And by any metric, that is a blow for the Lions, no matter how the team eventually tries to spin it when they do hire a coach. Whisenhunt was clearly their top candidate from the start and had a lot of what the team clearly thought would be attractive to him.
None of that mattered at the end. Whisenhunt chose Tennessee and that is nothing short of a major question mark as to how good the Lions job really is. This was the job search where Detroit seemed focused on being able to get its first choice, a choice it could sell to its fans as a step toward the future.
A step away from collapse after collapse the Lions have suffered from season to season and from coach after coach throughout the history of their franchise.
So this is a perception problem for Detroit now. Unless the Lions are able to pull off an unexpected, unreported hire, the team will likely be hiring at least their second option -- and considering Bill O’Brien and Lovie Smith moved so quickly off the table, probably a deeper option than that.
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Caldwell has a somewhat similar résumé to Whisenhunt in that he has a quarterback pedigree, having worked with Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, and led Indianapolis to the Super Bowl in 2009, a game the Colts lost to New Orleans, 31-17. Caldwell has many of the same traits as Whisenhunt and does fit the team’s profile.
But Caldwell only lasted three seasons in Indianapolis and when he didn’t have Peyton Manning, the Colts plummeted to 2-14 in 2011, leading to Caldwell’s firing. The Colts, instead of trusting Caldwell with rebuilding the team without Manning, chose to go in another direction entirely.
The other likely candidate at this point is former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak, who was fired by Tennessee last week.
So it is possible Detroit gets a coach who ends up being successful -- and in Caldwell's case, one who coached in the Super Bowl -- but at the start, it'll be a tough sell for the Lions after they clearly missed on who they wanted from the start.