After announcing the firing of Jim Schwartz, the Detroit Lions made clear the top pre-requisite for any future head coach would be to maximize quarterback Matthew Stafford’s talents.
"I don't know that it's going to be the head coach's responsibility," team general manager Martin Mayhew said on Monday. "It might be, it may not be. We'll have coaches here that can get him to where he needs to be.
"He's already been a great quarterback in 2011. He had 41 touchdowns and 5,000 yards passing. We have to get him to that point and beyond. That hasn't happened the last two seasons, and part of that is personnel-related I think, but he certainly has the ability to be that guy."
Stafford led the Lions back to the playoffs in 2011 with 5,038 passing and 41 touchdowns, but his completion percentage and yards per attempt have dipped since then and Detroit crawled to the finish line after holding the NFC North lead for much of the season.
Detroit shouldn’t be short of interested coaches with tons of talent on both sides of the ball. Stafford, All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson, and running back Reggie Bush headline the offense, with top young defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley anchoring the frontline.
Thus far, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, San Diego Chargers OC Ken Whisenhunt, and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Tom Cable have emerged as three top candidates.
All three have previous head coaching experience, and two have sculpted quarterbacks into Super Bowl champions.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Caldwell will be the first to meet with team officials on Friday. He was credited with turning Baltimore’s offense and quarterback Joe Flacco around late last season and leading their charge to the Super Bowl title. The 58-year-old also inherited Tony Dungy’s squad in Indianapolis and nearly guided them to a championship in his first season.
Whisenhunt has been viewed as the frontrunner after completely transforming San Diego’s attack from 31st in the league last season to fifth overall this year. The Chargers made the playoffs and quarterback Philip Rivers arguably had the best year of his career, leading the league with a 69.5 completion percentage.
Whisenhunt was also play caller for the 2006 Pittsburgh championship team led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Three years later Whisenhunt guided previously hapless Arizona to their first Super Bowl appearance. Whisenhunt was fired by the Cardinals last season with a 45-51 overall record, but a 4-2 postseason mark.
Cable represents the best chance for Detroit to turn around their 23rd ranked pass defense. In three years Cable gradually molded the Seahawks secondary from 11th in the league to first this season, getting the most out of defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. During Schwartz’s five year tenure, the Lions never finished higher than 14th in the league in pass defense.
Cable’s previous head coaching experience with Oakland could hurt his chances. In three seasons, he amassed a 17-27 record, finishing third in the AFC West in all three.