Last week, Detroit Lions team president Rod Wood spoke with the media and gave a few hints to as where the Lions’ head coach and general manager searches had progressed. Combine that with a slew of rumors late in the week, and it looks like Detroit may have some decisions for us this week or next.
The names are whittling down and it’s becoming more and more apparent which candidates are for real and which ones never really stood a chance. That said, there really doesn’t seem to be one clear leader anymore, and there are certain conflicting reports out there that have muddied the waters a bit.
With that in mind, here are my Week 7 Detroit Lions head coach candidate rankings, which are influenced by news, performances on the field and my own personal preferences. This is a mixture of both who I view as most likely to get the job and who I believe should get the job. Though at this point in the process, I’m leaning much heavier on the “who will get the job” side of things.
1. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh
Trending: Still the top
Saleh’s candidacy may have taken a hit this week, as there are conflicting reports on how his interview with the Lions went. Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle believes the interview went poorly, while Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press said it “went well.” But even Birkett said that he believes Darrell Bevell’s interview went better than Saleh’s.
While I never believed the Lions were going to hire someone on the spot—they’ve made it sound like they want finalist in-person interviews before making a hire—it sill is noteworthy Detroit allowed Saleh to interview with two other teams over the weekend.
Regardless of all that, I still believe him to be a front-runner, but things are tightening up.
2. Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell
As mentioned above, Birkett said Bevell interviewed very well with the Lions, and he’s been saying for well over a week now that Bevell should be considered a real candidate to win this job. Also, let’s not forget that this is how team president Rod Wood decided to start his press conference last week:
“I really want to compliment Darrell Bevell and what he did really the last five weeks. It’s a very tough assignment to step into an interim head coaching assignment during the season. I think the players rallied around him. Darrell did a great job organizing things, then was thrown a curveball in the middle of his five-game stretch with the COVID-19 situation and the close contacts with the coaches that we lost for the Bucs game. But even with that, I think we came through it and (that’s) a testament to Darrell for that.”
3. Former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Detroit “came away impressed” with Marvin Lewis’ interview a couple weeks ago and says that he’s “in play” for the job. And while that probably has Lions fans feeling a little sick right now, it makes a lot of sense. He’s got experience, which the Lions are coveting. He’s well respected around the league. And he turned around one downtrodden franchise and gave them something the Lions haven’t had in decades: years and years worth of stability.
The Bengals were competitive in one of the toughest divisions for years, and while they never got a playoff win, they created some extremely competitive teams that either blew it or got unlucky in the postseason.
4. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy
No performance from the Chiefs this week, but all seems to be extremely quiet on the Bieniemy front, despite him drawing interest from every team needing a coach outside of Houston. In the same report from above, Wilson said that Bieniemy didn’t interview particularly well for the Falcons—although that report has been contradicted, as well.
From Detroit’s point of view, there hasn’t been any buzz and they’ve got a ton of competition. I just don’t know if the two sides end up connecting again at this point.
5. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald
Trending: On the rise
In Wilson’s same report from above, he noted that Pat Fitzgerald had drawn some interesting from the Lions. We still don’t know if the Lions have interviewed any candidates from the college level, as teams don’t have to submit a formal request to the league for those. But if the Lions are going to target any coaches from those ranks, Fitzgerald appears to be the most likely at this point.
6. Saints assistant head coach/TE coach Dan Campbell
Campbell is expected to interview for the Lions job this week, and it’s unclear how good of a shot he has at making noise. But as someone who has head coaching experience, albeit in an interim role, that gives him a leg up.
Unfortunately for Detroit, because the Saints won on Sunday, their interview with him will have to be virtual. That being said, his stock only rose after the Saints walked to an easy victory over the Bears.
7. Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles
Trending: New to the list
It appeared the Lions were done interviewing at the NFL level, but then late last week reports emerged that they had submitted an interview request for Bowles. At this point, there’s no gauge on the Lions’ interest level nor if Bowles will even accept the interview request.
Tampa has had one of the best defenses all season, ranking sixth in yards allowed, eighth in points allowed, and fifth in DVOA.
Saturday’s performance wasn’t Tampa’s best, as they let Taylor Heinicke lead Washington to a near-upset over the Bucs. Still, one game shouldn’t hurt his overall candidacy.
Bowles has been a well-respected defensive mind for the past two decades, but his 26-41 record as the Jets head coach for four seasons loom large. That being said, a well-respected leader with head coaching experience could impress Lions management, who is looking for a lot of those traits.
8. Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith
Arthur Smith will finally get some interviews in this week now that the Tennessee Titans have been bounced from the postseason. However, the Lions may have too much competition to land Smith if they want him. All six teams with head coaching vacancies appear to be interested in interviewing Smith, and Birkett reported early last week that Smith’s interview with the Lions may have already fallen through. It’s always a fluid situation, though, so don’t be surprised to see the Lions jump right back in there. UPDATE: Smith’s interview is back on and scheduled for Tuesday.
That all being said, Sunday’s performance certainly didn’t help his stock. After jumping out to an early 10-0 lead over the Ravens, the Titans offense went cold. Tennessee had just 90 yards of offense in the second half and could only muster three points. For those that believe most of the Titans’ success comes from a freak like Derrick Henry, Sunday was pretty convincing evidence.
9. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley
There is no trace of smoke that Riley has any interest in going anywhere, but those college interviews can always be done under the radar.
10. Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell
Trending: Hopes are dead
It appears Campbell has taken himself out of the NFL coaching discussion after turning down an interview with the Jets and then posting what seemed to be an announcement of return to Iowa State. The language is still indirect, so I’ll keep him on the rankings for now, but this one is all but dead.
Out of the top 10: Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus
The Colts did a good enough job to give themselves a chance at upsetting the Bills. They held the Bills to just 14 points at halftime and even got three-and-outs on three of Buffalo’s first five drives. The floodgates opened a bit from there (the Bills punted once in the second half), but limiting Buffalo to 27 points was good enough to put the game in the offense’s hands.
With the Lions’ list of candidates nearing its end, there has been nothing connecting the Lions to Eberflus. So I think they’ve moved on.
Out of the top 10: Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll
Same story as Eberflus. As the two went head-to-head, Daboll came out the eventual winner. And while Daboll has drawn interest from the Jets, Texans and Chargers, there has been nothing connecting him to the Lions job. While I personally view that as disappointing, I’m not sure an Xs and Os coordinator in the booth is the kind of leader the Lions are looking for right now.