwell was going to interview for the Lions' job, which was the first real indication that he was a serious candidate for the opening.

Things quieted down a bit on New Year's Day. The only major news involved Lovie Smith being hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach, taking him off the market before the Lions had a chance to interview him. A day later, things got rolling again with the Lions finally being connected to San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. He reportedly had "very strong" interest from the Lions, but with him busy with the playoffs, Detroit held its first interview of the search with Caldwell on Friday, Jan. 3.

Following Caldwell's interview, there were rumors involving the Lions and Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, as well as the Lions and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. Also, Brian Billick chimed in on the Lions' search and indicated that he would have interest in hearing from the team, but he didn't expect to be a candidate for the job. A day earlier, Tony Dungy said that he would want the Lions' job if he were to unretire, but he didn't have any interest in coaching again.

As the search progressed during wild-card weekend, more and more signs pointed to the notion that Whisenhunt was the Lions' top candidate. There was also a report that suggested Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden could be a candidate for the job, and the Lions reportedly requested an interview with him after Cincinnati lost to the Chargers. They also requested an interview with Whisenhunt, who ended up speaking with three teams, including the Lions, before the Chargers' next playoff game.

On Jan. 6, the biggest story was that Dungy flew into Detroit. However, he was simply in town for a funeral and not to speak with the Lions about their head coaching vacancy. Once again, the idea of Dungy becoming the Lions' head coach, which first emerged before Schwartz was even fired, was debunked. The idea of Bowles becoming the Lions' head coach was also debunked, as it came out that he didn't have any plans to interview with the team after being a finalist in 2009.

The next day, the news surrounding the Lions' coaching search focused in on former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. We learned that an interview had been scheduled with Munchak, and we also learned that Kubiak interviewed with the Lions that day despite nobody hearing about it before it happened.

On Jan. 8, the Lions interviewed Munchak. The meeting happened two days earlier than expected, perhaps because the Lions wanted to clear their schedule to interview Gruden on Friday. However, Gruden was hired by the Washington Redskins on Thursday morning, and it turns out that the Lions were headed out to San Diego to interview Whisenhunt. Following the interview, he remained the clear favorite to land the job, but it was a waiting game until the Chargers were eliminated from the playoffs on Jan. 12.

The search really went crazy on Monday, Jan. 13. With Whisenhunt now available to be hired, the Lions had a plane ready to go to San Diego to pick him up. They reportedly wanted to speak with Whisenhunt on Tuesday, likely for a second interview that would have resulted in him becoming the head coach. That plane never took off, though. Whisenhunt suddenly took the Tennessee Titans' head coaching job instead, forcing the Lions to go in another direction.

The hiring of Jim Caldwell

As soon as Whisenhunt was hired by the Titans, the Lions turned their focus to Caldwell. There was one report that mentioned Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as a possible candidate, and there was some thought that Munchak was still in the mix. However, the Lions hired Caldwell shortly after noon on Jan. 14. As details leaked out about why Whisenhunt chose the Titans, the Lions were busy making Caldwell their head coach. He was formally introduced as the Lions' head coach at Ford Field a day later.

Assembling the new coaching staff

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and wide receivers coach Tim Lappano were let go the same day Schwartz was fired, and Caldwell later decided to release quarterbacks coach Todd Downing and several other assistant coaches. Special teams coordinator John Bonamego was the first assistant to be retained by Caldwell, and there ended up being eight total holdovers from Schwartz's coaching staff.

For his outside hires, Caldwell quickly decided to add Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin as his new defensive coordinator, and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was hired a couple days later to be the Lions' linebackers coach. On the other side of the ball, various names were tossed around for the offensive coordinator job, including Bill Lazor, Jim Tressel, Clyde Christensen, David Culley and Ken Zampese. In the end, the Lions decided to go with New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, who really came out of nowhere to get the job.

The Lions also added Rutgers offensive coordinator Ron Prince as their tight ends coach and assistant head coach, and former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams will apparently be hired as their secondary coach. This leaves the Lions with openings only at quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach. We know that ex-Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has interviewed for the quarterbacks coach job, but it's unclear who is in the mix beyond him. I would imagine the two remaining vacancies will be filled in the next week or so as the Lions officially bring their 2014 coaching search to a close.

Thanksgiving deal: Save 20% on PODD

What's more Lions than football on Thanksgiving!? To celebrate the holiday, use promo code GOLIONS20 to save 20% on your first year of Pride of Detroit Direct. Sign up today for exclusive game analysis, subscriber-only videos, and much more!