Ken Whisenhunt is officially available to hire

Many have assumed that Ken Whisenhunt would be the Lions' No. 1 choice, partly because he has NFL head-coaching experience

Christopher Hanewinckel/Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Goodbye San Diego, hello Detroit?

It’s time to find out whether Ken Whisenhunt really is at the top of the Detroit Lions’ wish list.

If that’s the case – as it appears to be – Whisenhunt could be named the Lions’ new coach within days.

He is officially available.

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NFL rules prohibit hiring assistants from other teams until after their season has ended. That happened Sunday for Whisenhunt and the San Diego Chargers, who were eliminated from the AFC playoffs with a 24-17 loss at Denver.

From the day that Jim Schwartz got fired as the Lions’ coach nearly two weeks ago, much of the speculation concerning his replacement has centered on Whisenhunt, the Chargers’ offensive coordinator for the last year.

Many have assumed that Whisenhunt would be the Lions’ No. 1 choice, partly because he has NFL head-coaching experience, taking the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl five years ago, along with his expertise working with quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers.

All of that has made him the logical candidate in Detroit, which is looking for someone to take a talented roster to the next level and help quarterback Matthew Stafford bounce back from a rocky second half of the season that cost his team a possible playoff bid.

Whisenhunt, 51, was allowed to interview last week for jobs and he met with Detroit Thursday, Tennessee Friday and Cleveland Saturday.

The Lions are considered the favorite of those three because they’ve got a team that appears to have the best shot at making a run at the playoffs.

Whisenhunt had a 45-51 record in six seasons as the Cardinals’ coach, but he got fired a year ago after failing to make the playoffs for the third straight time.

The Lions have also interviewed former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak and Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Now that Whisenhunt is available, barring a surprise, the process should move quickly with the Lions having their new coach within the week.