DETROIT -- They started their coaching search by calling it "one of the most, if not the single most, attractive head-coaching opportunity in the" NFL, and now the Lions are on to Plan B.
Ken Whisenhunt agreed to be the next coach of the Tennessee Titans on Monday evening, shunning an opportunity to reunite with his former teammate, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, in Detroit.
The Lions were prepared to travel to California early Monday to bring Whisenhunt, the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator, to Detroit to meet with ownership, but the private plane they were scheduled to use never left its hangar.
Now, the Lions are turning their focus to two candidates who emerged as strong backup plans during interviews over the last week and a half, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak.
Former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak also interviewed for the job.
Caldwell won a Super Bowl as an assistant with the Indianapolis Colts and spent three seasons there as head coach, where he reached another Super Bowl but was fired after a 2-14 season in 2011 when Peyton Manning was out for the year with a neck injury.
Munchak went 22-26 in three seasons with the Titans and was fired a week after the season when he declined ownership requests to fire several of his assistant coaches.
He told the Free Press last week that he had a "great" interview with the Lions, and one of his former teammates in Tennessee, Blaine Bishop, said Munchak embodies the leadership qualities Mayhew said he desired in the next head coach.
"If that's what he's looking for, Munchak is that guy now," Bishop said. "Those guys played for him hard. There was never a time that I thought those players quit on him, and that is no question."
Munchak was scheduled to interview with the Cleveland Browns on Monday.
Caldwell, who took over as Baltimore's offensive coordinator late last year during the team's Super Bowl run, also has received high marks for his leadership qualities.
According to ESPN, former Colts coach Tony Dungy spoke with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. earlier Monday to reaffirm his belief in Caldwell as a head coach.
Caldwell was Dungy's hand-picked successor when Dungy retired in 2009, and the Colts won their first 14 games that year before losing to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.
Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who worked on Caldwell's staff in 2011, told the Free Press on Monday that he was "amazed" at how Caldwell held his locker room together after losing 13 straight games to start that year.
"The (last) three games are all division games, Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville, and both Houston and Tennessee needed to win for playoffs and home fields and stuff like that, and I'm thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I wonder how he's going to keep this thing together,' " Tressel said. "And I was amazed at how he kept that thing in order. We beat Houston; we had no business beating them. We beat Tennessee; we had no business beating them. We ended up losing to Jacksonville, and it probably got them Andrew Luck, so it was a good deal.
"But to keep that group together and not fold their tent, and I think the only reason was because of how much respect they had for him. I really believe that and again I was just a guy sitting in the corner, but I mean I've never seen anything like that because usually when your hope is gone it's really hard to keep things together."
Fritz Pollard chairman John Wooten said Monday night he hadn't heard anything more on Caldwell's candidacy but that Mayhew had indicated during Caldwell's interview Jan. 3 that the top candidate would fly back to Detroit to meet with owner William Clay Ford before a hire was made.
Caldwell, who met with vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. during his interview, is expected to bring Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin, a former assistant at Michigan, with him as defensive coordinator, and Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach David Cully with him as offensive coordinator, though he might retain play-calling duties.
Munchak could retain much of the Lions' defensive staff that's still under contract after working with them previously in Tennessee.
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