Jim Schwartz is gone. Now the Detroit Lions need a new head coach. This hiring, like all head coaching hirings, is key to Detroit's future. If they can find the next great coach, the next Jim Harbaugh, they could finally maybe have a coach that will stick around for a while, a coach that can get the Lions that extra win or so to make the playoffs. Or they could screw it up, and Martin Mayhew will lose his job alongside this theoretical hire. We've all got our opinions on this matter, I imagine. Here are mine.
So far, things have not gone well for the Lions in the head coaching hire world. Bill O'Brien got hired by the Houston Texans, and now it seems Lovie Smith is going to get hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I would have liked either of those hirings for the Lions, and Smith's name was bandied about with Detroit. Meanwhile, there was a rumor the Lions were considering Tom Cable, which was mercifully scuttled, but they still apparently plan to talk to Jim Caldwell, which is a hiring I would not like. I know NFL teams need to interview minority candidates, but, you know, I'd prefer it if they interviewed somebody who would actually be a good coach.
My philosophy when it comes to head coaches is that I generally do not like retreads. I want somebody new, something original, not somebody where we sort of know what we are going to get. There are caveats, of course. I was fine with the Chiefs hiring Andy Reid, and I would have been OK with the Lions hiring Lovie Smith, as I previously mentioned. Those are guys who had one job, and succeeded, but then got fired anyway when a team wanted a change. When I think of retreads, I think of guys like Norv Turner. There is no upside there.
I say this, in part, because my number one choice for the Lions would probably be Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and he took them to a Super Bowl. Then he was given garbage at quarterback and could not turn it into gold, so he got the boot. Now, he is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, and combined with Mike McCoy they have revitalized Philip Rivers.
I think the ideal coach for the Lions right now would be somebody who is good with quarterbacks, because Matthew Stafford is the most crucial element of Detroit's future. If they get somebody who gets the most out of him, this team's future is promising. Some people might be hoping for some sort of "disciplinarian" but, like I said, there is only so much a coach can do in the NFL, and Schwartz was considered a macho tough guy anyway, and look how well that turned out. You want to go beyond that? You want to get Greg Schiano? Things got bad in Tampa until Schiano relaxed, and he still got fired.
A couple other offensive coordinators that intrigue me are Cincinnati's Jay Gruden and Seattle's Darrell Bevell. Neither has been an NFL head coach before, so there is a lot of potential in either guy. As long as Jay isn't the buffoon his brother Jon is, and how could he be? Plus, Jay Gruden has head coaching experience. Sure, they were an Arena Football team and a UFL team, but he had success in both places, and the concept of being a head coach is roughly the same. Honestly, I may even prefer Gruden to Whisenhunt now that I think about it.
I would be OK with a defensive name, although it would probably have to be a guy with a 4-3 background. Of course, the Lions could become a 3-4 team, but for now let us assume they won't. Gruden's fellow Cincinnati coordinator Mike Zimmer is the only guy who really enthuses me. I could like with Jack Del Rio, but that'd be a pretty "meh" hire.
Then, there are the college names. Or the CFL names, but I shall refrain from those. I heard a little talk about Brian Kelly around the Detroit job, but that may just be because he coached at Grand Valley and Central Michigan. Going with a college guy can be tricky. While they have head coaching experience, college is a different world. Kelly has had a ton of success, though, and he has a "pro style offense." That is probably the better way to go. Sure, Chip Kelly has had NFL success already, but he's a football genius. Those are rare. This means that, no matter how awesome it would be, the Lions shouldn't hire Mike Leach. Nobody is suggesting they should, of course. That would be amazing though. It'd be a disaster likely, but oh what a fun disaster.
There are a couple other names out there that are somewhat interesting. Louisville's Charlie Strong is a guy I think could make the transition, but he doesn't have a ton of head coaching experience yet. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is a top notch coach, but he's one of those Nick Saban, Schiano type jerks, and that doesn't really fly in the NFL. I think Miami's Al Golden could make the transition. James Franklin has a bright future, but he's been at Vanderbilt. That'd be a big jump.
So, basically, give me Whisenhunt or Gruden, or give me death. Gruden would be more interesting, but also higher variance. I am fine with variance though. Give me a bold decision any day, and this wouldn't even be that bold. The Lions have been awful for so long. If Gruden isn't up to the task, then we just get more of the same. However, if he turns out to be a great coach, it could mark a major change for the Detroit Lions.