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DETROIT, (Detroit Free Presss) - Former Tigers catcher Brad Ausmus has never been a manager - in the major leagues or the minor leagues. But at 4:30 this afternoon he was introduced as the Tigers' next skipper.

The Tigers held a news conference at Comerica Park, where 13 days ago Jim Leyland retired from managing.

Ausmus agreed to a three-year contract with a club option for 2017.

The club also announced that Gene Lamont would return as bench coach, agreeing to a two-year contract.

All signs had pointed to Ausmus as the new bench boss since late Saturday night and early this morning.

The Free Press spotted Ausmus' wife, Liz, and two daughters at Metro Airport not long after 2 p.m. with Tigers officials waiting.

Ken Rosenthal of foxsports.com - an esteemed baseball reporter - tweeted that Ausmus was the choice of Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski. He was confirming a report Saturday from Adam Spolane, who works at a Houston sports-talk radio station. Later, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports also confirmed the report.

The Tigers, meanwhile, said nothing as the speculation spread like wildfire overnight. Texts and e-mails to team officials were not returned. After sunrise, Ron Colangelo, the vice president of communications, sent this text: "As always, if we need to be in contact we will."

Ausmus, 44, has become the hottest managerial candidate around. He has interviewed for at least three jobs this off-season, including the Tigers' opening to succeed Leyland. His Tigers interview came six days ago. Spolane's initial report said Ausmus would be in Detroit today to work out final details.

He has been a special assistant with the San Diego Padres since 2010. He spent 18 seasons in the big leagues, including two stints with the Tigers, who twice traded for him and twice traded him away.

Besides Ausmus, Dombrowski is known to have interviewed Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, San Diego Padres bench coach Rick Renteria and Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach.

Wallach was told by Dombrowski that he wouldn't get the job and that the Tigers "were going in a different direction," a person familiar with the situation told the Free Press this afternoon.

Leyland, 68, publicly announced his retirement from managing Oct. 21, two days after the Tigers were eliminated in six games by the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

Ausmus interviewed with Dombrowski on Monday. "It was a really good baseball discussion," Ausmus wrote in a text message. "I enjoyed talking to Dave and his staff, and I thought it went well."

Dombrowski indicated before his search began that he preferred a manager with experience. However, of the four men known to have interviewed, only McClendon previously been a big-league manager and Ausmus had no managing experience at any level.

Ausmus' candidacy is exceptionally interesting for three reasons: his lack of managerial experience; his lack of any previous working relationship with Dombrowski; and the Tigers' all-in desire to win the World Series next year, which will afford the new manager little if any time to learn on the job.

The St. Louis Cardinals, though, have thrived the past two seasons with manager with a similar background, Mike Matheny. The Cardinals came within a victory of reaching the World Series in 2012 and two victories of winning the World Series in 2013. Matheny replaced Tony La Russa, one of the most successful skippers in history.

In the first years of this century, Matheny and Ausmus were the best defensive catchers in the National League. Matheny, 43, has shown that an intelligent catcher knows so much about pitching, hitting and people that he doesn't need any managerial experience to manage successfully in the majors. Ausmus and Matheny have a commanding calm that works well in catching and managing.

Matheny had worked in the Cardinals' organization in the years before he was hired to manage. The Dartmouth-educated, quick-witted Ausmus hasn't been connected with the Tigers since he was their full-time catcher in 2000. After that season, GM Randy Smith traded him to Houston in a cost-cutting move.

Over the next six years, Ausmus and Matheny each won three Gold Gloves as that season's best defensive catcher in the NL. Ausmus concluded his 18-year career in 2010 with the Dodgers and is a special assistant with the San Diego Padres. He has been in spring training with them as an instructor the past two years.

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