Wojo: After Quinn-Patricia debacle, can Lions ever break the sins of their past?

Detroit News

Bob Wojnowski
| The Detroit News

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It had gone on long enough, longer than enough, actually. Another dreadful Lions regime finally met its demise, and for a few hours, fans surely celebrated the end of the Bob Quinn-Matt Patricia era. And then, like the day after bingeing, the next reality hits.

The firings generally are the least-contentious part, and there’s absolutely no debating these.

The hiring step is the one the Lions historically screw up, and that’s where we’ll learn if new owner Sheila Ford Hamp truly is capable of carving a path that hasn’t changed in half a century.

The dismissals are a clue she’ll be more aggressive and demand more accountability after taking over from her mother, Martha Ford, in June. It’s a start, a mid-season purge desperately needed because there’s nothing left to salvage and no point in waiting. For it to be complete, the next GM and coach also should move on from Matthew Stafford, who now serves as the long-standing symbol of squandered chances.

A total reboot is the only way, and you hope Hamp has the NFL contacts and hard-driven savvy to pull it off. She said a far-reaching search was just beginning and they’d look everywhere, including the pro and college ranks. At least she kept her promise, made last December when she said the Lions had to be “a playoff contender in 2020.” Sure enough, there were consequences, and the firings belied her pleasant, soft-spoken ways.

The Quinntricia era began on Martha Ford’s watch, but Hamp always has been around the family franchise, and sounds eager to make her mark.

“I meant what I said last December, and I still mean it,” she said on a Zoom news conference Saturday. “So yes, things were not going well, it was not what we wanted. We were hoping to be playoff bound — I guess we still have a slight mathematical chance. But things were just not seeming to go in the right way.”

Low notes

Patricia’s era was bookended by national humiliations — a 48-17 loss to the New York Jets in his first game on a Monday night in 2018, and the 41-25 battering by Houston on Thanksgiving. The only question was whether ownership would allow both men to finish out the pandemic season, but that wouldn’t serve much purpose. At 4-7, the Lions are essentially eliminated, and this sends a stronger message that probably resonates with the fan base, if that matters.

Frankly, the firing should have happened before the season. Instead, Hamp offered that quasi-ultimatum, and now Patricia departs with an ungodly 13-29-1 record.

For Hamp to execute a turnaround, here’s my unsolicited advice: Don’t take the quick, easy route. Don’t grab some alleged ready-made executive on the advice from someone you barely know. The NFL always is happy to offer up paid consultants. Going back to William Clay Ford Sr., the Lions too often get duped and schmoozed, and hire people that sound good. It happened years ago with Matt Millen, who then hired the first coach he interviewed, Marty Mornhinweg.

Hamp said she informed Quinn and Patricia earlier Saturday, addressed the team via Zoom, then was adamant the search process would be all-encompassing. She has described herself as ultra-competitive, and while she seemed uncomfortable at times, she was resolute.

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“We are going to do an extremely thorough and comprehensive search for both positions,” she said. “And yes, we have some ideas on what we’re looking for, but again, not clearly defined. I have a feeling today you’re going to have a lot more questions than I’m going to have answers to.”

Team president Rod Wood, a family confidant who famously said “I’m not a football guy” when he was hired to run the business operations, will be involved in the process. The rest of the management team will report to him, for now, while offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is the interim head coach. With all due respect to Wood, his football involvement should end quickly, and a traditional structure with an autonomous GM and coach would be the best option.

You’ll hear pie-in-the-sky big names for the job, from Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley to former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. More likely, you’ll hear about rising young NFL candidates, such as 49ers assistant Robert Saleh (from Dearborn) and Chiefs assistant Eric Bieniemy. Much will depend on the GM, because you don’t want a rookie head coach if you’re hiring a first-time GM.

What we just witnessed for three years was an unmitigated disaster, and I asked Hamp if she learned from the errors of her parents. I imagine a 69-year-old successful person gets sick of being questioned about a past she didn’t control, but it’s the only way to mine clues about her management style. Players and future coaches aren’t tied to the past here, but Hamp is.

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“Hindsight is 20-20,” she said. “Yes, mistakes have been made. I’ll be the first one to admit when I’m making mistakes, too. but I really would rather look forward and try to really dig into what’s in front of me and make this hopefully a home run for us. But it’s going to be a lot of work.”

It’s supposed to be a lot of work. Five years ago, the franchise’s intentions seemed sharp, plucking a bright mind from the Patriots. But that was the end of the inspiration right there, and the former Patriots weren’t quite as smart (or as ready) as they thought.

Quinn was a first-time GM, and it was strongly suggested he keep Jim Caldwell as coach. Two years later, after Caldwell went 9-7, Quinn fired him and hired his buddy, Patricia, a first-year head coach. Then all they did was mimic the Patriots, signing former Patriots players and ruthlessly discarding holdover talent.

There was no tangible reason for Martha Ford to think it would work except this fanciful notion — if anything is powerful enough to cleanse the culture of a franchise with one playoff victory in 63 years, it has to be the Patriot Way, right? Even though former Patriots coaches and executives have mostly failed outside of the Bill Belichick cocoon.

Draft bungles

In Quinn’s five seasons, the Lions were 31-43-1, helped by Caldwell’s consecutive 9-7 marks. He was far more miss than hit in the draft, playing it safely at times and gambling ridiculously at other times, like when he took tight end T.J. Hockenson at No. 8 overall.

Now, Quinn’s comments after he fired Caldwell will reverberate forever in Lions lowly lore — “9-7 isn’t nearly good enough.” The sad thing is, it might’ve been good enough this season, which shows how awful the already-awful standards have slid.

Even with so many final straws for Patricia, the rocket scientist couldn’t build a straw man argument to save his job. He seemed to know it on Thanksgiving, and how could he not? The team’s effort was sloppy and uninspired, and the Lions dropped back-to-back games to poor teams, including a 20-0 shutout at Carolina.

After the firings were announced, former Lions could hardly contain their glee on social media. Patricia’s obnoxious, unyielding ways, including extra-long practices and profane tirades, created an instant disconnect with players that was never fully repaired.

“You get what you deserve,” former Lion A’Shawn Robinson wrote on Twitter, and it was echoed by former Lion Darius Slay.

Quinn and Patricia deserved and earned this exit, and no one — including them — should waste time looking back. The Lions are chained to the past because they never learn from it. This was the first important step for Hamp, who’s a link to the very past she now must try to break.


Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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