In what could be considered a mild surprise, Ken Whisenhunt will be named the Tennessee Titans' next head coach, per multiple reports. That news comes after days of speculation that the ex-Chargers offensive coordinator was the frontrunner for the Detroit Lions job.
Whisenhunt interviewed with the Lions, Titans and Cleveland Browns last week, while also helping to prep San Diego for a playoff game against Denver. League rules required any teams interested in plucking Whisenhunt from the Chargers' staff to hold off until the AFC wild card was eliminated from the postseason. Once that occurred Sunday, the Titans moved quickly.
The 51-year-old Whisenhunt was in high demand due to the relative success he delivered during six seasons as the Cardinals' head coach. He posted just a 45-51 record during that stretch but led the team to a pair of playoff appearances and one NFC title before QB Kurt Warner retired -- a decision that left the Cardinals floundering at the all-important position for the duration of Whisenhunt's tenure.
Whisenhunt's work with Warner, as well as with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh (Whisenhunt was the O.C. there from 2004-06) and this season helping Philip Rivers' revival, stood out as one of the crown jewels on his resume. In Tennessee, he's likely to inherit Jake Locker as his starting QB. Locker played well early in 2013, posting a 4-3 record, but then suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury. He is expected to be ready in time for training camp, if not before.
The Titans reportedly conducted a second interview with head-coaching candidate Mike Zimmer on Monday, ESPN reported. Meanwhile, reports out of Detroit at about the same time indicated that the Lions had a private plane ready to fly to California for another meeting with Whisenhunt.
Somewhere along that timeline, Whisenhunt and the Titans obviously moved forward with their own plans.
Where does that leave Detroit now? ESPN's Adam Schefter reported shortly after the Whisenhunt-to-Tennessee move broke that the franchise has ramped up talks with current Ravens offensive coordinator and former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. Tony Dungy wrote on Twitter Sunday that he "hoped" the Lions chose Caldwell for their gig -- Caldwell was Dungy's hand-picked successor in Indianapolis, only to lose his job after a 2-14 season brought on by Peyton Manning's neck injury.
"I know the Lions also want discipline and good character in the locker room," Dungy told ESPN. "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."
Whether Whisenhunt landed in Tennessee or Detroit, he figured to find a promising situation. The Titans are coming off a 7-9 season under Mike Munchak, but they suffered a number of close losses -- including two to the AFC South champion Colts, one to the Jaguars and an overtime to decision against Arizona. The Lions had a matching 7-9 mark.
The Titans do face an offseason that could be filled with changes to the roster. Starting safety Bernard Pollard and cornerback Alterraun Verner are set to be free agents, for starters, while Chris Johnson could be released in a move that would save the team several million dollars. Tennessee holds the No. 11 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. In the latest Audibles mock, that selection landed Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.