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The five best HC choices for the Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions must deserve credit for one thing and one thing only. They are exhausting all of the options available in the current search for a new general manager and coach. 

That should be music to the ears of the Lions fanbase.

For the GM position, they’ve interviewed over 12 candidates. And to be honest, they’ve interviewed some very qualified candidates.

When it comes to the coaching search, that is a bit debatable. The Lions have interviewed over five candidates for the head coach. Some candidates are not as appealing as those in their GM search. 

Titans OC Arthur Smith, Marvin Lewis, Saints Asst. Head coach/TE coach Dan Campbell and current Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell are among the four favorites.

The question is, are they the right finalists for the job.

The Lions front office said that they’d consider hiring a head coach before a GM. So here are the five candidates the Lions need to make an offer to as soon as possible.  

Dan Campbell, Assistant head coach/TE coach, New Orleans Saints

Fans of the Detroit Lions need to brace themselves because Dan Campbell is coming.

And he just might be the man for the job. However, he may not be the most popular candidate amongst Lions fans for a few reasons. 

At the top of those reasons are because he’s a wildcard. After all, Campbell is a position coach. Along with that, Lions fans might have PTSD about another person coming over from the Saints organization.

After all, does the name Joe Lombardi ring a bell?

Campbell, 44, is currently working under the offensive genius that is Sean Payton. With that fact at hand, it can make one wonder just how much influence someone like Campbell has. 

Nonetheless, reports have surfaced that Campbell impressed the Lions front office in his interview and is now a favorite in Allen Park.

Outside of impressing the Lions front office in his interview, there are several things about Campbell that make him an ideal candidate.

For starters, Campbell is the only interviewee for the Lions (outside of Darrell Bevell) with head coaching experience. In 2015, Campbell was the interim coach for the Miami Dolphins are the team dismissed Joe Philbin. Campbell guided them to a 5-7 record before heading to the Saints. The Dolphins team he took over was in disarray. The fact he led them to five wins under the circumstances is a feat in itself.

Another feather in Campbell’s cap is that he knows the Lions organization better than any candidate they’ve interviewed so far.

That’s because Campbell is a former Detroit Lion. Campbell played tight end for the Lions from 2006-2008.

Detroit Lions

Lions fans have called for Saleh as the coach due to his Michigan roots. Campbell, however, knowing the franchise’s inner workings. No one should overlook that. 

Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers

Robert Saleh checks all of the boxes. 

He’s young, energetic and has shown that he can have an immediate impact on a team.

For starters, he’s a winner. 

Before heading over to the San Francisco 49ers, Saleh, 41, was the defensive quality control coach for the Seattle Seahawks. While working for the Seahawks, he had a hand in coaching the infamous “Legion of Boom,” which was instrumental in their Super Bowl run. 

However, it’s Saleh’s work with the San Francisco 49ers that’s attracting buzz.

In 2019 the 49ers had the second-ranked defense in total defense (281.8 yards per game), first in passing defense (169.2), fourth in sacks (48), and sixth in forced turnovers (27). The 49ers’ defense was the backbone of that team that year and the catalyst behind their Super Bowl run that season. Along with that, look at the job he did with the defense this season. After suffering a ton of injuries, the 49ers still had a top-five defense in yards allowed. 

Saleh is one of the hottest coaching names out right now. And the New York Jets are going after him heavy. Reports surfaced that the team flew him out for his second interview. So it’s safe to surmise he’s a finalist for the job. 

Just like Campbell, Saleh reportedly impressed the Lions front office with his presentation. There is no indication that the Dearborn-native will interview again with the Lions, but he would be a landmark hire.  

Eric Bieniemy, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs

Like Robert Saleh, reports linked Eric Bieniemy as a potential head coaching candidate for the Lions for several weeks. 

Interestingly enough, his name has cooled off over the past few weeks as a frontrunner for the position. Reports surfaced last week that the Lions confirmed their interview with him. And after those reports, there wasn’t much chatter about him. However, that does not mean that he shouldn’t be in the running still.

Bieniemy has worked under offensive mastermind Andy Reid for the past two seasons as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. And just how the football world touts Saleh as a bright, young defensive mind, Bieniemy’s offensive mind gets the same respect. 

Since 2018, when Bieniemy arrived, the Chiefs have had a top-ten total offense, with two of those seasons being number one in the NFL. One unfair knock on Bieniemy is the same as Dan Campbell. Both work for such offensive masterminds that someone can wonder just how much of the work seen on the field is a product of their coaching.

Unlike Campbell, though, Bieniemy has a league MVP by the name of Patrick Mahomes vouching for him.

“I think [he will be hired],” Mahomes said on 610 Kansas City’s “The Drive” on Monday. “His track record speaks for itself. The type of man he is, the way he can control and be a leader of the locker room, and the way that he coaches and schemes he brings to us. If he doesn’t, people are crazy.”

Lincoln Riley, head coach, University of Oklahoma

In the press conference after firing general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions owner Sheila Ford-Hamp did not rule out looking at a coach from the college ranks to fill the position. 

If that sentiment indeed was genuine, bring on Lincoln Riley. 

Riley, 37, is reportedly happy as coach of the Sooners, and he should be. As their coach, he’s led them to a 45-8 record, never losing more than two games per season. Additionally, they’ve won the Big-12 Championship in each of his four years there. He recently coached them to their first bowl victory in his tenure. The Sooner demolished the Florida Gators 55-20 in the Cotton Bowl. 

Under Riley, the Sooners will be in the conversation for the national title. He’s building something special there, and he’s making around $6.5 million per year. It would take something pretty significant for the Lions to pry him away from the successful situation he’s working in now. 

Heck, there’s no indication that he’s even on the Lions’ radar. Regardless, they should pick up the phone and give him a call. He’s another offensive genius who has proven he is excellent with quarterbacks. Proof of that is his work with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts. He’s a crafty play-caller who knows how to get the most out of his receivers as well.

It’s unlikely Riley winds up in Detroit, but he would be the inspired hire that Lions fans would grow to love. 

Doug Pederson, former head coach, Philadelphia Eagles

Detroit Lions

If anyone does a Google search on the term “raw deal”, a picture of Doug Pederson should pop up.

And if it doesn’t, then Google needs to fix its search engine because that’s what exact Pederson got from the Eagles: a raw deal. 

The Eagles fired Pederson as coach Monday morning, and this is only after three years removed from coaching them to a Super Bowl victory. 

However, it wasn’t just any Super Bowl victory. 

Pederson accomplished this feat with a backup QB, defeating a team led by arguably the most incredible coach/QB combo (Bill Belichick/Tom Brady) that anyone has ever seen. 

Let’s keep it all the way real about Pederson, though. Since that Super Bowl victory, the Eagles have regressed. 

They followed up their 13-3 season/Super Bowl victory with back-to-back 9-7 seasons and a 4-11-1 recently. His recent decision to bench Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfield did not go over well with anyone in the football world. 

Nonetheless, Pederson is the only coach that could be available with the postseason success you’d look for in a coach. There are no reports the Lions have not reached out to him (yet). Despite that, the Detroit Lions front office should be on the phone right now to pick his brain. They’ve done it so far with so many other coaches who have no head coach experience.

Heck, they’ve even granted Marvin Lewis an interview. And he’s 0-7 in the postseason over 12 years during is time with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Off that alone, Pederson is worth a conversation at the bare minimum. 

The search for the next head coach and GM for the Lions is still underway. And with a few two candidates still coaching in the postseason (Campbell and Bieniemy) still coaching in the postseason. So the Lions can’t make a formal offer yet if it’s one of them.

However, the Detroit Lions should move quickly, so they don’t have to settle on “their guy” moving forward. 

Contact Kory Woods at kory@woodwardsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @koryewoods.

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