Lions interview Whisenhunt … now what?

If Whisenhunt is really the Lions' No. 1 choice, they've got to wait, assuming they're getting signals back that Detroit is where he wants to be.

Mark J. Rebilas

The Detroit Lions’ much-anticipated interview with Ken Whisenhunt took place Thursday. Now what?

If Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, is indeed their man – as many have speculated – the Lions still have to wait a while longer because NFL rules prohibit them from officially hiring "Wiz" as their new coach until the Chargers’ season is over.

Whisenhunt, meanwhile, is pulling double duty this week. He’s not only trying to prepare the Chargers for Sunday’s playoff game at Denver, but he’s also conducting interviews to land a head-coaching gig.

He’s reportedly scheduled to meet Friday with the Tennessee Titans and Saturday with the Cleveland Browns.

"It’s not hard," Whisenhunt said when asked about juggling two top priorities during a news conference Thursday in San Diego. "This is a playoff game. That’s where the focus has been. Anything else outside of that is really secondary.

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"The only thing that’s important to me – to be perfectly honest with you – is getting prepared for this game. That’s the work that has got my focus right now."

OK, so he’s saying the right thing, the only thing he can say under the circumstances.

The truth is he wants to be a head coach again and these interviews will go a long way in determining whether that happens next season or not.

At the same time, he’s a professional. He can handle a little multi-tasking although three interviews in three days do seem like a challenge.

The tough part for the Lions will be if the Chargers upset Denver and extend their season for at least another week.

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

If Whisenhunt is really their No. 1 choice, they’ve got to wait, assuming they’re getting signals back that Detroit is where he wants to be.

Getting impatient and settling for someone else makes no sense at this point.

From all indications, Whisenhunt would prefer the Lions over the Titans and Browns because Detroit seemingly has a roster that’s closer to making a Super Bowl run than the other two.

The ideal scenario for the Lions would be for the Chargers to score a lot of points against the Broncos to make Whisenhunt look good but still lose the game.

If so, there could be a news conference introducing Whisenhunt as the replacement for Jim Schwartz as soon as early next week.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy understands Whisenhunt’s predicament these days. McCoy was going for a head-coaching job a year ago at this time when he was the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

"Having gone through it last year, I know exactly what our mindset is here," McCoy said. "This is an opportunity of a lifetime to win another playoff game."

McCoy told reporters that Whisenhunt has done an "outstanding job" calling plays and running the Chargers’ offense.

"The players respect what he does," McCoy said. "He’s not only a football coach but a great person."

Whisenhunt, who took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl before getting fired three years later after a nine-game losing streak in 2012, has gotten credit for helping Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers bounce back this year.

Could he do the same for Matthew Stafford in Detroit?

Rivers told the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper that he suspected from the start that Whisenhunt probably wasn’t going to be the Chargers’ coordinator for long.

"Now, from being around him, I can see why guys would come after him," Rivers said. "I can’t necessarily say I predicted he’d be one and done if that’s what it is, but I can tell you this – he hasn’t just said ‘€˜I’m just going to come here and wait until I get another shot.’

"He’s been all in. We’ll be happy for him if he gets another shot."

 Whisenhunt, 51, has been asked repeatedly about these teams pursuing him to be their coach during San Diego’s playoff run. He answered politely but didn’t say much each time because he wants to keep the focus on the Chargers.

One reporter even wondered whether Whisenhunt had rented or bought a home in San Diego.

Whisenhunt just chuckled and answered, "I’ve enjoyed living here."