If Detroit Lions coaches were on a political campaign, would they be re-elected?

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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I haven’t been sleeping well. Maybe you haven’t, either.

After all, our body politic has been thrown into unceasing electoral spasms since Tuesday. I suspect, like a lot of Americans, I’m not alone in my obsessive checking of electoral maps and voting percentages. When I haven’t been counting counties and reverse-engineering percentiles, I’ve been doomscrolling on Twitter.

So, yeah. Little sleep.

In my delirium, I’ve started to see everything differently. Life seems to have taken on a blue or red hue. Everything now seems like a proposition of probability. It got me thinking about how the Detroit Lions are in a sort of political campaign of their own this season. The jobs of general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia hang in the balance.

Owner Sheila Ford Hamp declared it an election year herself when she, along with her mother, wrote an open letter to fans in December announcing Patricia would return for a third year but that there would be an “expectation” for the Lions to be a “playoff contender in 2020.”

Of course, Hamp is the only voter in this election. So everything that happens this season has to be viewed through her perspective.

But let’s not forget something else in that letter. It had some key phrases such as “we look beyond just our record” and “we see signs of this foundation (of high-character players and coaches) in our team’s toughness, competitiveness and culture.” And while noting that injuries aren’t an excuse, without specifically mentioning one that sidelined Stafford for half the season, “we have remained competitive in each game and our team depth showed up as a strength.”

In political parlance, Patricia and Quinn are the incumbents in this race and, while they are running unopposed, their opponent is the entire field of possible and popular replacements, such as Eric Bieniemy and Thomas Dimitroff.

But incumbents have a built-in advantage. They have a track record and the ear of the people — or person in this case. Hamp can make her own judgments, she can read all the news coverage and try to gauge fan reaction. But Patricia and Quinn speak directly to her every week. They get to advocate for themselves and explain losses, very likely coloring them in their defense, as anyone would.

And there’s another thing about the advantage of incumbency. Changing leadership brings with it a whole host of problems for the person who makes that decision, especially when you’re the only person responsible for the change.

While it might be fun and exhilarating for fans — a non-voting constituency — to constantly demand change, that change carries real concerns and implications for Hamp. It’s a daunting undertaking to rework an entire organization.

And let’s not forget Hamp is human and has personnel connections with Patricia and Quinn and many of the coaches and their families who would be fired and displaced during the change. While we don’t know enough about Hamp’s leadership style yet, we can’t forget she’s the daughter of a man whose hallmark of ownership for more than 50 years was patience and loyalty.

As we approach the midseason/midterm point — yes, the Free Press will publish midseason grades next week — the Lions are hoping to climb to .500 and stay in the playoff hunt with a victory at Minnesota.

I’ll get to the overall view of the season in a minute, but let me address the Vikings game first. Frankly, this is a no-lose situation for Patricia and Quinn. They’ll be without their best defensive player, Trey Flowers, without their best offensive weapon, Kenny Golladay, and with their best player, Stafford, having missing a whole week of practice under COVID-19 quarantine rules.

Expecting the Lions, with their three best players either out or in less-than-ideal circumstances, to win this game would be like finding the pilot, copilot and flight attendants passed out in the cockpit and expecting a smooth landing. It’s hard to imagine blaming a loss this week on Patricia and Quinn.

And if the Lions do pull out a victory, Patricia and Quinn are seen as geniuses for preparing their team under such adversity and having enough roster depth to make it possible. As I said, it’s a no-lose situation, even if the Lions fall to 3-5.

But how can Hamp ignore five losses? That’s clearly a sign of failure, right? Um … not so much. Don’t forget about the “we look beyond just our record” statement. And in June, when Hamp was introduced as the primary owner, she acknowledged it would “be kind of a weird year” because of COVID.

“So I don’t want to say anything about wins and losses,” Hamp said then. “I think the overarching thing is that we want to see major improvement. And at this point, I can’t really say what those specific measures are going to be ’cause I don’t know what the season’s going to be like yet.”

This was smart on Hamp’s part, because “major improvement” is a moving target than can mean just about anything to justify her decision at the end of the season. And that’s part of the private debate Hamp must have with herself and her closest advisers. Because a blowout loss to the Colts is offset by rallying from a loss to the Bears, to win three out of four games.

And if you want to think of the Lions’ season as an electoral map, consider the losses as battleground states. They each carry their own unique circumstances. The end of the season will provide more context for them. But for now, the four losses are quality losses because they have come against three teams that are currently in the playoffs and one team that’s one game out of the playoffs.

There’s one last thing we have to keep in mind before Hamp decides to pull the lever or fill in her ballot. This isn’t an election at all. It’s a business. And business is about money. Like all NFL teams, COVID hurt teams financially by limiting or almost entirely wiping out numerous revenue streams derived from attendance. For now, plenty of uncertainty remains about attendance for the 2021 NFL season.

And the Lions aren’t a franchise that’s exactly swimming in money. According to Forbes, they’re valued at $2.1 billion, which places them 30th out of 32 teams. And only the Las Vegas Raiders and Atlanta Falcons have less operating income than the Lions’ $43 million.

Patricia and Quinn have at least one year left, and possibly two, on their contracts. Do you think Hamp is really itching to fire them and pay their salaries while also paying the salaries of a new coach and GM during another potential year of financial uncertainty?

Ultimately, Hamp has to vote her conscience. Only she and team president Rod Wood really understand the financial, and political, calculus of keeping a coach and GM or turning them loose and starting over again. They have to weigh it and arrive at an informed decision. Kind of like the rest of us.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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