Top 3 Head Coach Candidates for the Detroit Lions

By: Rachel Maries (Twitter: @rachmariesports)

With the Detroit Lions loss this past Sunday to the Tennessee Titans, the Detroit Lions are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Naturally, many fans’ minds have moved on to wondering who will take over as the next head coach of this team. Rumors abound, but here are my top three candidates for the job.

  1. Robert Saleh, Defensive Coordinator- San Francisco 49ers

The most talked-about candidate for the new head coach position in Detroit is without a doubt: Robert Saleh. Popular among Lions fans for being a “hometown boy” from Dearborn, Michigan, Saleh also has quite an impressive resume to bring to the table.

In 2017, Saleh inherited the league’s worst defense & where did that lead? In 2019, he won the Coordinator of the Year award given out by Sporting News for his defense’s outstanding play in the team’s Super Bowl run. It’s quotes such as the following that are getting him so much recognition in the search.

“As a coordinator, I want two things. A player wants to know that you care about his well-being. A player needs to be able to feel the investment and the care in them, not just as players. The player also needs to know that you can help them show themselves at their best and make plays on Sundays. They need to know that you know your stuff. If you give players those two things, whether you are a yeller or an introvert, they’ll take to you.”

This is almost the polar opposite of what fans were used to hearing from Matt Patricia and Saleh displays the type of attitude that can help to change a culture.

Saleh spent four seasons with the Houston Texans as a Defensive Assistant, followed by another two seasons with the Texans as an Assistant Linebackers Coach. He then spent three seasons in Seattle, helping to grow the fabeled “Legion of Boom” as a Defensive Quality Control Coach. Next, came a three year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a Linebackers Coach. And, finally, has spent the last four seasons as the Defensive Coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, helping them to a Super Bowl appearance along the way.

That’s a metric ton of defensive coaching experience, but the question begs: is another defensive-minded head coach what the Lions need after Matt Patricia? Well, One with more gumption, higher energy, and paired with the right Offensive Coordinator might just be the key!

2. Arthur Smith, Offensive Coordinator- Tennessee Titans

The rumors swirling around Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith are getting pretty heavy after this past Sunday. Did Matthew Stafford play specifically to show a potential new head coach what he’s got? Rumors aside, there’s a case to be made for Arthur Smith. He certainly has the accolades and accomplishments to serve as a head coach.

Hailing from the University of North Carolina, Smith started his route to coaching with playing experience at Guard for the Tarheels’ offensive line. He only left the state Carolina for a brief period of time to make his NFL coaching debut as a Defensive Assistant/Quality Control Coach for The Washington Football team but came back to his roots to start his ongoing nine-year stint at various coaching positions with the Carolina Panthers in 2011.

Smith has been a part of the team coaching as a Defensive Assistant, Offensive Assistant, Offensive Line Coach, Tight Ends Coach, and finally Offensive Coordinator. Experience across that board like that is a major plus in Smith’s Head Coaching resume.

“In 2019, Smith helped the Titans rebound from a 2-4 start to the team’s first AFC Championship Game appearance in 17 years. In his first season as offensive coordinator, the Titans ranked first in the NFL in red zone efficiency (75.6 percent), third in rushing offense (138.9 yards per game), and fourth in yards per play (6.12). The Titans’ percentage in the red zone was the highest since the 2013 Denver Broncos (76.1).”

3. Eric Bieniemy, Offensive Coordinator – Kansas City Chiefs

From the day that the firing of Matt Patricia was announced Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, was being talked about as a top candidate. It’s not hard to see why. That Chiefs offense is a thing of pure art. Not to mention, they’re coming off of a Super Bowl title. Patrick Mahomes has only good things to say about Bieniemy:

“The first thing you always hear about him is how he holds everybody accountable and that’s true…I mean from the top-down, from the first player on the roster to the last player on the roster, he’s going to make sure that you’re handling your business and you’re doing whatever it takes (for) the betterment of the team and to make the team better.”

It makes sense that Bieniemy gets the most out of his players considering that he, himself, was a runningback, kick returner, and punt returner in the league for nine seasons. Upon his retirement, he went back to his Alma Mater, Colorado, to work as the Running backs Coach and to help guide the team to a win in the Big 12 Championship in 2001.

Afterward, he then spent time at UCLA and as Running back Coach for the Minnesota Vikings (during Adrian Peterson’s hay day) before taking the role for the Kansas City Chiefs. His presence was immediately felt as he helped Jamaal Charles reach 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns in the 2013 season.

Nagy’s success with the rushing offense in Kansas City no doubt led to his eventual promotion to Offensive Coordinator upon Matt Nagy’s departure for Chicago. This is the kind of proven track record Detroit is looking for.

Plus, Andy Reid’s coaching tree undoubtedly has a history of success.

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