Ken Whisenhunt has accepted an offer to become the next coach of the Tennessee Titans, the team announced Monday.
“This is a big day for this franchise,” Titans president/CEO Tommy Smith said in a statement. “Ken is a well-respected coach in this league and I am looking forward to seeing his vision become reality for this team.”
Whisenhunt was completing his duties Monday as the San Diego Chargers‘ offensive coordinator after the team was eliminated Sunday in the AFC divisional round by the Denver Broncos. The Detroit Lions had planned to send their team plane to San Diego in an effort to further evaluate Whisenhun, but sources say Whisenhunt asked them to put those plans on hold until he was finished with his season-ending business with the Chargers.
Once he was finished, Whisenhunt strengthened his bond with the Titans as talks moved toward a potential deal. Earlier Monday, Smith brought Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to Houston for a second interview.
Whisenhunt has previous head coaching experience, having gone 45-51 during a six-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals that saw the team make its only appearance in a Super Bowl.
The Titans said they will have a news conference Tuesday to formally introduce Whisenhunt.
With Whisenhunt out of the mix, the Lions are focusing more closely on Jim Caldwell as a leading candidate for their vacancy.
The Lions have kept open communications with the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator and his representatives. Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy spoke with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. earlier Monday to reaffirm strong attributes he believed Caldwell would bring to the Lions. Caldwell coached under Dungy while with the Bucs and Colts before succeeding him in Indy.
“I already had told [Lions GM] Martin Maywhew that Caldwell is a great match for a team that has the personnel of being capable of playing in the Super Bowl,” said Dungy. “I think the Lions were not only impressed with Jim’s interview but they were pleasantly surprised by the number of former Colts players who called on his behalf. Jim made Peyton Manning an even better quarterback — look at the numbers and wins — and I think he can do the same for Matthew Stafford.
“I know the Lions also want discipline and good character in the locker room. I’m not saying their other candidates can’t achieve those things but those are Jim’s strengths with his background, especially from his influence under Joe Paterno at Penn State and hopefully in our program in the NFL.”
The Lions also have had a former Paterno player, ex-Titans coach Mike Munchak, high on their list. Sources said they were “pleasantly surprised” with Munchak’s plan, presence and leadership. The Cleveland Browns were in Tennessee interviewing Munchak for their vacancy on Monday.
Whisenhunt, 51, was viewed as the leading candidate for the Lions but both sides wondered whether it was an ideal match, including Whisenhunt’s preference to run a 3-4 defense with players who had been drafted primary for a 4-3 scheme.
Whisenhunt was strongly impressed with the Titans and the potential working relationship with GM Ruston Webster even though the team has questions at quarterback, whereas the Lions have an established productive passer in Stafford.
Former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak also interviewed with the Lions.
Zimmer will have his second interview with the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday and he is considered a frontrunner for that job, sources said.
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