| The Detroit News
The Detroit Lions are nearly finished with their initial round of interviews for the team’s vacant general manager position. And they’ve now met with one of the leading candidates to be the team’s next head coach.
The Lions confirmed they’ve completed two more interviews for the GM job, meeting with Brad Holmes, the Los Angeles Rams’ director of college scouting, and George Paton, the Minnesota Vikings’ assistant GM on Wednesday. That brings the total of confirmed interviews for the job to 10, with at least one more — Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland — scheduled for Friday.
The Lions also conducted a virtual interview with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Thursday for their head coaching vacancy. Saleh, the Dearborn native, is expected to interview for five of the six current NFL openings. He already met with Atlanta on Monday, and is scheduled to talk with the New York Jets on Friday and the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.
Saleh, 41, is a Fordson graduate with deep family ties in the Detroit area. He got his coaching start as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, but has built a reputation as one of the league’s best defensive coaches over a 15-year NFL career. He started in Houston and Seattle — he won a Super Bowl ring on Pete Carroll’s staff in 2013 — before moving on to Jacksonville with one of his coaching mentors, Gus Bradley, whose Cover-3 scheme he still employs. Then Kyle Shanahan brought Saleh to San Francisco, giving him his first coordinator job in 2017.
Saleh’s dominant defense helped carry the 49ers to the Super Bowl a year ago, and San Francisco still finished with another top five-ranked unit this season despite being ravaged by injuries, playing most of the season without Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Richard Sherman, among others. His players have lobbied publicly for Saleh to get a head coaching opportunity the last two years, and after he was one of two finalists for the Cleveland Browns job that went to Kevin Stefanski last winter, the expectation across the league is he’ll land one this month.
“We’ve got a great coach in Saleh, and that’s why I think he’s gonna get what he deserves,” Shanahan said this week. “I think Saleh will go kill these interviews. He’s gonna do a great job.”
The 41-year-old Holmes, who lives in Atlanta and interviewed for the Falcons’ GM job on Tuesday, has spent his entire 18-year NFL career with the Rams organization, working his way up from a public relations internship through the scouting ranks. He has been the team’s college scouting director since 2013.
Paton has a lengthy resume, serving in a variety of front-office roles with the Vikings since 2006. He’s also no stranger to the Lions’ search committee, having spent almost his entire NFL executive career — with previous stops in Chicago and Miami prior to Minnesota — working alongside current Vikings GM Rick Spielman. Spielman’s brother, Chris, was hired last month to be a special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood and the Lions’ former All-Pro linebacker is part of the interview process.
Paton has been selective with his pursuit of GM jobs in the past, including turning down Detroit in 2016 when the team hired Bob Quinn. But he interviewed in Cleveland last winter and Denver reportedly has put in a request to meet with him this time around.
Wood said Tuesday the team’s interviews up to that point had all been conducted virtually and “probably” would continue that way through this week, though that’s only a requirement for candidates who are under contract with teams currently in the playoffs, per the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. The NFL Network reported that Paton’s interview Wednesday was in person.
“Once we zero in on a finalist or two for either position, we’re definitely going to meet with the person,” Wood said. “So eventually we’ll have face-to-face meetings, but right now everything is virtual. It’s working fine. We’re kind of all used to this. You get a good sense for the person — not maybe the same sense you would in a room with them. It is also pretty productive from a time standpoint. You can do these and not have to fly around the country. I think it’s allowing us to be really productive this week to speak with a number of people that might have been fewer if we had to travel or had to fly in. Eventually there will be face-to-face interviews, for sure.”
The Lions also met with Saints assistant GM Terry Fontenot on Tuesday, and previously interviewed seven other GM candidates: former NFL GMs Rick Smith, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli, current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick and in-house candidates Lance Newmark, Kyle O’Brien and Rob Lohman.
Saleh will be the fourth known coaching candidate to interview with the team, joining Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who interviewed Monday, former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and interim head coach Darrell Bevell. The team also reportedly has an interview scheduled next week with Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell, a former NFL tight end who played for the Lions from 2006-08.
While the Lions’ coaching search continues, members of Detroit’s holdover staff are looking elsewhere.
Defensive line coach Bo Davis, who missed the final two games of the regular season due to COVID-19, is set to join Steve Sarkisian’s new coaching staff at the University of Texas, according to multiple reports. Davis spent the last three years with Matt Patricia in Detroit, but prior to that he had a lengthy career coaching in college, including a stint with the Longhorns from 2011-13.
Offensive line coach Hank Fraley, who received strong endorsements from key players and interim head coach Darrell Bevell for his work this season, will interview for the Bengals’ offensive line job Saturday, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Meanwhile, Sean Ryan, the Lions’ quarterbacks coach, is a candidate to join Matt Rhule’s staff in Carolina, succeeding Jake Peetz, who left to become LSU’s offensive coordinator. Rhule and Ryan worked together previously with the New York Giants.